Khalil Mack: Raiders' lack of defensive signings 'shocker for everybody'


Khalil Mack: Raiders' lack of defensive signings 'shocker for everybody'

Raiders star OLB/DE Khalil Mack had about as good as season as one can on defense in 2016. Mack was named the 2016 NFL AP Defensive Player of the Year and became the first player to be named an All-Pro at two positions in one season.

Despite Mack's huge year, the Raiders struggled mightily on defense. Oakland ranked 26th in the NFL as their defense allowed an average of 375.1 yards per game. They also ranked 20th in the league as teams scored an average of 24.1 points per game on them. 

Still, the Raiders only signed one player on defense during the offseason. That player, Jelani Jenkins, has been placed on injured reserve with a groin injury. 

Was Mack surprised by the lack of moves to address the team's defense? 

"That was a shocker for everybody," Mack told The Athletic. "Well … I know Bruce (Irvin) and I talked about it a lot. Yeah, that was unexpected. But those guys upstairs know what they’re doing. We trust in them. And not only that, but we’re all we’ve got and we’re all we need.

"That’s kind of how I look at it. We’re rolling with whoever is out there, and those 11 guys on the field are going to do whatever we can to be great."

Mack was also asked about the lack of pressure up the middle and the Raiders' defensive tackles being a weakness. 

"Everybody could see it. A lot of times people on the couch think they can tell what’s going on and they’re often wrong. But that one, everybody could tell," Mack said. "But now, we’ve added some pieces and the guys are stepping up inside.

"We’ve gotten a lot better. And that’s what I was saying earlier about seeing the improvement in guys. Not only from a physical aspect but mental as well. We’re growing as a group, and it’s good to see and a really good feeling."

The Raiders allowed 117.6 rush yards per game last season, the 10th worst in the NFL in 2016. 

On Sunday, the Raiders open their regular season against the Titans who boasted the third-best running game in the NFL in 2016 with 136.7 yards per game on the ground.

Raiders retain E.J. Manuel, now have four QBs on the roster


Raiders retain E.J. Manuel, now have four QBs on the roster

The Raiders have a lot of quarterbacks under contract, certainly more than they’ll have come September.

That means the battle to be Derek Carr’s backup should be fierce. EJ Manuel had that title last year, with a shot to retain it after re-signing with the club on Thursday afternoon.

Veteran Josh Johnson signed up Monday, and those two will join third-year man Connor Cook behind Carr on the depth chart.

New head coach Jon Gruden loved Cook coming out of the draft, but the Michigan State alum failed to earn the backup job last season and must make a move up the depth chart to kickstart his career.

Manuel has a strong arm and starting experience, making him a steady and solid backup option. He completed 24-of-43 passes for 265 yards, a touchdown and an interception in two games when Carr was hurt.

Johnson might be a camp arm at this point, though he’ll be given a chance to compete this spring and summer.

Carr has been hurt for at least a small stretch in each of the last two seasons. Having Manuel in that spot might offer stability.

Gruden addressed last year’s backup quarterbacks last month at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Gruden on Manuel: “I think EJ is a young, talented guy,” Gruden said. “He’s been in the facility working out on his own every day. There is a bright upside to him, too, as a young quarterback to keep working with. He’s a free agent, but the Philadelphia Eagles proved that’s a pretty damn important position, isn’t it? Right? So we have to address that and see where we are.”

Gruden on Cook: “I am kind of surprised Connor hasn’t played in two years, other than the playoff game he got in as a rookie. After Derek got hurt last year, they turned the ball to EJ. I don’t know where Connor Cook is. I am frustrated right now that I can’t spend any time with him, but, April 9th (when the Raiders offeseason program starts) will be an exciting day for me and Connor Cook.”

Raiders sign tackle Breno Giacomini


Raiders sign tackle Breno Giacomini

The Raiders need help at right tackle, the lone vacancy along their offensive line. They signed a veteran presence on Thursday afternoon, adding 32-year old Breno Giacomini as the frontrunner to join the starting five.

He has 86 starts in 94 career games, and has been a full-time starter three of the last four years. Giacomini spent 2017 in Houston and the previous three seasons with the New York Jets.

He was a Seattle Seahawk before that, working with Raiders offensive line coach Tom Cable for three of his four years there. Cable gave Giacomini his first chance to start in the second half of 2011, and held the post through 2012.

The bond between the two is clearly strong, considering what Giacomini tweeted shortly after Cable got fired in Seattle.

Coach and player will reunite, hoping to provide steadiness on the right side of the Raiders offensive line.

He’ll compete for a starting spot with Vadal Alexander, second-year pros David Sharpe and Jylan Ware and possibly a drafted player. Giacomini should be considered the favorite unless the Raiders use an early pick on an offensive lineman.

Giacomini has plenty of starts, but his Pro Football Focus numbers aren’t pretty. The analytics says he allowed nine sacks, eight quarterback hits and 64 pressures with Houston last year. He had some decent years under Cable, and a return to that form might push him into the starting lineup for good. Time will tell on that front.