Notes: Raiders 'getting close' to being a stout run defense

Notes: Raiders 'getting close' to being a stout run defense

SARASOTA, Fla. – The Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t run much on Sunday, but were certainly effective when they did.

They churned out 105 yards on just 16 attempts, a 6.6 yards per carry average that would make any defensive mind cringe. Had the Jaguars run more before the Raiders took control late in the first half, a 33-16 result might’ve been closer at the end.

Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio’s glass was half full Monday afternoon despite that showing, and he focused on the positives gleaned from analyzing game tape.

His biggest takeaway: The Raiders are oh, so close to being stout against the run.

“I think it’s really coming together and getting close to being really, really good,” Del Rio said during his press conference at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, where the Raiders will prep for next week’s game at Tampa Bay. “I don’t like to see any runs go through us. We’ll continue to work where we need to. The attention to detail, the physicality of the guys in the trenches, we have the right people to be really good up front.”

The Raiders are near the bottom in run defense, allowing 128.3 yards per game and seven rushing touchdowns through seven contests. They were gashed for 180-plus yards by Kansas City and Tennessee thus far, and have given up triple digits five times thus far.

Del Rio sees improvement stopping the run, which will be aided by players maintaining gaps and operating as 11 players working together as one unit.

Several players were encourage by greater cohesion against Jacksonville, something that hurt the Raiders in previous games.

“What I keep saying is the work is there, is being put in,” Del Rio said. “The care is there. I mean, our guys care. We’re staying together, I really see it. Throughout the staff, with the players, everybody is hanging onto the rope. Everybody is pulling the rope in the same direction. We’re going to make improvements with that approach. We’ve got good people that care. If you have good people that care to stick together, then good things are going to happen.”

Good things are starting to happen for the Raiders pass rush. They flustered Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles most of the day and, while the only had one sack, Bortles was hit seven times and pressured on 11 other occasions.

The pass rush is starting to crank up, but Del Rio still wants more in the middle.

“We feel like we’ve got a couple guys that can really get there,” Del Rio said. “We’re still looking for a little more interior push and I think as we get that, I think it’ll make the entire rush look at a lot better. But, we’re getting good energy, good effort from those guys.”

Edwards Jr. headed for Sunshine State: Raiders defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. has spent the season on injured reserve, but was eligible to start practicing last week for a Week 9 return. That hasn’t happened yet, though Edwards Jr. will join the team in Florida this week and is expected to start side work that would be a precursor of a return to practice.

The delayed start might mean he won’t be ready to face Denver when eligible and that he might return later in the season, though that remains undetermined.

Riley-Smith combo works well inside: The Raiders inserted veteran linebacker Perry Riley into the starting lineup over rookie Cory James, a move that paid immediate dividends. He worked well with Malcolm Smith on the inside, and formed a solid duo against the run and pass the Raiders will stick with in the immediate future.

“Those guys have a lot of skins on the wall, so to speak,” Del Rio said. “They’ve been through a lot of battles. So the experience is there. We really like Cory. Cory is a good, young player, but to have those two guys and the experience that they have and the number of battles that they’ve been in, they communicated well together. The idea going into the game was we’re going to play all three, but the way we started, we started well and those two guys played well. We just basically left them (out there), let them go.

This ‘n’ that: Stacy McGee suffered an ankle injury in Sunday’s game, and Del Rio didn’t provide an update on his status. Kelechi Osemele tweaked his knee against Jacksonville, but was able to return to the game and should be fine. ...Michael Crabtree was flagged for a throat slash after his Sunday touchdown despite the fact he’s paying homage to the HBO character Kenny Powers with his fingers. Del Rio said Crabtree and the Raiders must be smarter about avoiding unnecessary penalties. The Raiders were flagged 11 times for 117 yards on Sunday.

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.