NAPA – Vontaze Burfict has taken firm control of this Raiders defense. The veteran middle linebacker established himself as a scheme authority this offseason, a title earned thanks to years spent running Paul Guenther’s scheme in Cincinnati.
Players have been asking Burfict to watch film together, so they can approach his firm grasp of the system. They listen to him during practices and, at times, coaches let Burfict call defensive plays for full periods at a time.
Burfict can also be demanding of those around him, as we saw during Thursday’s training camp practice.
Tight end Darren Waller caught a pass near the left sideline that was good for a first down, and Burfict was instantly upset about it. Burfict was in fellow veteran leader Lamarcus Joyner’s ear about not communicating well enough, wondering aloud why he was the only defender talking during plays.
Communication must increase while the unit finds sync, a vital quality for a team with some talent but not enough to dominate on raw ability alone.
Joyner wasn’t offended, he took it as a reminder to be more vocal in competition than he has in the past.
“It’s Burfict trying to get the best out of me,” Joyner said. “…I’m more a lead by example, but now I’m communicating more. Burfict is just trying to get me to do that communication every down and distance so we can become that much faster as a defense. So I have to do a better job and I appreciate the point that he’s trying to squeeze that out of me.”
Burfict is advising players around him during practice, even on the other side. He told Derek Carr about making a dangerous pass that left a receiver exposed.
Burfict has made a concerted effort to help the whole group each as the Raiders prepare themselves the upcoming season, where they’ll count on his for leadership.
Cole’s turn in punter competition
A.J. Cole is coming for the Raiders punting job. The N.C. State product had a solid day sending the ball skyward on Thursday, with several high and accurate volleys in his best session thus far.
The Raiders will alternate punting days between him and incumbent Johnny Townsend and choose one before the end of the preseason. Townsend struggled as a rookie last year, leaving his job uncertain heading into his second season.
Special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia likes what he has seen from Cole thus far.
“He has a tremendous leg,” Bisaccia said. “He has a natural hang to him, kind of even on his bad ball he can kind of get away with it. He’s a high-hit guy on his contact on the ball and he’s really improved his holding as he’s come along.”
Townsend must respond to Cole’s challenge and fare better than he did recently and better than he did last year.
“I thought he had a good offseason,” Bisaccia said. “I thought he got his direction back and that’s really what he’s best at, so we will see as training camp goes but I thought he hit it okay the other day. I know he can hit it better than that.”
More on-field action
— The Raiders allowed their third units to tackle to the ground on Thursday, for a few plays anyway. DeAndre Washington was a primary ball carrier in a rushing drill where defensive players attacked the ball well and made solid tackles.
— Waller had another strong day, including a catch on a precise out route that drew praise from Carr and head coach Jon Gruden.
— Trent Brown false started on 9-on-9 drills and, with no officials present, Burfict used his towel as a flag. He tossed it up and it landed near Brown to acknowledge the infraction.
— Slot receiver Ryan Grant has been largely invisible early in camp but he made a new nice plays on Thursday, including a floater from Mike Glennon snagged for a big gain.
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— The Raiders did plenty of situational work, including late-game scenarios, in a padded practice that wasn’t as physical as the others.
— Screens could be a major part of the Raiders offense, using skill players of various position groups.
— Denzelle Good is on the PUP list rehabbing a back injury, and was seen working on a sled with trainer’s during practice. That’s a good sign for a guard expected to miss a few more weeks.
— Receiver Antonio Brown didn’t practice on Thursday, dealing with foot issues. Defensive linemen Gabe Wright, Eddie Vanderdoes and Quinton Bell missed practice because of injury.