NAPA — With training camp hitting the two-thirds mark Wednesday with the 10th of 15 practices, three things to watch:
1. The intensity of Karl Joseph: The second-year safety takes every rep as if it’s his last, then works the jugs machine and finally attacks the weight room with ferocity. Every day.
Joseph is miles ahead of where he was as a rookie coming off a torn ACL. But it’s not just feeling good physically that has changed his outlook.
“That’s been the biggest difference this year, the mental part of the game,” Joseph said. “I feel it’s slowed down so much more. You hear people tell you when you’re a rookie and you’re like, `OK,’ but when it actually happens, you notice it.”
There are few “live” repetitions in an NFL practice, plays that are actually run with all-out contact and aggression. But that doesn’t stop Joseph from lobbying for more.
“It’s funny, because every practice, every situation he’s always asking coach Del Rio, `Is it live? Is it live?,’ and coach Del Rio will say, `No, man, we’re not going live,’ ” cornerback TJ Carrie said. “Karl wants that. He lives for those moments where he can go out and display that every single time. Coach loves it and as players we love it because he’s so energetic.”
Joseph said after a Sunday strip of Marshawn Lynch, the running back told him, “Why did you do me like that, man? I told him I just wanted to make a play.”
2. Unspoken communication: Communication has been the mantra of the Raiders secondary in the postseason after the defense gave up 61 plays of 20 or more yards.
But it isn’t the communication on the field that’s necessarily the issue. By then, it’s too late. Rather, solutions need to be worked out in meetings. Carrie said it was important for the Raiders to think as one, because by the time they get to the field, words aren’t going to do much.
“A lot of times in a game it’s so loud you can’t talk to anyone,” Carrie said. “A safety is on the hash, and I’m way out there. I have to know what Reggie (Nelson) or Karl or (David Amerson) or (Sean Smith) are thinking so we’re on the same page and can play fast.
“A lot of times it’s a simple hand signal, or me nodding at him. Those are the things, the silent communication, that a lot of people don’t pay attention to or don’t see in the games.”
Del Rio, who brought in John Pagano as assistant head coach to oversee the problem, is convinced the communication is better.
“I think we’re a long way ahead of where we were last year,” Del Rio said. “I think the communication has gotten better and will continue to get better. I see it. I hear it. I watch it. There’s a lot of good work being put in.”
3. Who takes the field?: It will be nearing a week for Amari Cooper if he misses Wednesday’s practice. He’ll probably be out of the Arizona game regardless, which actually is a good policy for all front-line players on a 12-4 team.
Khalil Mack sat out Tuesday, but appeared to be fine and will probably practice.
Of more concern are the younger players. The Raiders first four draft picks — Gareon Conley, Obi Melifonwu, Eddie Vanderdoes and David Sharpe — were all out. They were joined on the sidelines by Jylan Ware.
Given the lack of depth at tackle, Sharpe and Ware could get lots of quality work against Arizona if they can get back on the field.
Conley still hasn’t been in public view running agility drills or working hard with the training staff and Melifonwu has missed the last four practices.
Defensive lineman Jihad Ward appears to ramping up the intensity in the training area, an indication he could return soon after recovering from foot surgery.
As for left tackle Donald Penn, only general Reggie McKenzie knows if and when he’ll give executive and contract negotiator Dan Ventrelle the go-ahead to bring their Pro Bowl tackle back to the fold.
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