Penn’s theory on Raiders' slow starts: ‘We’re so uptight’


Penn’s theory on Raiders' slow starts: ‘We’re so uptight’

The Raiders were down two scores to Baltimore Sunday, to paraphrase Jack Del Rio, before butts hit seats. The Ravens scored 14 points in less than four minutes, with a little help from their opposition.

The Silver and Black defense gave up a huge play and lots of efficient runs. Touchdown No. 1. Then Jared Cook lost a fumble returned to the house. Touchdown No. 2.

That sequence was unique, but the outcome has become common. The Raiders are getting their butts kicked in the first quarter during a three-game losing streak.

They didn’t have a first-quarter first down in losses to Washington and Denver. They gave up an opening drive touchdown in two of three defeats and have been outscored 31-3 the last three games.

The Raiders have incurred double-digit deficits in each chapter of this downturn, falling too far to recover before the final whistle.

Raiders left tackle Donald Penn knows the reason why.

“We’re so uptight,” Penn said. “We expected to have a different start these first five games. I think we need to take a deep breath and relax. We’re so on edge. We don’t want to make a mistake. We just want everything to be perfect and, in this game, it’s not going to be that way.

“I think that’s how we’re starting off games especially. We’re so jittery, looking for everything to go right. One we get settled, you can see us start to go. These losses are starting to pile up, and everybody’s trying to spark something instead of going with the flow and doing your job. We’re a little timid at the start because we’re trying to be so perfect.”

The Raiders hope to rectify the situation Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers. A win puts them back in the mix heading into a Thursday night clash against Kansas City. A loss drops the Raiders into last place.

Penn believes a good start would go a long way. The first two games are proof. The Raiders went up early on Tennessee and the New York Jets, played smart defense and cruised to victory.

“The games we started faster, we won. The last couple games, it’s been hard for us to catch up,” Penn said. “One good, positive thing about this team is that we’re fighters. We fought til the end. I can accept that, and it’s something positive I can take forward. Not matter how far down we are, we’re still fighting. We always think we have a chance to win, no matter what.”

The Raiders aren’t turning on one another, understanding 11 games offers plenty of time to get right.

“We’re positive. We’re upbeat. We know we’re a good team,” Penn said. “We just have to fine tune and get everybody from every phase working together. We haven’t played a complete game as a group.

“It’s going to turn. It had better turn this Sunday. We need a win. We need one, bad.”

Raiders exercise Amari Cooper's fifth-year option

Raiders exercise Amari Cooper's fifth-year option

Amari Cooper’s rookie contract has been extended.

The Raiders exercised their fifth-year option on 2015’s No. 4 overall pick, the team announced on Monday, keeping the receiver under contract through the 2019 season. The Silver and Black plan on keep Cooper around far longer than that, with an eye toward a long-term extension down the road.

“We really like Amari,” general manager Reggie McKenzie said Friday.

McKenzie wouldn’t commit to exercising his fifth-year option during his pre-draft press conference, though exercising it was never in doubt.

Cooper will make $13.9 million in 2019, a sum that stems from averaging the top 10 salaries among players at his position. The option is guaranteed for injury only right now, but becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2019 league year.

Cooper has been excellent early in his NFL career, with 2,903 yards and 18 touchdowns in three professional seasons. Last year was his worst, with just 680 yards and effectiveness lost due to injury.

Cooper is just 23 years old, with a bright future ahead if he can stay healthy.

Head coach Jon Gruden has said Cooper will be the passing game’s primary weapon in his new offensive scheme.

"He has to get healthy and stay healthy," Gruden said. "We need him to be the player he was the first two years. I've said it earlier. We're going to make him the main vein of our passing offense and move him around a lot. "…We are really excited about him. I think he's entering the prime of his career. "

Raiders could complete secondary makeover in NFL draft

Raiders could complete secondary makeover in NFL draft

The Raiders have used significant draft capital on defensive backs. Karl Joseph was their 2016 first-round pick. Gareon Conley was last year’s first-rounder, followed by safety Obi Melifonwu in the second round.

DJ Hayden got drafted No. 12 overall in 2013, but didn’t stick. Neither did Sean Smith or David Amerson, who were cut during the life of big-money contracts.

That has led to yet another secondary overhaul. Safety Marcus Gilchrist and cornerback Rashaan Melvin signed one-year deals in free agency, and will join Conley and Joseph in the starting lineup.

That doesn’t mean another secondary makeover is complete. The Raiders need a solid No. 3 cornerback and a starter for the future. A safety isn’t out of the question, even with Gilchrist and Joseph atop a depth chart that includes Melifonwu and veteran Reggie Nelson.

Top options could be available with the No. 10 overall pick, guys who could help right away. Let’s take a look at some possible impact players in the secondary:

CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State
-- Ward is the best cover man in this draft. It’s hard to find anyone able to argue that. He isn’t that big (5-11, 183), but is agile and quick, technically savvy and an excellent route reader. He can make plays on the ball, and is rarely out of position. He doesn’t have great length and won’t jam receivers up at the line, but is a top talent in this draft, regardless of position. The Raiders drafted an Ohio State cornerback first last year (Conley), but that will have zero bearing on this year’s pick. Ward would join Conley and Melvin to form the Raiders’ cornerback corps in the Reggie McKenzie era. He and Conley could be a long-term solution at a spot where the Raiders have struggled to find stability.
Projected round (per 1

DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
-- The former member of the Crimson Tide is a do-it-all defensive back expected to go early in this draft. The Raiders might not be on the clock long if he’s available at No. 10 overall. This dynamic playmaker can cover the slot, play deep safety or even a sub package linebacker, solving several points of weakness with one roster spot. He’s a tone-setter and an excellent chess piece for defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and secondary coach Derrick Ansley, who also coached him at Alabama last year and might be his champion in Alameda.
Projected round (per 1

CB Jaire Alexander, Louisville
-- The Raiders could use a slot cornerback. Conley could play there and has the talent to switch inside and out, but having someone comfortable playing inside would be of benefit with slot receivers so prominent in today’s game. The former Cardinal is solid playing inside, armed with excellent speed and short-area quickness. He’s also a solid tackler and run defender, and can handle the two-way go from the slot. He’s highly touted, yet still might last until the latter portions of the first round. He might be an option should the Raiders trade down, or trade back into the first. It’s highly unlikely, yet possible he makes it to the second if teams are wary of his relatively slight frame.
Projected rounds (per 1-2

CB Isaiah Oliver, Colorado
Oliver is built like an NFL outside cornerback, with the length and range to play physical at the line of scrimmage. He can play man or zone coverage, with solid ball skills and deep speed. Analysts say he could use some development time, and the Raiders could give him that with Conley and Melvin already in the fray.
Projected round (per 2

CB Holton Hill, Texas
-- Hill’s a big guy at 6-3, 200 pounds, but has decent speed for his size. He might fall down in the draft after getting suspended last year for violating Texas’ team rules, and he might be a steal because of that. The Raiders would have to be convinced maturity issues aren’t a concern anymore, because that stuff won’t fly in Jon Gruden’s locker room. Analysts say he must continue to develop technically, but could be a proper fit for the Raiders coverage scheme.
Projected rounds (per 4-5

CB Greg Stroman, Virginia Tech
-- Scouts seem to be scared off by his rail-thin frame and inability to add bulk, but the dude can cover. He can play well in off coverage, with solid closing speed to make plays on the ball. He’s sticky against receivers of all sizes, and regularly made plays on the ball. He could be an early contributor found late in this draft.
Projected round (per 7