Gutierrez: Raiders' top priorities entering camp


Gutierrez: Raiders' top priorities entering camp

July 25, 2011


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Paul Gutierrez

The NFL has announced that the Raiders will begin training camp Wednesday. The Raiders have offered no confirmation, or denials. All they say is when camp gets going, they will again be in Napa, as planned all along. A look then, at five-plus concerns the Raiders must address as doors to the facility become unlocked and players begin to filter through

Five-plus concerns the Raiders must address as they prepare to report to Napa for training camp:

1) The salary cap conundrum
According to numerous reports, the Raiders are already 10 million over the salary cap of 120 million. And that's before Oakland has re-signed any of its 18 remaining free agents (17 unrestricted, one restricted) or any of its drafted rookies. If it sounds like it's time to hit the panic button in Silver and Blackdom, maybe.

But there are always loopholes in the system and Al Davis has been a master at keeping guys he wants and getting others he's lukewarm on to accept paycuts andor restructuring their contracts. It's going to be tight, no doubt. Names sure to pop up as potential cutting material - offensive linemen Cooper Carlisle, who is due to make a reported 2.5 million in 2011, and Samson Satele, who was initially given an original-round tender but is suddenly an unrestricted free agent. Plus, there could be attempts to restructure contracts belonging to recent draft picks Darrius Heyward-Bey and Rolando McClain.

RELATED: Raiders ready to lock in, begin work in Napa
2) The Zach Miller Situation
It appears as though Davis gambled and lost by not slapping the Franchise Tag on Miller when he had a chance before the lockout hit, instead using it on linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. The thought was that Miller would be a restricted free agent, thus, easier to keep after putting first and third-round tenders on the Pro Bowl tight end. But the language in the new CBA had fourth-year players as UFA's and some talent-hungry and well-heeled owner could potentially swoop in on Miller.

The Raiders need to pull out all their stops to keep him in the fold. He has been the team's most valuable player on offense the past three seasons, and with JaMarcus Russell as the quarterback for two of those campaigns, that's saying a lot. Miller was in the unique situation of being the Raiders' player rep through the lockout so he's seen things from all sides. He likes being a Raider, though, and appreciates the history of the team and the position. So Oakland has that going for it, which is nice.

3) Preparing for life after Nnamdi Asomugha
There's still a sliver of hope, however thin it may be, that Asomugha gives the Raiders the ultimate hometown discount and returns to the East Bay. But the feeling here is that the team has been preparing for life after him, the second his contract is voided, perhaps even before as he was due to make 18 million had the contract not voided.

Numerous teams have been linked to the All-Pro shutdown cornerback, from Houston to Green Bay to Baltimore to the New York Jets to, the latest to join the rumor mill, the Dallas Cowboys. The Raiders affording Stanford Routt a three-year, 31.5-million contract, with 20 million guaranteed all but closed the door on Asomugha's return to the only professional team he's ever known.

4) What to do with Michael Huff
There have been rumblings the Raiders tried hard to come to a contract agreement with the second-team All-Pro free safety before the lockout hit, to no avail. So there's definitely mutual interest. Thing is, he's a fifth-year player who did not start playing to his stature as a No. 7 overall draft pick until lately. Plus, with the Raiders already 10 million over the 120-million cap, he might be too expensive to retain.

Would he take a significant pay cut to come back to Oakland and continue his growth, or would a bigger payday closer to the Texas native's home be too tempting to pass up. In any event, the Raiders seemed to see this coming when they threw that four-year, 10.25-million contract at Hiram Eugene.
5) Welcoming back Michael Bush, with a caveat
The Raiders were apparently victorious in their claim that Bush should be classified as a third-year player rather than a fourth-year veteran since he did not appear in a game his first season in Oakland after being drafted as damaged goods out of Louisville. As such, he is a restricted free agent, and the first and third-round tenders will stick, making it all the more likely he will return to the Raiders at a decent price to again be the "Smash" to Darren McFadden's "Dash" in their offensive backfield.

Still, the Raiders might have to dole out some sort of discipline in light of his off-season arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence. Plus, the league might have something to say about it as well. Stay tuned
5a) Patching up the offensive line
Imagine an O-line of LT Jared Veldheer, LG Daniel Loper, C Stefen Wisniewski, RG Bruce Campbell and RT Joseph Barksdale. That's probably what the Raiders were imagining on draft weekend as well. But that's two rookies and a pair of second-year pros charged with protecting the quarterback and maintaining the league's No. 2 running game. That's too much inexperience to start the season, what with the lack of mini-camp and OTA's, so the Raiders might have to look at bringing back one or two of their own to, ahem, steady to ship. How do Mario Henderson, Langston Walker and Khalif Barnes grab you?

Raiders expect Lynch ruling soon; 'it would be the fairest thing'


Raiders expect Lynch ruling soon; 'it would be the fairest thing'

Running back Marshawn Lynch formally appealed his one-game suspension on Monday afternoon.

The Raiders hope to hear a ruling by Tuesday.

“I think we expect to hear something early in the week, hopefully by tomorrow,” head coach Jack Del Rio said in a Monday press conference. “(It) would be the fairest thing so that the team can prepare.”

That’s the expectation, according to an ESPN report. The Raiders should know by Tuesday whether Lynch’s suspension for unsportsmanlike conduct will stand.

The suspension stems from a Thursday night incident where he left the sidelines to join an on-field fracas involving Raiders offensive linemen and Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters. The third-year pro was penalized for a late hit on Raiders quarterback Derek Carr his linemen didn’t take kindly.

Peters and Lynch are extremely close friends and Oakland natives, and Lynch instinctively went out to protect someone he views as family. He inadvertently grabbed an official by the jersey and let go shortly after. He was flagged and ejected by rule.

He missed most of Thursday’s 31-30 victory over the Chiefs, and the NFL suspended him one game without pay on Friday. That could cost Lynch a $79,411 game check and a $31,250 per-game roster bonus.

ESPN reports that Peters by phone spoke at Lynch’s appeal hearing, where the running back’s team also cited precedent of others contacting an official without getting suspended. Leaving the sideline, however, may not help his appeal.

Del Rio said he hadn’t spoken with Lynch since the ejection.

“I said the other night I was disappointed that we had a player leave the bench,” Del Rio said. “It’s something we talk about – don’t leave the bench area.”

The Raiders ran with Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington after Lynch’s ejection, and combined for 67 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. The pair with shoulder a rushing load Sunday at Buffalo if Lynch is unavailable.

“They don’t have the size and the power but they have a little more quickness, they catch the ball a little easier, better route-runners, things like so,” Del Rio said. “So, if you’re playing a little more wide open, in some respects they give you a little more juice. Marshawn give you the power back when you want to finish people and in tough situations. Those guys give you more than a change of pace.”


Raiders put Amari Cooper in position to break out vs Chiefs


Raiders put Amari Cooper in position to break out vs Chiefs

Raiders receiver Amari Cooper has been creating steady separation for a few weeks now. That didn’t break him out of a prolonged slump.

Coaches were impressed by Cooper’s route running in a Week 5 loss to Baltimore. It only earned two targets and an eight-yard catch. They tried to find No. 89 more often in a Week 6 loss to the L.A. Chargers, though six targets generated five short catches for 28 yards.

Low production stretched through a four-game losing streak, with nine catches for 51 yards. Including stats from to early wins, Coopers season stats (18 catches, 146 yards and a touchdown) were worse than nearly 200 others.

Even that astonishment didn’t make Cooper demand the gosh darn football, please. The low-key Cooper attitude: The ball will find me.

It finally did in Thursday night’s 31-30 victory over Kansas City. Several times in fact.

Cooper had 11 catches for 210 yards and two touchdowns. He was targeted 19 times. Nineteen. That’s no coincidence.

They moved him around, including significant snaps in the slot. He was targeted 11 times from that position, per analytics site Pro Football Focus, and produced six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown.

They schemed opportunities and quarterback Derek Carr used them to create big plays early.

Carr’s first pass went 12-yards to Cooper. His third was a 38-yard touchdown strike. His seventh was an in-stride delivery that Cooper took across and then up the field for a 45-yard score.

Just like that, Cooper was off and running for the first time this year.

“We put him in positions to make plays, obviously,” Carr said. “We knew that there were certain things that we liked. Nothing changed in his demeanor or his mentality or the way he worked or anything like that. We just stayed the course. We know what we have here and we know that if we just stay the course and work and grind through the tough times.

“…For ‘Coop’ to just continue to grind and get on the other side of it, I just felt good for him. You guys know Amari. I think we all felt good for him.”

Cooper said the early explosive touches provided confidence. Ability produced a signature performance. The Alabama product is excellent extending production with his legs, and had 78 of his yards come after the catch. That’s an average of 7.1 yards after the catch per reception, per PFF.

His second touchdown reached him 15 yards downfield, and he hit the jets and reached the end zone. He turned a short catch into 15 crucial yards to start the game-winning two-minute drill, and later high pointed a 39-yard receptions.

“The way he finished after the catch was really special,” Carr said. “Obviously, we all know he can go up and get a ball and all those things. That second touchdown where he cam across, the burst that he had, that’s freakish. Not a lot of guys have that. To turn the jets on like that and just out run the angles of the defense, that was really special. I think just after the catch he just played with some dog in him, which we know he has. We were able to get him the ball and let him shine and do what he does.”

Cooper’s showcase was vital to a huge victory that kept his team in the hunt. It also ended a rough month where Cooper and the Raiders both struggled. Veteran running mate Michael Crabtree was never concerned with the downturn and told the young receiver to stay the course during tough times.

“(I told him), ‘Just be you,’” Crabtree said. “It’s just about everything coming together. Coop’s a fighter, man. Coop has got skills. I don’t worry about Coop and I’m sure he doesn’t worry about me. That’s why we are so good together.”