Crabtree a steadying presence for Raiders: 'He just makes plays'


Crabtree a steadying presence for Raiders: 'He just makes plays'

ALAMEDA – Michael Crabtree has become a trusted resource in the Raiders passing game, a safety net for quarterback Derek Carr.

That was crystal clear during Sunday’s 17-10 victory over the Tennessee Titans, when he was targeted 11 times. He caught eight of those passes for 102 yards, his first triple-digit game of the year.

On a day when young receivers struggled hanging on to the football, Crabtree was a steady presence that extended drives and kept the Raiders on top.

Crabtree was targeted four times on third down against Tennessee, and six of his receptions resulted in first downs.

“He just gets open,” Carr said. “He gets open and he makes tough catches, very tough. And, he’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever been around. I think that his competitiveness is what separates him.”

Carr has great trust in the eight-year veteran and former 49ers receiver. That was clear from the get-go this season, when Crabtree was the selected target on the game-winning two-point conversion in New Orleans.

Crabtree has been a possession receiver extraordinaire during a stretch where teams are playing safeties deep in an attempt to prevent against the Raiders’ big-play threats.

“Teams are seeing that we like to take shots, we like to hit the deep ball and they try to take it away,” Carr said. “So, then it goes to receivers and those guys underneath making catches and then making people miss. So far, he’s done a great job of it.”

Crabtree is averaging 3.7 yards after the catch, and has forced four missed tackles in three games thus far. He is securing receptions at a rapid rate, turning 80 percent of his targets into receptions. He’s on pace to exceed 1,000 receiving yards for the first time since 2012, though he had 922 in 2015, his first season in Oakland.

“One of the things I’ve always noticed about him is that he has great hands.” Amari Cooper said. “…If you throw him the ball, he’s going to come down with it. He runs good routes. He just makes plays.”

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.