Raiders

Karl Joseph living up to first-round billing with early impact for Raiders

Karl Joseph living up to first-round billing with early impact for Raiders

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Raiders safety Karl Joseph notched his first career forced fumble in Week 2’s blowout victory over the New York Jets. It came on his first sack, where he bent around a tackle into the pocket and devoured his pray.

Joseph recovered the ball, and the Raiders quickly scored a touchdown. The second-year pro enjoyed that moment, but left the game with regrets.

"I should have definitely had more sacks than I did,” Joseph said. “I feel like I should have had three.”

Joseph had quarterback Josh McCown in the crosshairs three times, and feels like he should’ve finished each one. The game plan provided opportunity. Joseph blitzed six times – fellow safety Reggie Nelson attacked thrice – and pressured the quarterback four times.

It was a relatively new responsibility, considering he blitzed nine times all last year. Joseph will be first to say he was a different player then. He was less explosive, more tentative and a smidge less confident, lingering effects from an ACL tear during his final college season. Joseph was cleared to play as a rookie but wasn’t all the way back, doubly hampered by missing an offseason program where rookies grow quick.

"I wasn’t completely myself,” Joseph said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports California. “I feel a lot more like myself this year. I obviously feel better physically, and the year of experience in the system has definitely helped. So has adjusting to the NFL life. That’s been an easier transition for me.”

Joseph is playing more like his highlight reel from West Virginia, where he proved a heavy hitter and a solid cover man worthy of last year’s No. 14 overall draft pick. The Jets game isn’t the only evidence of that.

Joseph had an excellent training camp, flashing an aggressive style and solid timing making plays in practice. That translated to the regular-season opener at Tennessee, when he saved a touchdown on consecutive plays. The first came on an open-field tackle. The second was a leaping pass breakup in the end zone, proof positive that Joseph was ready to make a big impact.

"He’s really good close to the line of scrimmage,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. "He’s a really good tackler in the open field. He also plays well on the back end. I think his development is right on time right now.”

The Raiders recognize that, and are using him like a queen on the chessboard. He can move back or forward, as an attacker or the last line of defense. He’s a rover at times, with an ability to create havoc at all levels of the defense.

Joseph is an excellent fit for the defensive scheme, bring a tone-setting physicality to the secondary. He is learning, as part of his development, that the nuclear option isn’t always best. There are times when it is, and Joseph enters those scenarios without fear.

"You can’t play worried about getting hurt. That’s not the way I play,” Joseph said. “It’s about being smart. I had to adjust my game coming into the NFL. Every hit can’t be a big hit. Sometimes you have to be smart and just wrap people up, but you can’t ever play scared.”

He isn’t afraid to take risks or attack when asked, and is already making a major impact on this year’s defense. That isn’t a surprise. It’s expected of first-round picks.

"That’s what he’s supposed to do. He’s supposed to make plays,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s a guy we selected because we thought he’d be a guy that could come in and impact on our defense. In the first two games of this year he’s played well. There are still things, like I tell you all the time, that have cleaning up to do, work to do, things to improve on, but he’s off to a good start and obviously it follows up from a good offseason. Healthy, a lot of good work and confidence that he’s gaining as we go.”

New Raiders DC explains what attracted him to joining Jon Gruden

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AP

New Raiders DC explains what attracted him to joining Jon Gruden

Paul Guenther and Jay Gruden are great friends. The bond formed in Cincinnati, when both guys were Bengals assistants.

Jay Gruden moved on to Washington, and has been that club’s head coach since 2014. Last year, Jay Gruden tried to bring Guenther with him. The Bengals, however, wouldn’t let Guenther out of his contract.

It expired this month, allowing Jay’s brother Jon Gruden to purchase this hot commodity. The Bengals tried to keep him with a lucrative contract offer, but Guenther’s mind was made. He took the job as Gruden’s defensive coordinator, and the four-year contract that came with it. This is about more than money. Jon Gruden presented a unique opportunity worthy of Guenther moving on after 15 years in Cincinnati.

“I’ve known Jon for a long time,” Guenther said this week in a conference call. “Just the ability to come with him and start something fresh from the ground up really excited me. I’ve been in Cincinnati for a long time. My kids were basically raised there. I know a lot of the players. But to have this opportunity with Jon coming to the Raiders and the brand of the Raiders really attracted me. Overall, just an opportunity to come coach with him, see him do it, see how he runs this organization, this team, would be a great thing for me to learn from.”

The Guenther hire was important. He’ll be installing a new system and will have considerable clout running the defense with Gruden focused on the process of scoring points.

Guenther’s defense was built in Cincinnati, with current Minnesota head coach and former Bengals DC Mike Zimmer also contributing to the scheme. He runs a 4-3 defensive front with single-gap responsibilities. What you’ll see from Minnesota in the NFC championship will look a lot like the Silver and Black scheme next season.

“Structurally they’re very, very similar,” Guenther said. “I would say 80, 90 percent of the defense, the calls, the fronts, the coverages, the terminology is all about the same. I spent a long time with Mike. Really, when he came over from Dallas and Atlanta to Cincinnati, he had the system that was probably 60 percent intact and then we kind of built up to where we are today. Certainly, I have my own little things that I added to the defense as I went along. He’s added things. We’re always talking in the offseason, just because we’re close friends, about the things that he’s doing, things that I’m doing. I would say it’s very similar.”

The Bengals didn’t blltz much under Guenther, especially last season. He isn’t averse to bringing extra guys. He just didn’t need to dial up those plays with the Bengals pressuring the passer without extra help.

“It all depends on how many we can get home with four (pass rushers),” Guenther said. “I think the thing you really have to look at is the amount of pressure you’re getting on a quarterback. If you don’t have to blitz and you can get home with four guys.

“…I love blitzing, I got every blitz in the book up on my board here. We got it all – double A’s, overloads – any blitz you can imagine, we have it. That was what my role was with Mike Zimmer (when he was Bengals DC) coming up with the third-down blitzes. I’m certainly all for it, but I think from a team perspective, and you’ve got to really see how the game is going.”

Guenther inherits a defensive depth chart with some star power, young talent and holes aplenty. The Raiders have some issues at linebacker, safety, defensive tackle and cornerback. Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin are solid off the edge, but the unit needs a talent infusion. There’s roster flexibility, with high-priced veterans easily cut if Guenther and Gruden so choose.

“I believe there’s a lot of good players here, a lot of good, young players,” he said. “You’ve got to get them out and develop them and get them to understand your system. But I think there’s a lot of good pieces here for a foundation for sure. Obviously, every year, whether you’re the number one defense in the league or the number 32 defense in the league, you’re always looking to add pieces and fill out your lineup card. That’s what we’re going to be working through this spring and through the draft and through free agency as well as developing the young players that we have here. This day and age in the NFL when you draft guys and you think they’re worthy, you have to get them out on the field. You can’t sit on these guys for a couple of years because before you know it, their rookie contracts are over and they’re out the door. I certainly think there’s some good, young prospects here that I’m eager to work with.”

NFL review shows Raiders complied with Rooney Rule

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USATSI

NFL review shows Raiders complied with Rooney Rule

ALAMEDA — The NFL said Friday that the Oakland Raiders complied with the "Rooney Rule" when they hired Jon Gruden as head coach.

The league said a review found the Raiders conducted "bona fide" interviews with minority candidates during their search for a replacement for the fired Jack Del Rio. The "Rooney Rule" requires NFL teams to consider at least one minority candidate before making an offer to a head coaching candidate. The team officially hired Gruden on Jan. 6.

General manager Reggie McKenzie said last week that he fulfilled the Rooney Rule by interviewing two minority candidates. He interviewed former Raiders tight ends coach Bobby Johnson and USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin for the position. 

The Fritz Pollard Alliance called for an investigation last week out of concern that Raiders owner Mark Davis came to an agreement with Gruden before the team interviewed any minority candidates. Raiders owner Mark Davis said during Gruden's introductory press conference that he was leaning towards Gruden after a Christmas meeting in Philadelphia. That timeline suggests Davis made up his mind to hire Gruden well before interviewing Johnson or Martin. 

The Fritz Pollard Alliance, an organization dedicated to promoting diversity and equality of job opportunity on the coaching, front office and scouting staffs of NFL teams, believes the Raiders violated the Rooney Rule. 

“We strongly disagree with the NFL’s conclusion that the Raiders did not violate the Rooney Rule,” the Fritz Pollard Alliance said in a statement. “We believe the facts overwhelmingly point in the other direction. In his enthusiasm to hire Jon Gruden, Raiders’ owner Mark Davis failed to fulfill his obligation under the Rule and should step forward and acknowledge he violated the Rule.”

“...The NFL broke ground when it created the Rooney Rule, but it made the wrong call in refusing to penalize Mark Davis in this instance. Davis crossed the line, and we are disappointed in the League’s decision. The Rooney Rule and all of the League’s equal opportunity efforts need to be strengthened. We have called for meetings with the League to ensure that a process like this never happens again.”

NBC Sports Bay Area reporter Scott Bair contributed to this report.