Raiders

Instant Analysis: Shorthanded Raiders drop preseason opener

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USATSI

Instant Analysis: Shorthanded Raiders drop preseason opener

BOX SCORE

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Raiders opened their preseason Saturday night at Arizona.

A version of them, anyway. One lacking star power.

Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper, Marshawn Lynch, Bruce Irvin, Michael Crabtree Jared Cook, Gareon Conley, Obi Meifonwu, Kelechi Osemele, Gabe Jackson and Rodney Hudson skipped this one entirely because of injury or retain health. And Donald Penn’s still holding out for a new contract.

Pretty tough to test drive the car without so many important parts.

The Raiders did so anyway, with the future smartly in mind. They lost this one 20-10 at University of Phoenix Stadium, though the final score hardly matters.

Several young players being counted on saw extensive snaps, including linebackers Marquel Lee – he was relaying plays in the huddle -- Cory James and defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes.

Marshawn Lynch sitting during the national anthem will be the night’s top story. Sean Smith will steal some headlines with penalties and poor play but, the main concern from a football perspective in games like this is health. Offensive lineman Denver Kirkland was helped off the field and carted to the locker room with an apparent leg injury. The Raiders didn’t suffer any obvious injuries beyond that.

SEAN SMITH’S NO GOOD, VERY BAD NIGHT

The veteran cornerback didn’t start the preseason well, continuing a bad stretch in training camp where he was taken off the first unit in deference to TJ Carrie and moved inside and to a hybrid linebacker role in the dime package.

Smith played inside some, but was exposed outside as well.

He didn’t start but joined the first unit on the game’s second snap, and was immediately penalized for pass interference. He was flagged for illegal contact later in the first half when he was beat badly downfield. He gave up a few catches during a relatively prolonged stint, and got fooled by a double move that left a Cardinals receiver wide open in the end zone. The ball was overthrown, saving some embarrassment.

Smith is guaranteed $9.5 million this season – he can be cut without pay or dead money against the salary cap next year – and will continue competing for a role in the Raiders secondary.

JOSEPH LOOKS READY

Karl Joseph has had an excellent training camp to this point, and continued that trend in a game. He played aggressive and confident over three series, with a few big hits along the way.

The Raiders need an intimidating presence in the secondary, and Joseph could fill that role if he keeps playing as he has this summer.

MANUEL GETS A HALF, COOK GETS A HALF

The Raiders sat starting quarterback Derek Carr on Saturday, and gave EJ Manuel and Connor Cook equal time. Manuel played the first half, an honor earned after working with the second team throughout camp. He was efficient – Manuel completed 10-of-12 passes for 107 yards -- but never found the end zone. He orchestrated two field goal attempts, though only one went through.

Cook was 10-of-21 passing for 89 yards and no touchdowns in the second half. While he was playing against weaker competition, he looked better in this game than he has in recent practices.

ON THE RADAR

Tight end Clive Walford has had a relatively quiet camp working with the second unit but stood out in this game with three receptions for 44 yards, including a 30-yard grab from Manuel.

Treyvon Hester and LaTroy Lewis had two sacks each in the second half, and running back John Crockett had a 29-yard reception and a 1-yard touchdown run.

Shalom Luani was the second free safety in the game and was consistently around the ball, including an interception opportunity in the end zone that fell out of his hands.

Jaydon Mickens was the initial kickoff returner, but fumbled his first attempt to bring it out. He ended up recovering his mistake. He also had three catches for 31 yards.

Melifonwu back at Raiders practice, designated to return off IR

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AP

Melifonwu back at Raiders practice, designated to return off IR

ALAMEDA – Obi Melifonwu participated in a Raiders practice Wednesday afternoon, his first session in months.

The second-round safety has been on injured reserve all season and hasn’t done football activities of any kind since suffering a knee injury in a preseason game in Dallas.

He had arthroscopic knee surgery and was put on the shelf for the season’s first half. Melifonwu's professional career barely started and then quickly stopped. That's why Wednesday's practice was such a big deal. 

“It was awesome to get back out there, finally,” Melfonwu said. “It’s been a while. It was beyond fun to just be out there and practice with the team."

He nearing a return to game action. That’s why the Raiders designated him to return off injured reserve. Wednesday marks the start of a three-week practice window where the Raiders can decide whether to put him on the 53-roster.

He’s expected to do so when eligible. Melifonwu was first able to practice this week, and can join the 53-man roster after Week 8. His NFL debut could come in Week 9 at Miami.

He can't wait, especially because he's physically ready now. 

"I feel 100 percent," Meilfonwu said. I feel fine."

The Raiders still struggle covering the aforementioned skill players, using young linebackers or an undersized safety against those guys. The Raiders have given up the most yards to tight ends and running backs in the NFL this season. Melifonwu was drafted to help cover tight ends and running backs right away in sub packages, with a long-term eye on a full-time starting spot.

"I bring versatility, and I think I’m a guy who can fit into a lot of different spots," Melifonwu said. "Wherever the coaches need me to fit and help the team win, I’m all for it."

He has missed significant development time while out. He also missed most of training camp with an apparent ankle injury. The team hopes he can be ready to contribute when eligible despite missing so much time. The downtime was difficult, but Melifonwu now hopes to hit the ground running.

"It was definitely tough," he said. "As a competitor, you always want to be out there helping your team win. As a guy who hasn’t been hurt, it was pretty tough. It comes with playing football. I’m just glad to be out there now."

Bowman out to prove something with Raiders: 'I have a lot of juice left'

Bowman out to prove something with Raiders: 'I have a lot of juice left'

NaVorro Bowman hasn’t been a Raider long. The inside linebacker visited the team’s training complex Monday morning, signed a one-year, $3 million contract that afternoon and was on the practice field a few hours later.

Bowman’s in something of a rush. His new team plays the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night. Bowman plans to face them.

That’ll take a crash course in Raiders defense. There’s new terminology to learn and roles to master, even if he hones on a specific package.

It won’t be easy. Even a perfect week might come up short with but one real practice in an incredibly quick turnaround.

It’s rational to think he won’t be ready, fair to give him two weeks practice before a Raiders debut.

That’s not the tack he’ll take.

“Hey,” Bowman said, with a wry smile. “I’m going to show you something.”

He understands the situation. The Raiders are 2-4, in desperate need of an AFC West win. A loss might put the Raiders too far down to rebound. The four-time All-Pro knows he’s needed, and believes he can help if he can get some scheme down.

“It’ll take a lot of hours, a lot of studying, a lot of repeating the same words and things like that,” Bowman said after Monday’s walk-through. “It’s part of being a good football player. You have to put the time in. It doesn’t come easy.

“I’m the guy to do it. I won’t let them down. I’ll put the work in that’s needed to be done.”

Immersing in brand new can be a cleansing process. Bowman left the only NFL team he’s ever known Friday when the 49ers cut him loose. He wanted to spend his career with one team. After seven-plus seasons, a switch was required. He didn’t like losing snaps. The 49ers wanted to go younger at the position. A trade was attempted. He didn’t like the suitor, and the 49ers respectfully pulled back. An outright cut was the decisive action.

It gave Bowman an opportunity to choose his next step. He didn’t go far. Bowman’s new job sits 35 miles north in Alameda, which offered plenty of advantages for a family man.

“My twin girls are five and my son is eight and they’re in school,” Bowman said. “They’re doing really well so you always want to keep that going as a parent. You don’t want to keep switching them in and out. That played a big part in what I was going to do. For the Raiders to show as much enthusiasm in wanting me to come here made my decision a lot easier.”

Enthusiasm was evident in two ways. The bottom line comes first. The Raiders offered $3 million to make this deal quick, adding a solid sum to the $6.75 million base salary guaranteed by the 49ers under his previous contract.

The second was clear in a Monday morning conversation with Jack Del Rio. The Raiders head coach spoke plainly, saying Bowman could make a major impact as a player and veteran leader of a shockingly young position group.

“It was really upfront, letting me know their position and how bad they want me,” Bowman said. “He let me know exactly what he wanted to get out of me coming here and being a presence for this defense. Being more vocal, getting guys to understand the urgency to be really good at the NFL level.”

His lessons start Tuesday morning. Starting weakside linebacker Cory James introduced himself in the locker room Monday and asked Bowman when he’ll start watching film. The answer: bright and early.

Bowman has a game to play Thursday. That’s possible because he didn’t have to relocate. He can just hit the ground running. He’s been constantly learning new systems during the 49ers coaching carousel, so he’d a quick learning. He also sees similar concepts between schemes.

“It’s not too different,” Bowman said. “The terminology is really the hard part. I’m a fast learner. I went out there today and I think I did pretty well. I’ll get in here early tomorrow and learn from my mistakes and try to keep getting better.”

That’s Bowman’s first goal. He also wants to show knee and Achilles’ tendon injuries haven’t sapped his effectiveness as many believe.

“I’m only 29 years old,” Bowman said. “I still have a lot of juice left in me.”