Carr, Mack among seven Raiders selected to Pro Bowl

Carr, Mack among seven Raiders selected to Pro Bowl

ALAMEDA – The Raiders hope none of their players participate in the Pro Bowl. That would mean they’re competing for an NFL championship the following week.

Should they fall short, the Silver and Black will be well represented in the NFL’s annual All-Star game.

The Raiders had seven players elected to the Pro Bowl, the NFL announced on Tuesday evening, the team’s highest total since 1991.

The list is long and well deserved, including three-fifths of the offensive line, quarterback Derek Carr and edge rusher Khalil Mack.

Left tackle Donald Penn, left guard Kelechi Osemele and center Rodney Hudson made it from the AFC’s best offensive line. Receiver Amari Cooper and safety Reggie Nelson were also elected.

The Pro Bowl will be played Jan. 29, 2017 in Orlando – a week before the Super Bowl -- and culminate a week of festivities honoring the league’s top players. After choosing sides with a school-yard pick ‘em, the AFC and NFC will square off in a game that is typically light on defense.

The Raiders were represented by six players in last year’s game, but Khalil Mack, Charles Woodson and Marcel Reece were the trio elected on the first ballot. Carr, Cooper and running back Latavius Murray were added as alternates.

These types of rewards typically go to good teams, and the Raiders have been one of the best during an 11-3 record with two games remaining.

Their offensive line and skill players have garnered great respect. Carr is an MVP contender and Mack is among the favorites for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

This is Penn’s second Pro Bowl nod and Osemele’s first. Osemele and Penn have been virtually impenetrable on the left side. Osemele's reputation as an intimidator has grown this season, his first as a Raider, and he is widely considered among the NFL’s best offensive guards. Hudson has been a quality center all season. 

Cooper has exceeded 1,000 yards already and Nelson has four interceptions this year. 

Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders


Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden had a hand in drafting Josh Johnson a decade ago. The agile quarterback and Oakland native was a Tampa Bay’s fifth-round pick in 2008, Gruden’s last year as Buccaneers coach.

The pair will reunite in Johnson’s hometown. The well-traveled quarterback signed with the Raiders on Monday, the team announced.

Johnson will compete with Connor Cook to backup starter Derek Carr, and brings a veteran’s influence to the position group. It likely spells the end of EJ Manuel’s short tenure in silver and black. The strong-armed former first-round pick, who started one game last season, remains a free agent after a year with the Raiders.

This move should make Marshawn Lynch happy. He and Johnson are extremely close and together run the Family First Foundation, a charitable organization that does significant work for East Bay kids. Johnson and Lynch also played football together at Oakland Tech High.

Johnson has played 10 NFL teams prior to this Raiders stop, but hasn’t played in a regular-season game for some time.

Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'


Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden needed specific tools to run his running game. He wanted blocking tight ends and a bruising fullback, relics of a bygone offensive era.

“If Marshawn Lynch is the feature back, I think it’d be nice if we serviced him with a fullback,” Gruden said at the combine. … You need a blocking tight end if you’re going to slam the ball with a beast. So, those are two things that I’m looking for.”

Gruden said he wanted to import some old-school elements to help run with brute force.

Enter free-agent fullback Kyle Smith and tight end Derek Carrier. Welcome back, Lee Smith.

Then, on Sunday, Raiders made another vital move in this old school effort. They cut Marshawn Lynch a $1 million check.

The Oakland native’s roster bonus came due and the Raiders had no problem paying it, the clearest sign Lynch will be the Raiders feature back in 2018.

He’ll have a great chance to thrive in that role. The Raiders have a hulking, expensive offensive line (that still needs a right tackle). They have new ancillary blocking elements, and the centerpiece remains in place.

That last part was expected in recent weeks. The coaching staff, offensive line coach Tom Cable especially, wanted Lynch back. NFL Network confirmed those facts, stating Lynch will be around in 2018.

That was the case, even with Doug Martin’s addition. The former Tampa Bay back is expected to be a backup bruiser, someone who might put DeAndre Washington or (less likely) Jalen Richard’s job in jeopardy.

The Raiders can cut Lynch without a cap hit. Lynch is scheduled to make $6 million in salary and bonuses, with another $2 million available in incentives. The Raiders should hope to pay those; it would mean Lynch is running well.

The Raiders have given him a great opportunity to do so. They have solid blocking and a coach in Cable who helped him succeed during dominant days in Seattle.

Lynch proved he’s still got it in 2017’s second half, with 70 percent of his 891 rushing yards in the final eight games. He struggled early on, and upset some fans by helping the opposition during a scuffle with Kansas City. That mitigated a PR bump the Raiders looked for when signing a popular Oakland native just months after committing to Las Vegas long-term.

Jack Del Rio and staff grew tired of what they perceived as leeway given to Lynch unavailable to others, and probably wouldn’t have kept him on if still gainfully employed.

Gruden seems committed to Lynch this season, though nothing is ever 100 percent with an enigmatic rusher who doesn’t make private thoughts public.

His elusive, rough-and-tumble rushing style fits well with what Gruden wants, though he demands commitment to the team and sport. Sports Illustrated relayed a story of Gruden saying he needed a “full-time Lynch.”

If he gets that, the Raiders run game should thrive.