NAPA -- It only seemed as though Juron Criner was being frozen out of the Raiders' first few days of training camp practice.After all, Criner was the last of Oakland's draft picks to sign and the fifth-round compensatory pick who went No. 168 overall in the NFL draft was reportedly embroiled in a dispute over 14,000 in signing bonus money that was rectified on Sunday. Not exactly a way to endear yourself to new teammates, right?Neither side has said if or how the 14K disagreement was handled but there was Criner on Friday, making plays and catching balls in traffic. Just as he had done during OTAs and minicamp this summer."You cant really have a best day," Criner said after practice. "You can have a good day and you can always get better."He did exactly that before 1,000 fans in the team's second padded practice.Asked if he took any heat from fans in the time before he signed his contract, Criner shrugged."Thats not something that I concern myself with," he said. "Im a player. I have an agent, we have a good relationship. I let him do his job and I do my job."One fan, though, yelled at Criner after a particularly nice grab: "One dollar at a time, Criner. One dollar at a time."Criner has looked up to fourth-year veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey thus far. "I watch his every move," Criner said. "If he sneezes Im there to say bless you. I take as much as I can from a guy like that."I definitely see the progress hes made. That just goes to let me know even if you have a down year its not about what you did, its about the following year. And theres always a way to get better and bounce back and hes definitely a player who did that."Criner said the trade of Louis Murphy only made the receivers bond together more. Having a fellow rookie in the undrafted Rod Streater has also helped his learning curve thus far.The two are roommates in camp."First and foremost, were here to compete," Criner said. "We just help each other outwe go over things that weve seen from each side of the field, things that we can do better, and we definitely watch each other and give each other pointers."Catch everything that comes to us. I guess we both kind of got the label of a possession receiver, so we've got to be fearless in there. Basically, go over the middle, catch anything around us and have the biggest radius we can."Of course, none of it would have happened had Criner actually held out. Not that that was going to happen, mind you.I asked Criner if there was ever a doubt he'd be in camp on time."No, there was no doubts," he said. "At the end of the day, it is my call."
ALAMEDA – Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. has a good feel for Tom Brady. He faced New England’s legendary quarterback three times as Seattle’s linebackers coach, with some positive results. The Seahawks won two regular-season games and lost the Super Bowl at the last second.
He knows what worked then, and believes that should help prepare the Raiders defense for what’s coming Sunday in Mexico City.
“I played Brady a couple years ago in the Super Bowl with Seattle. We played very well against him,” Norton said Thursday afternoon. “I’ve had some success against him so I have a good feel for what can be done and what cannot be done. It’s just a matter of having the right emphasis and the ability to make the plays.
“Having a guy like (Brady) on the team who’s capable at any point of throwing a deep ball, capable at any point of getting it to the right players at the right time. He understands who is around him. He understands how to get the ball to the guys. He’s got a long resume of doing it well.”
Having success against Brady, however, is a relative term. He still produced against a loaded Seattle defense far better than this year’s Raiders unit. He will produce again Sunday, even if most goes right. Limitation, however, if key.
Norton believes certain things are essential when facing a Patriots team. Sure tackling. Impacting the quarterback.
The first is vital, something the Raiders have done well save a Week 9 win over Miami. The Raiders have to limit explosives and keep the ball in front of them, especially with the way Brady likes to play.
“The Patriots do a really good job of underneath coverage,” Norton said. “They have guys that catch and run really well. The backs, the tight ends, the matchups underneath, they catch and make people miss. They try to match up with your linebackers and safeties. They feel like their guys are pretty good. Tackling is something we’ve been really outstanding with all year but this last game against Miami we didn’t do so well and it kind of stands out, especially when it’s something we’ve taken a lot of pride in.
“I really feel like our emphasis and what we do well matches up well with that they try to do.”
There are some problem spots. One is limiting deep shots, something Brady has unleashed with startling efficiency. He’s 19-for47 for 410 yards and four touchdowns on passes of 20-plus yards, with speedsters Brandin Cooks and Phillip Dorsett able to haul them in. The Raiders have proven vulnerable to track-star receivers.
Impacting Brady is mandatory, but also difficult given his excellent pocket presence. He’s especially good at feeling pressure off the edge, where reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack typically lines up opposite Bruce Irvin.
Brady has proven vulnerable to interior pressure, which is why Mario Edwards Jr. will be an X-factor on passing downs. He has four sacks this season and needs to break free in the backfield to force difficult decisions or, at the very lest, disrupt New England’s timing.
Brady gets rid of the ball fast at times. Raiders rushers can’t get frustrated by that, especially Mack.
“If the quarterback is going to throw the ball in less than two seconds, it’s going to be tough to get there,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “So when the quarterback is throwing the ball quick like that, we’ve got to tackle and have their punt team come out. They’ll get tired of punting or turning the ball over and they’ll sit and hold the ball a little bit and Khalil can get there. If they’re throwing the ball in two seconds or less, it’s going to be hard to get sacks.”
The Raiders only have 13 sacks this season, second worst in the NFL. Getting a few could swing a tight game. Norton’s Raiders believe they have a solid plan to mitigate somewhat the Patriots ferocious attack, that features versatile tight ends allowing them to do different things from one personnel package.
Don’t expect a shutout, or anything close. The Raiders understand that, but believe they can mitigate some damage.
“If you go back to the New England Patriots five, six, eight years ago they’re doing similar things,” Norton said. “They do what they do really well. They’re a fine-tuned machine. Everybody knows exactly what their role is. Guys know exactly what’s expected of them. Obviously the quarterback is the heart and soul and the one that makes that train run. Really, really good players that really understand what their role is and play well against leverage, run after catch, tough and they make plays.”
The Raiders gave quarterback Derek Carr a massive contract extension last June. Right guard Gabe Jackson got paid later that month.
Khalil Mack’s big deal is coming, likely this offseason. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie anticipates a deal getting done, and hopes Mack’s agent feels the same way.
Mack’s rep and Raiders contract folks will work out details of a massive contract extension. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year doesn’t have interest in all that. He has one preference above all.
Mack doesn’t want to go anywhere. He wants to stay with the Raiders long term.
“Of course. That’s not even a question,” Mack said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area’s Fallon Smith, which airs in this week's episode of "Raiders Central." “That’s a no-brainer for me, especially when you think about coming into this organization and try to build something special, that’s something you want to be a part of for a lifetime”
Mack has plenty of money, top-5 overall draft picks often do. The No. 5 selection in 2014 considered that first deal life-changing money, enough to help his family.
“That has been a treat for me so far,” Mack said.
He doesn’t daydream about signing a nine-figure contract. He doesn’t long to be the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player (although that might be in the cards, anyway).
“I’m not really even thinking about that,” Mack said. “I’m thinking about the Patriots, that’s just my focus that’s just my mindset – anybody who talked to me about that matter, whether it be my best friend, my mom, my dad, I tell them the same thing. I’m thinking about the Patriots and sacking Tom Brady.”
That, unlike signing a record contract, was a career a goal. Mack said in a post-draft press conference he wanted to sack legends. Peyton Manning and Brady topped the list.
Manning retired before Mack could check his box. Mack will have a second chance at Brady Sunday when the Raiders play New England in Mexico City. He had eight tackles and two quarterback hits against Brady’s Patriots in 2014, but didn’t bring the quarterback down.
Mack considered his third regular season game a welcome-to-the-NFL moment.
The University of Buffalo alum has accomplished a ton since then, with 34.5 sacks and last year’s top defensive honor to his credit. He’ll need a Herculean performance against the Patriots to help the Raiders win a pivotal game. A sack would certainly help, but Mack isn’t calling his shot.
“Yeah, I’m not one to talk,” Mack said. “I’ll express that when I get on the field, but I can’t wait, I can’t wait to play against him.”