Amari Cooper fighting another case of the drops

Amari Cooper fighting another case of the drops

ALAMEDA – Amari Cooper led the NFL in dropped passes as a rookie. The Raiders receiver wasn’t happy about it. He worked tirelessly, as he’s known to do, to get it fixed.

His drops dropped from 18 to 5 from freshman to sophomore seasons. The original issue, however, has returned.

Analytics site Pro Football Focus says he has six drops out of 16 catchable passes this season, double the league’s second-worst offender. Some of those “drops” could be argued – one was tipped, another was overthrown – but even a few is too many for someone with elite receiving skills.

His last was a doozy. He cut across the middle, with the ball upon him just beyond the first down marker. It was 3rd-and-9. The Raiders were stagnant, and needed their best skill player to step up. Derek Carr threw a strike that slipped right through his hands and off the crown of his helmet.

It was a big moment in Sunday’s disastrous loss at Washington.

Time and again he’s helped win crucial games with dynamic route running and significant yards after the catch. Cooper needs to get the Raiders out of tight spots, not magnify them.

That mission wasn’t accomplished in Washington. Cooper dropped to his knees after the aforementioned play, and spent a minute with his head in the turf.

“It can be a little frustrating,” Cooper said Wednesday, “but you have to go and fix it.”

The problem has been identified.

“Most of the balls I’ve dropped,” Cooper said, “have been a result of trying to run before I actually catch the ball.”

Coaching can only help so much in these situations. Cooper must react well at a moment of truth, to see it, pluck it and tuck it.

“If I felt like I could talk my way through it, I’d be yapping all over the place,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “It’s not something I can talk my way through. He’s just going to have to make the catch, do the work. I believe in him. I believe he will. To me, he’s one of our dynamic playmakers and we need him to make plays and he will.”

Cooper can be a tough read. He doesn’t show emotion on the field or in front of cameras. That’s just not his style. It’s hard to imagine anyone with consecutive Pro Bowl elections and 1,000-yard seasons to start a professional career lacking confidence. He surely isn’t at this stage. Cooper is a great route runner with speed and agility. It’s just a matter of finding last season’s form, when he was catching everything close. He was doing that this preseason as well, so this drop streak hasn’t lasted long.

Production, however, is the name of this game. Cooper currently has 10 catches for 101 yards and a touchdown in three games. That ranks 92nd among receiving leaders. Talent doesn’t match that ranking, even in a small sample size. Cooper wants to do better, and work to achieve that goal. The key at this stage, especially going up against Denver’s top-flight, often intimidating secondary, is playing free.

“I don’t think he’s pressing or anything like that,” Carr said. “I think he just expects so much more out of himself that he gets mad at himself. I’m looking forward to getting out here at practice and throwing him some balls today.”

Does Gruden see Lynch, Crabtree on Raiders in 2018?


Does Gruden see Lynch, Crabtree on Raiders in 2018?

Jon Gruden doesn’t love offseason restrictions on player-coach interaction. They weren’t so strict when Gruden last coached nine years ago, but the new collective bargaining agreement prevents the new Raiders head coach from extended contact with his players at this stage in the NFL’s downtime.

He has, however, run into several Raiders stopping by the team’s Alameda complex.

Count running back Marshawn Lynch and receiver Michael Crabtree among them. Conversations with those talented, yet mercurial players will be key as Gruden and general manager Reggie McKenzie decide how best to use the salary cap.

Both guys have a long history of NFL production. Both guys are getting up there in age, and have some drawbacks. Both guys can be cut without a salary cap hit.

Gruden had nice things to say about both guys in a Wednesday interview with the Bay Area News Group.

He was asked directly if Lynch will be on the 2018 roster.

“I don’t know,” Gruden said. “I bumped into him. Some of these players that live locally do come to the facility to get a workout, see the trainer. I’ve been downstairs and met several guys. I have talked to Marshawn briefly. We’ll see. We’ll keep everybody posted. Right now, he’s our leading ball carrier. He’s our back, and we’re counting on him. Hopefully we get an opportunity to work together. That’s a man that has a lot of respect in this league as a player and I certainly have respect for him also.”

Lynch started slow but finished strong, and was the team’s best skill player in the season’s second half. He’s contracted to make up to $6 million in 2018.

Crabtree came up later in a discussion of what he likes on the roster.

“I got to bump into Crabtree,” Gruden said. “Hopefully we can get the best out of Crabtree and his career.”

Crabtree is coming off a down year following two stellar seasons in Oakland. He had just 58 catches for 618 yards – he still had eight touchdowns – but his targets and snaps decreased the last two weeks. He seemed at odds with the previous coaching staff, a group that was dismissed at season’s end.

Crabtree is set to make $7 million next season, though none of it is guaranteed.

Gruden meeting reinforces T.J. Carrie's desire to remain with Raiders


Gruden meeting reinforces T.J. Carrie's desire to remain with Raiders

PALO ALTO – Raiders cornerback T.J. Carrie became a father on Super Bowl Sunday. Newborn son Elijah Carrie has been the sole focus these last few weeks, as T.J. learns on the job how to be a dad.

Pardon him if he hasn’t thought much about impending free agency. The 2014 seventh-round pick turned full-time starter has a rookie deal expiring soon, with a raise on the horizon following his best season as a pro.

That’ll come in March. Early February, however, has kept him otherwise engaged.

“I’ve been so busy with my little one, and I haven’t been getting any sleep,” Carrie said Thursday. “Learning how to be a dad has been so engulfing that I haven’t delved into the details of what free agency will mean to me.”

Soul searching wasn’t required to realize his dream scenario. The East Bay native wants to stay in Oakland, with a Raiders team he loved as a kid.

“My intention is to be here,” Carrie said. “I’m a Bay Area guy, a hometown kid. I couldn’t see myself being anywhere else. This is a passion for me. I dreamed about playing for the Raiders for such a long time. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to play there for four years, I want to finish (with the Raiders).”

Carrie wants to work with a new Raiders regime. He visited the team’s Alameda complex on Wednesday and met with new head coach Jon Gruden and defensive assistants. The interaction left Carrie wanting more, furthering his belief that be belongs in Silver and Black.

“Coach Gruden is very energetic,” Carrie said. “He’s a coach that likes to have fun but it a very business oriented guy. There are a lot of things, I imagine, that are going to change, just from the way he has done things. It’s going to be different, but I embrace it. It’ll be very challenging entering into a new regime, but there are a lot of positive factors involved with it.”

The Raiders don’t have many cornerbacks under contract come mid-March. They released David Amerson, and could do the same with Sean Smith later this offseason. Gareon Conley should start at one spot, but everything else is wide-open entering free agency and the draft.

Carrie could find value on the open market after recording 70 tackles and nine passes defensed in 16 starts. He’ll explore his options further next month, before free agency begins in earnest March 14.

“I know March is really when it starts to go down,” Carrie said. “My son will be a little older then, so I can focus more on free agency and make some more decisions.”