Raiders

The good, the bad of Amari Cooper's performance vs Titans

cooper-amari-titans-drop.jpg
USATI

The good, the bad of Amari Cooper's performance vs Titans

ALAMEDA – Amari Cooper took one step forward before slanting in. The Raiders receiver caught Derek Carr’s pass at the Tennessee 6-yard line and was quickly spun with an alligator roll.

He did not, however, fall prey. Cooper braced himself with the ball and kept on going. He absorbed another blow, turned his back to contact and began pushing toward the goal line. Sledding proving tough but he inched forward, that is, until the bulldozers came. Kelechi Osemele and Gabe Jackson pushed a massive pile into the end zone.

That was the season’s opening drive, which ended in the Raiders’ first touchdown. The Raiders sideline was jacked.

“Amari, he’s got a lot of desire. He has a lot of talent,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s working really hard, wants to have a great year. I think he stayed up and made a great move there toward the end zone. He got a little bit of help from his teammates.”

Many point to that play as a sign of increased physicality created by improved size and strength. That may help him in those moments, or when high-pointing a ball or battling for position downfield or getting off the line of scrimmage.

That will be a weapon. It won’t be his trademark.

“He definitely brings a certain physicality,” Del Rio said. “I think ‘Coop’ is going to be known more for his ability to run and separate, not so much running people over.”

Cooper’s main goal this season is to start fast for the third straight year, and finish strong for the first time. He has been slowed late in seasons, there’s no secret about that.

In-game consistency’s also being sought, with room for improvement after 2017’s opening game. He got his hands on the ball three times inside the opposing 10 on the Raiders’ third series and could not secure possession. No pass was perfect – the first was high, the second might've been on the wrong shoulder and the third was deflected – but Cooper would say he should’ve had all three.

Overall he had five receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown on a team-high 12 targets. He’ll expect more efficiency in future games.

"My only goal is to take advantage of all my opportunities,” Cooper said after a 26-16 win over Tennessee. “I didn’t really do that today. I have to improve. I have to move forward."

Cooper’s bar is incredibly high, and is willing to work toward improvement.

“Everybody fits into the same category as Amari,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “We expect improvement every time he hits the field. I think he would own up to things he needs to do a little better this time, but he had a good start. He certainly made a play early on to get the juices flowing on the sidelines. We’re expecting good things from him.”

That could start Sunday against the New York Jets, a team that prefers playing man coverage. Some receivers consider that a gauntlet.

“When someone is playing you in man coverage, they’re basically saying that guy’s better than you,” Cooper said. “That’s why a lot of receivers feed off of that.”

Count Cooper among them. He was certainly motivated to be a more physical receiver and frequent red zone target who works to get open against any strategy, in any situation.

“I just feel comfortable throwing him any route, whether it’s him coming in the middle, on the outside, deep, short,” Carr said. “I think that he’s worked his tail off in proving to myself that he can really do it all.”

Will a Gruden-Lynch partnership work? ‘Guys like him interest me’

gruden-lynch-ap.jpg
AP

Will a Gruden-Lynch partnership work? ‘Guys like him interest me’

Jon Gruden asked to speak with Marshawn Lynch several times but got turned down.

His job title earned an automatic veto. The enigmatic running back doesn’t talk to the press, even a Monday Night Football analyst with Gruden’s street cred. No production meetings, no insight flowing outside the inner circle.

Lynch must honor the next request. Gruden’s his boss, after all.

“I’m anxious to sit down with Marshawn and meet him,” the new Raiders head coach said Tuesday during his introductory press conference. “We’ll talk about his future and the Raiders. I can’t wait. He came back to the Raiders for similar, I think, reasons that I did. I think he loves Oakland. I think he loves the Raiders and guys like him interest me, so I’m looking forward to talking to him.”

The veteran running back and Oakland native has a year left on a two-year deal struck last April. The 2018 payouts, per overthecap.com, include a $4 million base salary, a $250,000 workout bonus, a $1 million roster bonus and $750,000 in per-game roster bonuses. There are also significant performance-based incentives.

Marshawn is under contract, but also has some say in this matter. He could post an image of cleats hanging on a telephone wire like he did after the 2016 Super Bowl and call it a career. Lynch made it clear in a rare press conference that he didn’t miss football. He returned for the opportunity to play in front of a East Bay community he champions and bring attention to his significant charitable efforts.

There are several possible outcomes from the Gruden/Lynch tete-a-tete. Gruden might not consider him worth the while. Lynch may walk away, for good this time. Or, the two could traverse 2018 together.

Predicting Marshawn’s movements is a fool’s errand. We can, however, make an educated pros and cons list. Let’s take a look at some factors influencing the ultimate outcome.

PROS

-- The phrase in Gruden’s last sentence above may have tipped his hand: “Guys like him interest me.” Lynch is an intense presence, one of his generation’s most physical runners. Gruden can use on-field talents like him, though it’s uncertain whether he’s a perfect fit in an offense that has certainly evolved during nine years in the broadcast booth.

Also, Gruden loves Oakland. Lynch loves Oakland. That may be a good starting point.

-- Marshawn still has it. The 31-year old was the Raiders’ most productive skill player in 2017’s second half. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry over the last season games, totaling 625 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He also had at least 92 yards total offense in five of those contests. When he’s motivated and healthy – he didn’t miss a single practice with injury – Lynch can be a force on the ground

-- Gruden reportedly hired Tom Cable as offensive line coach a few days back. That’s probably a plus from Lynch’s perspective. Cable was Seattle offensive line coach, and heavily involved in the running game, during Lynch’s best seasons. He ran a system that fit Lynch well, though Gruden said schemes will be based around team strengths. Lynch and Cable reportedly get along well, and could be a major reason why Lynch finds it appetizing to return.

-- Lynch carried locker room clout. Last year’s coaching staff didn’t love him, but player certainly did.

CONS

-- Lynch comes with some baggage. He’s an eccentric sort who does his own thing, at times without regard for small rules. That may rub Gruden and staff the wrong way. It certainly bothered Del Rio’s crew, especially when he seemed to have his own set of rules.

The Raiders tolerated Lynch’s choice to sit during the national anthem all year, despite being vocal against such actions the year before. He also had a production crew following him around quite often, especially in camp.

He got suspended for sticking up for the other team in Week 7, protecting great friend, Oakland native and Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters in an on-field altercation. He then practiced with his old high school during the suspension.

Gruden may not love the prospect of dealing with extra weight, depending on how strict he plans to be during this coaching tenure.

-- Lynch turns 32 in April. While Lynch might be an exception, running backs often fall off a production cliff in their early 30s. Can the Raiders get good value from Lynch at that age, knowing full well another running back might be added to the roster?

-- Lynch may simply not be into another year in Oakland. He enjoyed taking 2016 off, travelling the world and increasing charitable and business endeavors. Is his drive still strong?

Report: Former Raiders head coach returning to join Gruden's staff

cable-ap.jpg
AP

Report: Former Raiders head coach returning to join Gruden's staff

Jon Gruden isn’t the only Raiders head coach returning to the Silver and Black.

Tom Cable’s on the way, albeit in a lesser role. Gruden already has the top job. Cable’s coming back, NFL Network reported Saturday afternoon, as offensive line coach.

He occupied that role in Oakland from 2007 until he assumed the head coach role when Lane Kiffin was fired five games into the 2008 season. The interim tag was lifted in 2009, and he coached the Raiders to an 8-8 record in 2010.

He followed that feat with the now famous quote, “We’re not losers anymore.” The Raiders had seven straight losing seasons before finishing .500 in what would be Cable’s last season with the club. He was 17-27 in two-plus seasons as Raiders head coach.

He went to Seattle after that, and spent seven seasons as Seahawks assistant head coach in charge of the offensive line. He also worked extensively with Marshawn Lynch during the rusher’s salad days in Seattle.

Cable returning to the Raiders seemed highly unlikely after late owner Al Davis detailed Cable’s misgivings in a post-firing press conference. Cable was allegedly involved in a 2009 incident where then Raiders assistant Randy Hanson was left with a broken jaw. ESPN also aired a report where three women accused Cable of domestic violence. One of Cable’s accusers sued Cable and named the Raiders as a co-defendant. Davis docked Cable’s pay in relation to that litigation.

Cable is a respected position coach, though the Seahawks offensive line has fallen on hard times. He and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell were fired after a disappointing season where the Seahawks missed the postseason.

Offensive line coach was a top priority as Gruden built a staff. Cable is known for using a zone blocking scheme, though it remains uncertain what he’ll use in Oakland with a powerful, expensive offensive front locked in place save the right tackle spot.