Notes: McGee flashing interior pass rush Raiders crave

Notes: McGee flashing interior pass rush Raiders crave

ALAMEDA – The Raiders sack leader is not a guy you’d expect. It’s defensive tackle Stacy McGee, a fourth-year veteran primarily known as a rotational run stuffer who has shown greater pass-rush ability this season.

He has 2.5 sacks in the first five games, including 1.5 in Sunday’s 34-31 victory over the San Diego Chargers. He also had four tackles and two forced fumbles in that game, by far his best statistical showing as a pro.

“Stacy’s a guy who has done some great things for us,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said in his Monday press conference. “He has flashed rushes and been really close on a couple this year, and it was nice to see him finish some.”

It’s something McGee has been working on, to be a more productive interior pass rusher.

“It’s about continually rushing,” McGee said. “Even when I think I’m beat, I have to just keep going and going and going until I get to the quarterback. It’s starting to pay off for me.”

McGee has gotten better push on the inside, something the Raiders need with so much attention paid to Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin on the outside.

“We’re going to get a lot of attention with the outside guys,” Del Rio said. “We look forward to getting Mario (Edwards Jr.) back at some point, which we will.

“Guys like Stacy and (Jihad Ward) have to step up and be a presence in the middle for us to have the kind of rush we’re looking for.”

Edwards Jr. on track? The Raiders miss defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr., who has been on injured reserve since the season began. Del Rio was asked about his progress, and said he believes the second-year pro is on track for a return near midseason.

Edwards Jr. is eligible to play starting in Week 9 against the Denver Broncos. He’s allowed to practice starting next week in preparation for game action.

“Whenever he’s eligible to practice and all that and he’s ready to go, we’ll get him started,” Del Rio said.

Edwards Jr. suffered a hip injury in the preseason opener at Arizona, and is expected to be the one player the Raiders designate to return off of injured reserve.

Carr change play on 4th down?: The Raiders went for it on a crucial fourth down late in the third quarter against San Diego, and Carr didn't run the play as called. That's what NFL Network's Mike Silver reported, that he checked out to the play everyone saw, that became a 21-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree. Del Rio played coy on the topic in his press conference.

"He may have," Del Rio said with a smile. "He does have the freedom to do that. That goes back to the whole trust thing. As he’s made good decisions and made accurate throws, and in those situations, we give him more leeway to do those things." 

Injury update: Del Rio said he’s hopeful that running back Latavius Murray (toe) and weakside linebacker Malcolm Smith can return to play the Kansas City Chiefs next week.

Del Rio sounded optimistic about Smith’s return.

“I would anticipate getting him back this week,” Del Rio said. “We went into the game yesterday trying not to use him if we could, but he was available in an emergency role. We got through the game without having to put him in.”

Too many pre-snap penalties: Pre-snap penalties shouldn’t happen much at home, especially on offense. That wasn’t the case on Sunday, when four of the team’s six penalties were false starts. Another came before the snap with defensive lineman Denico Autry lined up in the neutral zone.

“The pre-snap penalties, don’t have a lot of patience for those,” Del Rio said. “We have zero tolerance for those. We’ve got to clean those up. Pre-snap penalties get me going there.”

Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders


Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden had a hand in drafting Josh Johnson a decade ago. The agile quarterback and Oakland native was a Tampa Bay’s fifth-round pick in 2008, Gruden’s last year as Buccaneers coach.

The pair will reunite in Johnson’s hometown. The well-traveled quarterback signed with the Raiders on Monday, the team announced.

Johnson will compete with Connor Cook to backup starter Derek Carr, and brings a veteran’s influence to the position group. It likely spells the end of EJ Manuel’s short tenure in silver and black. The strong-armed former first-round pick, who started one game last season, remains a free agent after a year with the Raiders.

This move should make Marshawn Lynch happy. He and Johnson are extremely close and together run the Family First Foundation, a charitable organization that does significant work for East Bay kids. Johnson and Lynch also played football together at Oakland Tech High.

Johnson has played 10 NFL teams prior to this Raiders stop, but hasn’t played in a regular-season game for some time.

Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'


Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden needed specific tools to run his running game. He wanted blocking tight ends and a bruising fullback, relics of a bygone offensive era.

“If Marshawn Lynch is the feature back, I think it’d be nice if we serviced him with a fullback,” Gruden said at the combine. … You need a blocking tight end if you’re going to slam the ball with a beast. So, those are two things that I’m looking for.”

Gruden said he wanted to import some old-school elements to help run with brute force.

Enter free-agent fullback Kyle Smith and tight end Derek Carrier. Welcome back, Lee Smith.

Then, on Sunday, Raiders made another vital move in this old school effort. They cut Marshawn Lynch a $1 million check.

The Oakland native’s roster bonus came due and the Raiders had no problem paying it, the clearest sign Lynch will be the Raiders feature back in 2018.

He’ll have a great chance to thrive in that role. The Raiders have a hulking, expensive offensive line (that still needs a right tackle). They have new ancillary blocking elements, and the centerpiece remains in place.

That last part was expected in recent weeks. The coaching staff, offensive line coach Tom Cable especially, wanted Lynch back. NFL Network confirmed those facts, stating Lynch will be around in 2018.

That was the case, even with Doug Martin’s addition. The former Tampa Bay back is expected to be a backup bruiser, someone who might put DeAndre Washington or (less likely) Jalen Richard’s job in jeopardy.

The Raiders can cut Lynch without a cap hit. Lynch is scheduled to make $6 million in salary and bonuses, with another $2 million available in incentives. The Raiders should hope to pay those; it would mean Lynch is running well.

The Raiders have given him a great opportunity to do so. They have solid blocking and a coach in Cable who helped him succeed during dominant days in Seattle.

Lynch proved he’s still got it in 2017’s second half, with 70 percent of his 891 rushing yards in the final eight games. He struggled early on, and upset some fans by helping the opposition during a scuffle with Kansas City. That mitigated a PR bump the Raiders looked for when signing a popular Oakland native just months after committing to Las Vegas long-term.

Jack Del Rio and staff grew tired of what they perceived as leeway given to Lynch unavailable to others, and probably wouldn’t have kept him on if still gainfully employed.

Gruden seems committed to Lynch this season, though nothing is ever 100 percent with an enigmatic rusher who doesn’t make private thoughts public.

His elusive, rough-and-tumble rushing style fits well with what Gruden wants, though he demands commitment to the team and sport. Sports Illustrated relayed a story of Gruden saying he needed a “full-time Lynch.”

If he gets that, the Raiders run game should thrive.