Raiders

Khalil Mack's three-word mantra during Raiders' limbo period in Oakland

Khalil Mack's three-word mantra during Raiders' limbo period in Oakland

The Raiders press corps has expanded. Several reporters from Las Vegas and a national media member joined the typical Bay Area crew on Monday, a sign that these Raiders will receive more attention this year.

That’s customary for a good team with engaging, marketable stars, but also a proof that these Raiders are serving two markets.

It’s a tightrope players have walked since NFL owners allowed the Raiders to move from Oakland to Las Vegas by a 31-1 vote. Before Monday, it was mostly with fans met out in public. Media access began Monday to kick off the offseason program, and marked the first time players were engaged in post-relocation talk with cameras rolling.

The Raiders plan to play three seasons in the Bay Area – they have lease options at Oakland Coliseum through 2018 – before a new, state-of-the-art Las Vegas stadium is ready in 2020. That’s a long limbo period, one where the Raiders hope to receive solid fan support from a market they are leaving while catering some to a market they’ll be joining soon.

Khalil Mack morphed Al Davis’ famous mantra into a way the Raiders can navigate often-choppy waters.

“It comes up all the time but it’s always the thing like, ‘just win now,’” Mack said Monday, answering the fourth relocation-related question of his press conference. “That’s what it comes down to for us. That’s all we want to do. You don’t know what’s going to happen down the line. You don’t know. This team that we have now, we want to focus on winning now.”

Center Rodney Hudson was asked about Las Vegas or relocation five times, and deflected each inquiry. Can’t blame him for that, When handed a hot potato, it’s best to pass it on.

Quarterback Derek Carr is the Raiders’ public face, and has consequently been the most vocal on the topic. That included an impassioned message released on Twitter the day the Raiders were approved to move. He talked about uniting Raider Nation, and thanking Oakland fans and saying how much the team loves the East Bay.

He echoed similar sentiments on Monday during seven Vegas-related questions, and understands there might be awkward moments ahead.

“I’m human, man. It’s like, that’s crazy. How do you keep playing somewhere you love and then you have to go and play somewhere else that you’re going to have to love and love the people there just like we will?” Carr said. “For me, I really had to concentrate on, in all honesty, it doesn’t matter yet.

“It’s like something that’s coming, it’s big news, it’s exciting for our organization and for fans that are Raider fans in Nevada and things like that, but at the same time we have our fans here that we need to take care of. That’s really important to me, to take care of our fans here, to make sure that enjoy our last times… What is it? Two years? Three years? Who knows? But, that’s my focus is to make sure I’m giving everything to this city that I can and not trying to do a little here and a little there.

“Obviously, there are going to be times where we’re in Vegas doing things because it’s a weird situation, but my focus is here and now, making sure that our fans feel appreciated knowing that they are going to get the very best version of me and my teammates every time we step out on the field.”

Despite repeated answers promoting unity, including one where Carr described positive interactions with Raiders fans in the Oakland area, he took some flak Tuesday for using the phrase “true Raider fans,” to describe those who remain loyal. His comment, presented in its entirety below, rubbed some fans the wrong way despite Carr’s great efforts to remain inclusive and express the difficulty inherent in serving two markets. He said fans have remained positive when engaging him.

“Honestly, it was surprising to me. I don’t know if it really should have surprised me because that’s just how Raider fans are,” he said. “It’s just, ‘Hey, we’re going with you. We’re Raiders.’ Like I said in the message, through the hard times and the good times, we’re still Raiders. There’s been a lot of hard times before. Now, we’re starting to have some good times. This is just another thing that we’re just going to deal with together. We’re not going to split up like you’ve seen other cities do. We’re not going to do things like that. For the ones that do, I don’t really believe that they’re true Raider fans. I feel their hurt. I’m with you. I hurt too. But at the same time, we’re all in this together and we’re just going to do it together.”

He reiterated his point on Twitter later Monday night, saying, “Just in case I was misunderstood…I love ALL Raiders fans, wherever they are from…We are in this together, always! #RaiderNation.”

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.”