Thursday, June 10, 2021 | 2 a.m.
We’re talking about practice. Not even real practice; not even mandatory practice.
That’s a necessary disclaimer as it pertains to the last three weeks of the Las Vegas Raiders’ voluntary OTAs at their Henderson headquarters, including three sessions that were open to media. Nearly the entire team was on the outdoor fields for at least one of the practices, but it was mostly just running through basic drills as league rules forbid contact at this point of the offseason.
It was nothing to draw any definitive conclusions out of it. But that doesn’t mean certain players couldn’t stand out ahead of the Raiders’ mandatory minicamp from June 15-17 and then the start of training camp on July 27.
Here are five players who particularly caught our eyes and could play an important role for the Raiders in the upcoming season.
Henry Ruggs III, wide receiver
Coaches and teammates have vigorously defended last year’s first-round pick after his disappointing rookie season and called for bigger things in his sophomore campaign.
It was easy to see where they were coming from at OTAs as it became obvious Ruggs had put a lot of work in since last season ended. He made more catches and appeared more comfortable than in training camp last year, but most noticeably, looked bigger.
Over the offseason Ruggs has been one of the mainstays in the weight room, where he’s started to transform his body and potentially turn into a more well-rounded receiver than the speedy deep threat from last year.
“That’s been one of my main points of emphasis,” Ruggs said of putting on weight. “Just constantly trying to eat all the time and going hard in the weight room, and it’s been paying off.”
Solomon Thomas, defensive tackle
Thomas wasn’t on the field for Wednesday’s third open practice, and his absence was easily detectable. That’s because over the first two practices, the recent Raiders free-agent signee was among the most energetic and spirited players in attendance.
The blocking dummies got hit a little bit harder when Thomas ran through drills. His intensity was a sign of how much he’s missed football.
The former San Francisco 49er tore his ACL in Week 2 last year and underwent multiple surgeries before the end of 2020. After the experience of sitting out a year, he’s determined not to take anything for granted and relishing the chance to continue his career.
“Just being around here with the guys has been awesome and I’ve been trying to soak it all up because I know in a second it can be gone,” Thomas said. “I experienced that last year and it has me really taking advantage and soaking this all up. I faced the fact of not playing football and I don’t want to be there. I want to play for a long time and I want to be a great player in this league.”
Tre’von Moehrig, free safety
Someone without a roster sheet or unfamiliar with the Raiders’ personnel would have never believed No. 25 was a rookie participating in some of his first NFL practices.
The second-round pick out of TCU fit right in alongside his veteran teammates, running through pass-defense drills smoothly and never appearing out of position when the full defense got together. Raiders general manager Mike Mayock has deemed the starting free-safety spot as a competition between Moehrig, Karl Joseph and Dallin Leavitt, but the team didn’t trade up to take the former Horned Frog and sit him on the bench.
The job is his if he’s ready, and so far, he looks ready. The offense and defense primarily practiced among themselves the last few weeks, but even players on the other side of the ball have taken notice of Moehrig.
“He has a very calm nature about him,” tight end Darren Waller said of Moehrig. “He doesn’t really seem too flustered or all over the place or out of control. He seems very dialed in and on top of what he’s doing.”
Marcus Mariota, quarterback
During last year’s training camp, there was some national chatter about a Raiders’ quarterback controversy that was laughable to anyone who was actually at the practices.
Mariota was struggling and looked light years behind starter Derek Carr in coach Jon Gruden’s offense. It turned out that Mariota was injured, and three months passed before he was on the active roster.
There’s still no quarterback controversy — this is Carr’s team — but Mariota is throwing the ball more effectively and at least looks in the same league as the incumbent starter this year. As of right now, it appears the Raiders will have the luxury of going into the season with one of the best backup quarterbacks in the NFL.
Foster Moreau, tight end
With the retirement of Jason Witten and what figures to be an amplified effort of opposing defenses to stop Waller, Moreau has a shot at a breakout season.
He looks more than ready for the opportunity. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound third-year pro out of LSU caught everything thrown in his direction at OTAs, including during red-zone work at half-speed on Wednesday.
Like Thomas, Moreau also stood out for his energy as he was consistently talkative and seemingly eager for what should be a bigger workload.
“His explosiveness just continues to increase every time we come together as a team,” Waller said. “Just from working with him in the offseason, he’s working hard with me, like pushing me with the way that he works. With the attention to detail that he’s been working with this offseason and carrying out over here, he looked a lot more fluid and just continuing on that path being the player that I know he can be. He can be an extremely vital component to this offense.”