Raiders

New and improved Raiders CB TJ Carrie on prowl for starting spot

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AP

New and improved Raiders CB TJ Carrie on prowl for starting spot

NAPA – Derek Carr quickly found his intended receiver, with just enough space to sneak a completion through. Or so he thought.

TJ Carrie read the play just right, jumped the route and intercepted Carr at full speed. He continued down the sideline for what would’ve been a pick six in practice or a game.

“TJ made a great jump,” Carr said. “He read the play and he jumped it.”

Carrie ended Wednesday’s practice with that bang, marking the best play of a quality training camp. The Concord De La Salle High grad has earned first-unit reps over veteran Sean Smith the last week, and has fared well playing against top receivers.

The fact he made the play shows Carrie is making strides, and that the Raiders secondary as a whole is improving.

“He wouldn’t have jumped that last year,” Carr said. “They’re recognizing things faster and that’s why I just dropped back and threw it. They wouldn’t recognize it that quick. They wouldn’t be on top of their stuff. Sometimes we’d catch them slipping, miscommunicating and then we’d go. And that’s not a fault, that’s just them learning how to play together.”

Carrie is growing as a player, and is hungry as ever entering the final year of his rookie contract. The 2014 seventh-round pick has shown improved ball skills in camp. He has covered with greater confidence and physicality, even against top receivers.

“That’s something that I’ve tried to enhance every year,” Carrie said. “Quarterbacks are putting the ball in tight spaces. Their reads are sharp, and you have to know how to put yourself in position to make be strong, physical and aggressive at the point of attack.”

Carrie has fought for a starting spot before. He won one in 2015, when he started 14 games. He played some safety to band-aid an injury plague, but primarily played outside and in the slot. Sean Smith and David Amerson were starters last season with DJ Hayden in the slot.

Smith and Amerson were projected to retain their spots, with first-round draft pick Gareon Conley as the nickel corner. Two guys draw big paychecks. The third has high draft status.

Carrie didn’t care. He trusted head coach Jack Del Rio’s credo that you get what you earn, and that he doesn’t care where you came from. Everyone competes on an equal plane.

“Coach Del Rio lays it on the line and tells everyone how it’s going to be,” Del Rio said. “You have the expectation that there’s a chance. When you have that thought in your head, you want to work hard and study more because your labor could pay off at the end of the day. He gives everyone an open battle.

“That’s what I mean about having to re-prove yourself. You never know the situation. Coach doesn’t care where you got drafted or even if you did. If you’re out there executing at the highest level, you’re going to play.”

That’s playing out at Carrie’s spot. The Raiders are tinkering with Smith’s role, playing him at a hybrid linebacker/safety spot in sub packages. Even when he played outside, he was behind Carrie. It’s uncertain how long that will last. It’s uncertain where Conley will play once he’s healthy enough to practice.

Carrie isn’t focused on that. He just wants to put his best foot forward every day.

“Nothing is guaranteed in this league,” Carrie said. “You have to re-prove, to re-show coaches that I’m the best corner, someone who should be playing against the No. 1s. You need the same energy and desire to show well as you did your first year. You have to work your butt off to be in the right position and make sure coaches get the best view of you.”

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.”