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.”

Raiders shut down LB Cory James, pull from practice squad


Raiders shut down LB Cory James, pull from practice squad

ALAMEDA – Raiders weakside linebacker Cory James has battled knee injuries all year. That dates back to the preseason, when he had arthroscopic surgery. He started the first six games before knee issues crept back up. He missed a Week 7 win over Kansas City and the last two games.

The Raiders decided to shut him down Wednesday and let his knee heal. James was placed on season-ending injured reserve, the team announced.

Darius Latham was promoted from the practice squad in a corresponding move. Defensive end Joby Saint Fleur was took Latham’s place on the practice squad.

James has developed into a steady starter. Last year’s sixth-round pick played most every linebacker spot at Colorado State, but the Raiders focused him on the weak side. He had 67 tackles, two passes defensed and a forced fumble in 10 games this season.

James took 15 snaps in a Week 12 win over Denver, but hasn’t played since. A knee that might need another surgical repair couldn’t get him through the year.

Undrafted rookie Nicholas Morrow will continue taking James’ snaps. He has been a near-permanent fixture in the lineup the past two games. He has 12 tackles in that span, and allowed two receptions for 14 yards on three targets Sunday against Kansas City.

James is firmly in the team’s future plans, one set spot on a defense that could see significant turnover this offseason. The Raiders have to restock that unit, which could have 4-6 new starters next season.

What's happened to the Raiders passing game?


What's happened to the Raiders passing game?

ALAMEDA – Jack Del Rio didn’t update the status of Amari Cooper’s ailing ankle. It was in bad shape last week, made worse by playing in Sunday’s 26-15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Cooper rolled it again on his 15th offensive snap, when he was blocking for a run. Cooper was one of three receivers in a bunch formation left of the offensive line. Cooper and Michael Crabtree got out front of the play, and linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis landed on Cooper’s lower leg while tackling rusher DeAndre Washington. Cooper let out a scream picked up by television cameras, after his ankle got hurt again.

“It was a toss, a crack toss. He was involved in it,” Del Rio said in his Monday press conference. “He had an assignment to block. It’s football. He was involved in a play.”

That play ended Cooper’s day, and put him back on the shelf. He was there for nearly two weeks before, after being concussed and suffering an ankle sprain in a violent collision against Denver.

Cooper was expected to miss the Chiefs game, but pressed to practice Friday and play a pivotal AFC West showdown in Kansas City. He got his wish. The Raiders didn’t get much in return.

He was targeted once and didn’t have a catch before aggravating an injury that may keep him out of future must-win games. Time will tell in that regard.

One certainty: The Raiders need more from their receiver corps. Quarterback and offensive line also contribute in the passing game, but this group struggled to separate and dropped three passes against Kansas City. STATS, Inc. has the Raiders third worst with 24 dropped passes this season.

The Raiders needed Crabtree especially with Cooper out. He had seven catches for 60 yards in 13 targets.

The passing game isn’t in great sync, a surprising turn for a group that features a Pro Bowl quarterback and two 1,000-yard receivers from a year ago.

“I don’t like to sit up here and grade positions, so I’m not going to today,” Del Rio said. “I thought they competed hard and we played a lot of guys. Obviously without both of our guys in Cooper and Crabtree, we didn’t have Coop very long. We filled in and battled. We’d like to get more production there.”