WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. (AP) — Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller understands the importance of joint practices.
Two years ago, when the Raiders were still playing in Oakland, they welcomed the Los Angeles Rams for two days of workouts. Those sessions helped prepare Waller for what would be a breakout fourth NFL season in which he caught 90 passes for 1,145 yards.
After spending two days this week at the Rams’ complex in Thousand Oaks, California, Waller believes the Raiders are on the verge of a similar step forward.
“It’s awesome to be able to reflect on two years ago and see how far we’ve come,” Waller said. “At the same time, it’s always possible to get better.”
Although Thursday’s session ended early following a fight on special teams which left Raiders coach Jon Gruden in a sour mood, his players were upbeat about what working with the Rams indicated for their development. Las Vegas stood up to the perennially successful Rams, both between and after the whistles.
“I think we're a lot better than we give ourselves credit, but it’s also still too early to tell,” running back Josh Jacobs said. “We're still in camp mode, still trying to grind it out, but you see little flashes of big plays and special things, so it’s just about keeping it consistent and doing it at a higher level.”
With more teams choosing not to play starters in preseason games, joint practices have become a significant tool in preparing for the upcoming campaign. They're also a valuable way to assess where teams stack up, and the Raiders acquitted themselves well in both areas.
The offense held its own against the Rams, although All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald did not participate Thursday.
There were indications the passing game will not be so heavily reliant on Waller, who had 107 receptions for 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns to lead the team in all three categories. Running back Kenyan Drake looked like a solid complement to Jacobs, a 1,000-yard rusher in each of his first two seasons.
The bigger revelation was the defense, which caused frequent problems for Los Angeles quarterback Matthew Stafford with pressure up front and effective coverage from the secondary. It started with rookie safety Tre’von Moehrig picking off a deflected pass by Stafford on the first play of a team period on Wednesday.
Left tackle Kolton Miller said that session reflected how the improvement from that group has set a tone for the entire team in training camp.
“The defense has been amazing — the energy those guys bring, the type of intensity — and it really carried over into this week,” Miller said. “I feel like all three phases, we were just coming off the ball, and you could definitely feel a little change of energy from our side, I feel like, compared to theirs.”
The presence of Moehrig and first-round pick Alex Leatherwood at right tackle reflect the roster overhaul from the one that practiced with the Rams in 2019. Besides the added talent, Waller thinks the locker room as a whole is better prepared mentally to do what it takes to win.
“A lot of young guys are ready to take the next step, guys that just have those championship aspirations,” Waller said. “Everybody has that aspiration, but now we have guys that really know what it’s like to work towards it. That’s where I feel like we’ve developed this over the last two years.”
The change in mindset was evident in how the Raiders approached these sessions with the Rams.
“I don’t like to say it’s really about other teams,” Jacobs said. “I really feel like it’s just about us, however we put our mind to (it) and however we wake up and decide what we have on our agenda to do that day. We kind of had it on our mind we was going to come in and be the team.”
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL