Cliff Branch has ideas on how to get Amari Cooper rolling


Cliff Branch has ideas on how to get Amari Cooper rolling

ALAMEDA – Receiver Cliff Branch ranks among his generation’s best. The Raiders legend knows a thing or two about the position, even if few can match his world-class speed.

He loved Amari Cooper’s play at Alabama, and hoped the Heisman Trophy finalist would end up in silver and black. The Raiders had the No. 4 overall pick that year, so it was a possibility.

“When Amari was on the board and the Raiders were able to draft him, I got on my knees and begged Mark Davis,” Branch said on the Raiders Insider Podcast. “I said, ‘You’ve got to draft this kid.’ He said, ‘You’re going to get your wish.’”

The Raiders got Branch’s guy, in a move that proved fruitful right away. He exceeded 1,000 yards and was a Pro Bowler in consecutive seasons. His third season, however, hasn’t started well.

Cooper has just 12 catches for 110 yards in four games. He also leads the NFL with seven drops on just 19 catchable passes. Cooper’s issues belie great talent.

He’s in an early slump. Branch has an idea how Cooper can get out of it and find a productive rhythm.

“I would love to see the Raiders do some of the things they did with him at Alabama,” Branch said. “You have to get him away from just running slants. He’s a deep threat, and you have to give him two or three deep shots a game whether you come up with them or not. You have to put that pressure on the secondary.

“Amari Cooper can run ins, out, hooks, posts and corners. That’s what he did at Alabama. Right now, everybody’s sitting on the slant. You have to get away from it. He’s a great route runner, and we’ve got to use the whole tree in the passing game.”

Branch may have a point. According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, three of Cooper’s seven drops have come on slants. The site also reports that no other Raider has been targeted on a slant this season.

The Raiders believe Cooper will be fine. He has the right combination of talent, pride and work ethic, traits required to rebound well.

“We all believe in Amari to the utmost,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “I think that he’s going to get going, just base on his hard work paying off, number one. Number two, when you play a game like this and a game plan like this, you’re able to kind of get, like I said earlier, to some of your bread and butter stuff that he might be comfortable with, that the quarterback is comfortable with. A lot of times, that leads to a little bit more success on just generic type routes.”

There are ways to get him going. Route variations are one thing. A fast start could be another.

“I think we can do a great job with allowing ‘Coop’ to be who he is,” said quarterback EJ Manuel, who will start Sunday at Baltimore. “There’s no pressure on him because we know he’s a great player. … We definitely want to get him rolling. Get his confidence rolling and everything like that and get him some touches early so we can make some plays.”

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.”