QB Cook tasked with helping Raiders prep for Newton's unique style


QB Cook tasked with helping Raiders prep for Newton's unique style

ALAMEDA – Connor Cook is practicing in style this week. The Raiders rookie quarterback has been rocking the high shorts, wristbands, hi-tops and compression calf sleeves that, when paired with a silver No. 1 jersey, Cook a looks little bit like Cam Newton. Such homage is a regular occurrence for a scout team quarterback charged with approximating the opposing quarterback.

“It’s been a running thing throughout the whole season,” Cook said. “Whatever team we play, I try to dress up like that guy. … He has the swag in practice, we’re trying have swag like him.”

The look isn’t that tough to copy. Emulating Newton’s won’t be so easy.

Newton’s a hulk at his position, with a 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame that makes him tough to bring down. Combine that with a cannon arm and fleet feet to form a unique talent who has become one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.

“He’s a championship quality player,” Raiders edge rusher Khalil Mack said. “He’s someone you have to account for. It’s going to be a big challenge for us.”

The league’s reigning MVP poses unique challenges on the Raiders defense, one that has proven at times to be vulnerable to misdirection and play-action. Newton executes both concepts well, with running ability required to make multiple options possible.

Newton has been good, yet less than his Superman self. He has completed 56.5 percent of his passes for 2,168 yards, 11 touchdowns and seven interception. He has also been sacked 25 times and has taken some vicious hits. He has also lost a fumble.

He remains a considerable threat who can take control of a game and never let go. The Raiders have great respect for that.

“He’s in such control of what he’s doing,” Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. “He understands football. He understands his strengths and weaknesses. He’s a really good football player and there’s no question you have to really do your homework. You have to really be disciplined, responsible football to be successful versus this team.”

Part of that is having a solid game plan and get some practice reps against his playing style. That’s no easy task for Cook, who is a much different size and prefers to stay in the pocket.

“Not nearly as big as Cam,” Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said in jest. “Doesn’t throw nearly as hard. Yet. He’s getting in the weight room and working on that, (laughter). But, our guys are always trying to give the defense a real accurate portrayal and an accurate look. That’s Connor’s role this year, is to prepare the defense to the best of his ability.”

New Raiders cornerback supremely confident, 'here to dominate the league'


New Raiders cornerback supremely confident, 'here to dominate the league'

Rashaan Melvin has the supreme confidence of a No. 1 cornerback, with none of the pedigree. Top cover men are often drafted high, paid well or both, with a steady ascent to elite status.

This undrafted talent bounced around the league without job security, trying and often failing to find NFL footing.

Melvin spent time with Tampa Bay, Miami, Baltimore, New England and Miami again before establishing himself in Indianapolis. The Colts gave him a real shot and he took advantage, evolving into the team’s top cornerback. Last year was Melvin’s best, but it didn’t provide a long-term contract despite a bull market for cover men.

Melvin signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal with the Raiders on Friday, the type of prove-it deal that could establish a big payday down this time next year. The 28-year old doesn’t consider that pressure. Melvin knowns another big year's on the way, one that proves he's an elite cornerback

"I’m here to dominate the league," Melvin said Friday in a conference call. "It might be time for some new faces at the cornerback position. That’s my take on that. I’m excited for it.”

Melvin wouldn’t trade his long road for a conventional path, and believes experience both good and bad has prepared him for a pivotal season.

“I’ve been cut four times,” Melvin said. “I’ve been in four different locker rooms, and I was able to gain my teammates’ trust, my coaches’ trust and the organization’s trust as well. My confidence just grows over time. There are not a lot of players that can say they’ve been cut four times and end up in a situation where I’m at today. Like I said, it’s perfect timing. My work ethic, my style of play and the way I approach the game and the way I approach my job, my business, it speaks for itself.”

Melvin’s work ethic is unquestioned. His reputation as a grinder is well documented, especially after establishing himself in Indianapolis. Commitment to a craft has created a player with consistent coverage and ball skills.

Melvin was excellent last year. According to Pro Football Focus, Melvin created an incomplete pass (combining passes defensed and interceptions) on 23.6 percent of his targets.

Passers had a 60.3 passer rating against him in 2017, with just 29 completions for 328 yards on 55 targets. The passer rating was 86.6 in 2016, his only other season as a regular starter.

The Raiders need that type of player on the outside. They’ve had inconsistent cornerback play (that’s being kind) in recent seasons, and are hoping Melvin provides stability at a key position. The Northern Illinois alum has loftier aspirations, individually and as the leader of a young position group.

“The goal is to be the best player I can be, first-team All-Pro,” Melvin said. “I’m going to show my leadership, help these young guys out this year. They have tons of potential to be successful in their own careers. For me coming in here and being the leader and showing that, hey, this is what it takes to be successful in this football league, that’s what I’m willing to do. That’s what I’m willing to bring to the table. On the football field, but outside as well.”

Paying $6.5 million for all that would be a bargain. Melvin’s the key acquisition in a secondary built around 2016 first-round safety Karl Joseph and 2017 first-round cornerback Gareon Conley. This secondary can be solid if those guys can realize potential and Melvin’s a true No. 1 cornerback.

He considers that title appropriate, and is ready to show he’s more that a one-year wonder. The Raiders have great confidence in Melvin, something clear after targeting him early in the free-agent process. Financing’s always a big factor, but Friday’s meeting with head coach Jon Gruden, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and secondary coach Derrick Ansley convinced Melvin that Oakland’s a proper fit.

“I can relate to these guys,” Melvin said. “They have big plans for me, big plans for the organization. I was born to be a part of something special; that’s happening in Oakland. It was a good thing. We were able to get everything done, a deal done. I’m just excited to be here and I’m excited to see what the future holds for us as a team and me as a player.”

Raiders to sign former 49ers defensive lineman


Raiders to sign former 49ers defensive lineman

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden wanted veterans to help turn his defense around. He added a linebacker and defensive backs aplenty. Then, on Friday night, he gave the front some help.

Former 49ers defensive lineman Tank Carradine will sign with the Raiders, the 28-year old announced on his Instagram page. 

The Sacramento Bee first reported the news. 

He visited the Raiders on Thursday and was in Seattle earlier Friday, but will sign with the Silver and Black.

Carradine could help their transition to a more traditional 4-3 alignment, able to play end in the base defense. He has proven himself as a solid run defender, but believes he can be an effective pass rusher if given the opportunity.

Carradine didn’t get many pass-rushing chances with the 49ers, who generally removed him on passing downs. He has 5.5 sacks in four professional seasons. He played 37.9 percent of 49ers defensive snaps during eight games with the 49ers last season. He missed the same amount on short-term injured reserve with an ankle injury.

At 6-foot-4, 270 pounds, he has the size to be a 4-3 base end. He’ll likely have to battle Mario Edwards Jr. for snaps opposite Khalil Mack, though Bruce Irvin will take that spot in sub packages.

Carradine will be the 10th free-agent signing expected to make the roster, which means the roster turnover this summer should be significant. 

Here was his Instagram post from Friday night: 

Proud to become an Oakland Raider! Let's go #raiders#nation

A post shared by Cornellius Smith (@tank.carradine) on