Gutierrez: SeaBass kickin' it in his 12th season


Gutierrez: SeaBass kickin' it in his 12th season

Paul Gutierrez
CSNCalifornia.comNAPA -- Arizona seems like such a long time ago now, even if the scab can still be picked at.It was on Sept. 26 of last year, in the air-conditioned and controlled environment of University of Phoenix Stadium, when Sebastian Janikowski went off the rails. The Raiders' all-time leading scorer, possessor of the strongest leg in the NFL, did the unthinkable in missing three gimme field goals. The last shank the most painful of all, a 32-yarder that sailed wide left as time expired, sending the Raiders back to Oakland on the wrong end of a 24-23 outcome.
"Obviously, I didn't know him as well then," mused rookie head coach Hue Jackson, who was then in his third game as the Raiders offensive coordinator. "But I know him now. I know he's beyond all that and he's a tremendous asset to this organization and this football team."He should be. The man known in the streets of Silver and Blackdom as "SeaBass" has scored 1,142 career points and is coming off a single-season franchise record of 142 points in 2010.And still, the specter of Arizona hangs like the football on one of his powerful kickoffs.Consider: in the Raiders' exhibition opener against those very same Cardinals at the Coliseum on Aug. 11, Janikowski's opening kickoff split the uprights on the northern goal posts. So with the NFL moving kickoffs up to the 35-yard line, that would have been a 75-yard field goal.RELATED: Sebastian Janikowski 2010 game logs
"Yeah," Janikowski said with a sheepish smile, "but that was off the tee."Of course, a thousand times of course, and there was no snap to navigate, or laces for the holder to turn outward."Yeah, but I hit the sweet spot," Janikowski relented. "If I hit the sweet spot, over time it should go 10 yards deep(er). No problem."The sweetest spots he's ever hit in a game came on Dec. 27, 2009, when he nailed a 61-yarder in the elements of Cleveland for the third-longest field goal in league history.On Oct. 19, 2008 at the Coliseum, his 57-yarder to beat the New York Jets and set an NFL record for longest overtime field goal.Since being taken as the Raiders' surprising first-round draft choice in 2000 out of Florida State, Janikowski has led Oakland in scoring in each of his 11 seasons and his career field goal percentage of 78.7 (229 of 292) is the highest in franchise history. He has also missed only three of his career 316 point-after attempts.But coming into this season, the buzz on Janikowski was generated by the league's mandate to move up the kickoffs, a decision based on player safety, what with purportedly fewer high speed collisions."I liked it," Janikowski said of the rule. "I mean, (there's) going to be a lot of more touchbacks in the league, so hopefully it will help the team."Which begs the question - does Janikowski always want to kick the ball deep into the end zone?"It depends on the coach and situation," he said. "Sometimes you want to kick it as high as you can, just land it two-, three-(yards) deep so we can maybe tackle (the returner) inside the 10-yard line."His 29 touchbacks last season set a career high and ranked second in the NFL, so you get the feeling that if he wanted to, he could kick it out of the end zone every time, no?"Pretty much," Janikowski said with a shrug. "It's going to be a good percentage."Early in his career, SeaBass was seen as a hell-raiser, in the most earnest of Raider ways. Now 33 years old, he is a much more calm figure.He reported to camp with a much leaner physique. Listed at 6-foot-2, 250 pounds (he says he's actually "260, 258"), his upper body now resembles that of a mixed martial artist."Yeah, worked out a little bit more," he said. "Getting older, so you've got to lift (weights) more. Take care of my body a little bit better."(I) just feel better, definitely."The lockout gave Janikowski time to reflect on a career that begin in the final days of the Clinton Administration. As well as just, well, chill out."My golf game improved," he said with a laugh.As has his distance.Wednesday, he treated VIP fans in attendance to the power of his left leg.RELATED: Raiders Report (824): Janikowski shows off boot
With a field-goal defense facing him, Janikowski drilled what would have been an NFL-record 64-yard field goal with room to spare (the record of 63 yards is shared by Tom Dempsey and Jason Elam).Moved five yards back, Janikowski's 69-yarder fell short and wide right.Four days earlier, though, he made a 70-yarder."Just messing around," Janikowski said. "I was feeling good."Said Jackson: "I've been around four other teams and I've never seen a guy kick a ball like that. It's not like he's taking a running start. The guy takes two steps and, Boom, there goes the ball."

Raiders counting heavily on lightning rod CB against Patriots


Raiders counting heavily on lightning rod CB against Patriots

MEXICO CITY – The Raiders cornerback David Amerson didn’t practice all week, but ran just well enough to be considered “doubtful” for Sunday’s game against New England.

Translation: Outlook for Sunday is not good, but Jack Del Rio’s fingers remained crossed real, real tight. The Raiders hope there’s a way he can be active against Tom Brady’s buzz saw attack, because their cover men are beat up.

Amerson has missed two straight with a foot injury, and has dealt with injury all year. Gareon Conley’s season officially ended Monday, when he was placed on season-ending injured reserve. Antonio Hamilton and Demetrius McCray were already there.

Reggie McKenzie hasn’t reached out for reinforcements. That leaves TJ Carrie, Dexter McDonald and Sean Smith to play cornerback. Carrie’s been the rock, a sure tackler who hasn’t made spectacular plays but doesn’t give them up. McDonald has been forced into action, with holes let in his game.

Smith should be the No. 1 guy in this group, the steadying presence on the outside. That hasn’t been the case this year, where he lost a starting job in training camp and sub-package snaps during the season, only to have injuries to Conley and Amerson bring him in the fray.

He’s also been dealing with felony assault and battery charges in Los Angeles stemming from a July 4 incident in Pasadena.

Smith has been a lightning rod for fan criticism, a byproduct of his $9.5 million salary this year and explosive plays allowed early in the year.

If there’s an anvil weighing on his mind, teammates insist you’d never know.

“We’re human at the end of the day,” Amerson said. “You feel it, but you have to find a way to remain even keel and professional and do your job well.”

Smith will be counted on heavily Sunday against New England, especially if Amerson can’t play as expected. He has proven vulnerable to speed without help and proper disruption at the line of scrimmage, though that hasn’t been an issue lately because the Utah alum has recovered well after a rough start.

He got pulled after struggling against Vernon Davis in Washington. He didn’t play against the Chargers after giving up two huge plays to Baltimore the week before.

Amerson originally sprained his foot in Week 7 against Kansas City – he hasn’t played since – and Smith was called upon to respond. He wasn’t targeted in that game, and has been strong in coverage ever since.

Smith has allowed three catches for 12 yards in four targets over the last two games. The ninth-year veteran insists he wasn’t doing anything markedly different, and had zero interest in patting himself on the back for recent jobs well done.

“I’m not,” Smith said. “I’m out there doing my job, man, the best way I can.”

Smith says the off-field distractions during a roller-coaster season, one of his career’s most trying yet, haven’t impacted him much

“Nope. Not at all,” Smith said. “As long as I wake up a Raider, I’m all right. I’ll deal with whatever happens. I’ll always be there for my guys, and I’ll do whatever it takes to help our team win.”

Raiders defensive backs laud Smith’s locker room presence, saying he’s an excellent teammate. Cornerbacks in general must have a short memory when things go bad, to refocus and prevent that from happening again. Smith apparently has that in spades.

“I know how things go, especially when you have a target on your back,” Amerson said. “Sometimes you get hit with the perfect pass and you give up some plays. You can’t do anything about that but take advantage of the next opportunity. Sean’s a good player, and he definitely has that mindset.”

Smith will lend experience to this big game, something the Raiders need after suffering so many injuries.

"It sucks that so many of us have gone down,” Smith said. "You want to have all your guys out there, but that’s the NFL. Injuries happen. As long as everybody comes to work and acts like a pro, we’ll be all right. We all have a job to do. We all would like to start, but you have to be ready when your number’s called.”

Raiders standing by strategy for Mexico City altitude


Raiders standing by strategy for Mexico City altitude

MEXICO CITY – The Raiders spent all week at sea level preparing to play 1-¼ miles up. They left Oakland around noon on Saturday confident that altitude won’t be an issue in Sunday’s game against New England.

Estadio Azteca sits at 7,200 feet, a comparable elevation to where the Patriots have been practicing in Colorado Springs. That has created a debate of sorts about which philosophy works best. There’s science to support staying in altitude with New England.

There’s plenty more to back head coach Jack Del Rio’s desire to get in and out of altitude as fast as possible. We won’t break down the arguments here. There are plenty of stories written about that.

We’ll simply say the Raiders believe in their approach, and have experience to support it. The Raiders best Houston in Mexico City last year in a dramatic affair that required two fourth-quarter touchdowns.

“I thought we handled our business well last year and we’ve got a similar approach this year,” Del Rio said. “We expect to go down there and play in a great atmosphere. The fans are very engaged. It’s a great atmosphere to be a part of. Just go down there and play good football.”

The Raiders have worked toward this game the past three weeks. They’ve worked on exercise bikes and treadmills using elevation machine, which matches oxygen outputs at specific elevation. Players have done that and have then been able to recover at sea level. They’ve worn popularized oxygen deprivation masks during other activities, though they’ve practiced as usual.

The Raiders know what to expect in terms of logistics, altitude and air pollution. The Raiders have prepared well for this experience, but that doesn’t mean altitude doesn’t impact finely tuned athletes.

“When you get there, you’re going to feel it,” edge rusher Khalil Mack said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area. “It’s different than anything you’ve ever felt. It’s different than Denver. It was a way tougher challenge. You felt it right away. It hits you getting off the plane.”

Both teams must play in adverse conditions.

“We just have to go play,” Raiders linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. “You guys aren’t going to say the altitude had an effect on the outcome. You can’t use it as an excuse. You can’t think about that. You have to train and prepare the way they’ve been having us prepare and go out there and execute.”

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick hasn’t talked much about his strategy of staying at elevation after playing in Denver last week. Extended time away from home can be a bonding time, as the Raiders experienced a fortnight past in Sarasota, FL. He didn’t consider the time spent at Air Force Academy to be a significant advantage.

“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” Belichick said. “The way the schedule worked out, this worked out for us. We’re here and we’re just doing the best we can to get ready for the game.”

The Raiders anticipate Estadio Azteca to feel like home away from home. Raider Nation turned out en masse last year in Houston, giving the neutral site a silver and black edge. Fans took it to the extreme at times, pointing a green laser pointer in Texans quarterback Brock Osweiller’s eyes.

The NFL will certainly be looking to quell those disruptions, especially with a marquee Patriots team in town. New England fans will be audible this time, but another pro-Raiders atmosphere is expected. That’s why Derek Carr isn’t worried about distractions from the crowd.

“No, no, no, no, no. I think that going down there is a home field advantage,” Carr said. “I’m not worried about the laser pointers. I think that’s for the other guys.”