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NAPA — It was a moment in time that didn’t play out until the final full practice of training camp Wednesday, with cornerback Gareon Conley running stride for stride with wide receiver Martavis Bryant with both players looking to haul in a deep pass from quarterback Derek Carr.
Bryant appeared to temporarily come down with the ball, only to be met by Conley in mid-air with the ball falling free as both tumbled to the ground. It was a play that may or may not have merited a flag that was thrown by officials against Conley.
Most important to the Raiders, both men got their feet and jogged back to the respective units.
It was the third consecutive practice for Conley, who went out on the first day of camp with a hip injury. Bryant had missed the two previous practices and another last week because of issues with headaches.
If all goes according to plan, Conley will be a playmaking cornerback the secondary desperately needs and Bryant an explosive threat as a downfield receiver. Coach Jon Gruden was asked if he felt relief when both men got up considering the amount of time they’ve missed recently.
“I try not to think like that,” Gruden said. “I think too many of us are thinking like that. There’s going to be some of that in this game, and you’ve just got to hope for the best.”
Gruden went on to talk about how proud he was of the way players have practiced good camp etiquette and keeping each other healthy, and then noted, “Now that I think of it, yeah, I’m glad both of them got up.”
Conley, whose rookie season was essentially a washout because of a shin injury, said he’s not spending any time worrying about what happens next and is looking forward to playing in an actual game with the Raiders visiting the Los Angeles Rams Saturday.
Bryant, meanwhile, found himself the recipient of a new nickname from Gruden.
Raiders coach Jon Gruden calls Martavis Bryant the `white tiger.’ AP Photo
“We’re calling Martavis the `white tiger,’ ” Gruden said. “You go to Busch Gardens and they’ve got a white tiger. You go 12, 13 times, and the white tiger is always in his cage. Well, the white tiger came out today. Bryant came out . . . sometimes he comes out to play and sometimes he doesn’t. It’s good to see him, because he’s really special, like the white tiger.”
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Gruden then laughed at his own analogy.
“It’s late in the day, man,” Gruden said.
Five takeaways from practice with the Raiders scheduled for a brief walkthrough Thursday morning before departing the Napa Valley Marriott and resuming the preseason at the club facility in Alameda:
The Raiders backed off in terms of contact but not tempo, with players wearing protective shells rather than full pads as the morning overcast skies gave way to sun at some point before noon.
“Normally the last practice of training camp people will get a little distracted, but what we did was really challenged our guys with short-yardage goal line, backed up, a two-minute (drill), no-huddle, desperation field goals. We covered a lot of ground and our guys did a nice job. I think we got our team rejuvenated physically after two long padded practices.”
Mike Nugent did the place-kicking during field goal sessions, with Eddy Pineiro departing practice with a trainer early and not returning.
Penn at right tackle again
Donald Penn spent his second practice at right tackle, again taking every first-team snap. Gruden wasn’t ready to proclaim the offensive line as set at the tackles with Kolton Miller on the left and Penn on the right.
The middle three positions are carved in stone barring injury with left guard Kelechi Osemele, center Rodney Hudson and right guard Gabe Jackson.
“Kolton’s made a lot of progress,” Gruden said. “He’s done a great job for us. Donald Penn has played right tackle in the past and by no means are we done. We haven’t settled on any starting lineups yet.. But we really didn’t want to disrupt Kolton’s status right now without being sure where Donald exactly was physically.”
Kolton’s made a lot of progress. He’s done a great job for us. Donald Penn has played right tackle in the past and by no means are we done. We haven’t settled on any starting lineups yet. But we really didn’t want to disrupt Kolton’s status right now without being sure where Donald exactly was physically.
While Raiders receivers are being schooled to play all positions, some will pay in the slot more than others, with Ryan Switzer and Griff Whalen both faring well while Seth Roberts has been out a week with an undisclosed injury.
Switzer’s skill as a punt return specialist would appear to give him an edge, but Gruden said the competition was a close one.
“They’re neck and neck,” Gruden said. “Specialt eams will have a big part of that, but also sheer production. You’ve got to able to go in there and block linebackers sometimes and big safeties. And you have to know a lot of assignments because Derek is going to change plays at the last second . . . when Seth Roberts gets back it’s a very competitive at the slot.”
The catch of the day Wednesday didn’t come from a slot receiver, but outside receiver Keon Hatcher, who made a sprawling catch on a pass from Connor Cook in tight coverage.
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New defensive tackle
The Raiders claimed former Miami defensive lineman Gabe Wright off waivers.
Wright, who has experience in the 4-3 defense run by the Raiders, was cut by Miami after throwing an elbow during practice and striking running back Kenyan Drake in the head when players weren’t wearing helmets during a drill.
A fourth-round selection by Detroit in 2015, Wright (6-foot-3, 309 pounds) has played in 13 games with one start.
To make room on the roster, defensive tackle Ahytba Rubin was placed on injured reserve with an undisclosed injury.
Gruden a Carrier fan
Mark Carrier has had an impressive training camp and appears to have a strong hold on the third tight end position to go along with Jared Cook and Lee Smith.
Gruden had plenty of inside information on Carrier, who played in Washington under his brother Jay and where Deuce Gruden was a strength coach. He spent last season with the Los Angeles Rams under Sean McVay, who was offensive coordinator in Washington before he was hired by the Rams.
Carrier’s versatility at 6-foot-4, 244 pounds appeals to Gruden.
“He can play in the slot and be a big receiver. He can play in-line and be a tight end. He can cover kicks. He can run option routes. He has quickness and savvy and great instincts. He can line up in the backfield, he can line up here, there or anywhere.”
Cook was given the day off to rest his legs.
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