Del Rio changes Raiders' routine to deal with Mexico City's altitude

Del Rio changes Raiders' routine to deal with Mexico City's altitude

MEXICO CITY – The Raiders must cross two time zones to play the Houston Texans Monday night in Mexico City. They aren’t doing so until Sunday evening.

That isn’t standard practice for long road trips. The Raiders leave two full days before any game east of the Mountain Time Zone.

This one is different, and done by design. Mexico City sits 7,382 feet above sea level, an altitude that can hinder athletic performance.

Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio believes in spending as little time as possible in such thin air, looking to get his teams in and out quickly. He uses a similar strategy at Denver, which sits 2,000 feet lower than the grand Mexican capital.

Del Rio’s theory is based on the fact a few days won’t acclimate the body to high elevations, so spending less time in fatigue-inducing environments should help players deal with the elements.

Air that high has less oxygen, leading to shortness of breath and an increased heart rate for those not used to altitude. It can cause insomnia and dehydration as well, all negatives for athletes playing a high-stakes game. 

It’s particularly rough on the big guys, already dealing with extra weight and pads while having to exert strength on every snap.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s going to be tough,” left tackle Donald Penn, who played a Utah State, which sits at 4,534 feet. “We play regularly in Denver and I went to school in Utah and dealt with it then. It’s tough but, when that second wind hits, you’re good. You just hope the second wind hits early. When that happens, everything works out well and you just play.”

The Raiders have tried to downplay altitude issues all week, saying that hydration and perseverance are key to dealing with higher elevations. They have tried to combat it some during the practice week to improve cardiovascular fitness in lighter air -- the strength and conditioning staff remains silent on the matter -- to be as prepared as possible when they arrive in Mexico City. The Raiders are also bringing their own food and water to avoid the prospect of getting sick as some tourists do.

“We know we have to travel to play well regardless of the circumstances,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We understand some of the issues that are there, potentially. That’s been addressed. We’ll put our plan together and go down and compete. I know it’s going to be a great atmosphere. It sold out quickly. People are going to be excited to put on a good show down there. It should be a heck of a game.”

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has dealt with this specific altitude before. The University of Wyoming sits at a similar height to Mexico City, and Carr played their a few times with Fresno State.

It could have an impact, but he believes it’s only an excuse if you make it one. The Raiders have done an excellent job travelling this year, with a perfect 5-0 record in hostile environments. They don’t excuse poor play for any reason, and they won’t let that happen playing outside the United States, at great altitude.

“You definitely can feel it,” Carr said. “But, it’s just something, it’s like weather, whether it’s altitude or weather or whatever. If you let it affect you it will. Just keep the mindset that it won’t. It’s not going to affect you if you go into it with that kind of mindset.”

Raiders retain Manuel, now have four QBs on roster


Raiders retain Manuel, now have four QBs on roster

The Raiders have a lot of quarterbacks under contract, certainly more than they’ll have come September.

That means the battle to be Derek Carr’s backup should be fierce. EJ Manuel had that title last year, with a shot to retain it after re-signing with the club on Thursday afternoon.

Veteran Josh Johnson signed up Monday, and those two will join third-year man Connor Cook behind Carr on the depth chart.

New head coach Jon Gruden loved Cook coming out of the draft, but the Michigan State alum failed to earn the backup job last season and must make a move up the depth chart to kickstart his career.

Manuel has a strong arm and starting experience, making him a steady and solid backup option. He completed 24-of-43 passes for 265 yards, a touchdown and an interception in two games when Carr was hurt.

Johnson might be a camp arm at this point, though he’ll be given a chance to compete this spring and summer.

Carr has been hurt for at least a small stretch in each of the last two seasons. Having Manuel in that spot might offer stability.

Gruden addressed last year’s backup quarterbacks last month at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Gruden on Manuel: “I think EJ is a young, talented guy,” Gruden said. “He’s been in the facility working out on his own every day. There is a bright upside to him, too, as a young quarterback to keep working with. He’s a free agent, but the Philadelphia Eagles proved that’s a pretty damn important position, isn’t it? Right? So we have to address that and see where we are.”

Gruden on Cook: “I am kind of surprised Connor hasn’t played in two years, other than the playoff game he got in as a rookie. After Derek got hurt last year, they turned the ball to EJ. I don’t know where Connor Cook is. I am frustrated right now that I can’t spend any time with him, but, April 9th (when the Raiders offeseason program starts) will be an exciting day for me and Connor Cook.”

Raiders sign tackle Breno Giacomini


Raiders sign tackle Breno Giacomini

The Oakland Raiders signed unrestricted free agent T Breno Giacomini, the club announced Thursday.

Giacomini is entering his 11th NFL season, having spent time with the Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets and Houston Texans. He has appeared in 94 career games with 86 starts, including 53 starts over the last four seasons. He originally entered the league as a fifth-round draft pick (150th overall) of the Green Bay Packers in 2008.

Last season, the 6-foot-7, 320-pounder started all 16 games at right tackle for the Texans. From 2014-16, Giacomini started 37 games for the Jets, including every game in 2014 and 2015.

Giacomini saw his first significant action with the Seahawks in 2011 and was a mainstay on the team’s offensive line through 2013, helping the team win Super XLVIII as the starting right tackle.

A native of Malden, Mass., Giacomini played four seasons (2004-07) at Louisville, appearing in 27 games. He began his collegiate career as a tight end before converting to tackle before his senior year.

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