Raiders-Broncos: Matchups to watch


Raiders-Broncos: Matchups to watch

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders have a full-fledged new starter at quarterback in Carson Palmer. A new veteran slot receiver in T.J. Houshmandzadeh. And while Sebastian Janikowski's status is in doubt thanks to his strained left hamstring, there is no truth to the rumor that Jim Breech is in line to kick for Oakland against Denver.Yes, the in-season transitional Raiders have been catching heat for picking up so many former Cincinnati Bengals of late -- Chinedum Ndukwe, anyone? -- but their focus is squarely on the Broncos.A look, then, at some key on-field matchups to watch Sunday afternoon:
Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain (55) vs. Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (15)TALE OF THE TAPEMcClain: 6-3, 255, Alabama, second season
Tebow: 6-3, 236, Florida, second seasonThe Most Polarizing Figure in the Country and the Most Enigmatic Player in Raider Nation are sure to meet on the field, what with Tebow's proclivity for running up the middle of the field. The question, then, is will McClain's balky right ankle give him the mobility and agility to neutralize Tebow before he gets into the secondary?"There's certain things we'll do with (McClain) and again, he's been doing this for a couple of weeks," said Raiders defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan. "We get a feel for him during the week, even with the limited number of reps, how much can we give him? He was the first one to tell us in the last game, 'I've got to stop.'"So again, those are things we kind of judge during the week. I don't get into the injuries; I kind of let that be a gameday situation and we go with the feel and how he's ready to go. And our guys are ready to step up. If he can't go, the next guy's ready to go and we don't blink an eye."That McClain practiced Friday for the first time in weeks should be a good sign that he'll be able to play. After all, he has not missed a game since injuring the ankle at Houston on Oct. 9. Even if he's been limited.Besides, McClain's knowledge of Tebow -- they were SEC rivals in college -- should play a part as well as anything he can bring physically."I have a lot of respect for him," Tebow said of McClain. "I think he's a very good player. I really enjoyed playing against him in college. I feel like we had a great rivalry going, but with a lot of respect, and hopefully we'll continue that."Other matchups worth watchingRaiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (85) vs. Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey (24): Is there any doubt lingering that Darrius Heyward-Bey is the Raiders' No. 1 receiver? He is on pace to becoming the first wideout to lead the Raiders in receiving since Ronald Curry in 2007.And as such, DHB is starting to garner more respect from opposing defenses. Which is why seeing the Hall of Fame-bound Bailey lining up opposite him should not surprise anyone and, really, be seen as a sign of respect for the maturing third-year pass catcher.And not just on the field. Heyward-Bey is becoming a leader in the receiving corps that is charged with keeping the young and impressionable group on the same page, what with so much roster turnover in the past few weeks."I mean, for me, it's easy," he said. "Because you see guys come and go in this league all the time. I mean, every Tuesday there's people coming in here working out. Everybody's job is on the line. They bring guys in all the time so, it's normal in this world for us."Seeing a guy whose bust will soon be in Canton defending you? Yeah, that's normal now, too.Raiders vs. chemistry issues -- Speaking of all that roster turnover, surely the locker room chemistry is being tested. But just how important is such a non-tangible topic?"Very," admitted Raiders coach Hue Jackson. "I think it has a lot to do with everything, but I think part of that chemistry is communication by the head coach to the players. And I think if you're fair and you're honest, they might not agree with it, but as long as you're honest with them and you tell them why you do things, why it's this way, why we go about conducting our business in a certain way, they will respect that."I think if you're phony and you don't keep it real with them, I think that's how you lose your locker room."Jackson also said he's addressed that in the locker room recently."I tell them every time I make a decision because this is their football team, and I let them know exactly what we're doing and why we're doing it," Jackson said. "And I think thats important so nobody goes over to the laundry room and have a sit-down where nobody knows what's going on. We don't have that here."We put it all out on the table and tell it how it is. Like I say, everybody might not like it, but I think they respect it because it's coming from the right place. It's honest, it's up front and we don't hide anything."

Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice


Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice

ALAMEDA – Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin were out at Raiders practice Wednesday for the stretching period. Both edge rushers left one-at-a-time during the individual period, which open to the press, headed into the main building and did not return.

There was no reaction, certainly no surprise, from the coaching staff or players on the field. Irvin and new defensive coordinator John Pagano were seen joking around on the field before practice began in earnest. 

Both guys were given a day off, one scheduled earlier in the day. A Raiders official called it a day off/rest-type day that was not injury related. The Silver and Black typically practice in pads or shells on Wednesday, but were in jerseys and sweats in the interest of recovery.

Wednesday marked the first practice Irvin has missed since training camp. Mack hasn’t missed one in months.

Mack and Irvin’s downtime comes a day after beloved defensive coordinator Ken Norton’s firing.

Mack and Irvin especially were among those loyal to Norton. Mack and Norton developed a bond after the coach was named defensive coordinator in 2015. Norton and Irvin go way back to their days together in Seattle. Irvin credits Norton for helping him get on the right path and stay there.

Neither player was happy Norton got the axe. Irvin made his displeasure clear, tweeting “BULLS***” shortly after news of Norton’s demise broke. Mack told ESPN “I like to keep my thoughts private.”

It isn’t immediately clear if the non-injury related day off was related to Norton’s dismissal. Head coach Jack Del Rio won’t speak to the media again until Friday. New defensive coordinator John Pagano is scheduled to speak Thursday afternoon.

Del Rio addressed the media before Wednesday’s practice, and was asked how he’ll handle players unhappy with the in-season shake-up.

“I don’t try and 'handle' them,” Del Rio said. “I think the biggest thing is to understand the relationship, respect that, give him a little space and then at the end of the day, we’re going to get on with our work. But, I’m human. It wasn’t easy for me either.”

Del Rio: 'Nobody should feel comfortable,' following Norton firing


Del Rio: 'Nobody should feel comfortable,' following Norton firing

ALAMEDA – Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio put out a statement Tuesday explaining why he fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

He went into greater detail Wednesday afternoon, his first time facing the media since a change was made

Specifics will be discussed further down this story. We don’t, however, want to bury the lede.

Del Rio’s main message wasn’t about Norton. It applied to all in Silver and Black. This season has not met lofty expectations. That is unacceptable.

“I know one thing,” Del Rio said. “Nobody should feel comfortable, because what I’ve been watching is not good enough.”

Del Rio didn’t absolve himself from blame. Norton got fired, but everyone has played a part in this disappointing 4-6 record.

“It’s always shared,” Del Rio said. “A change was made, obviously. We all share in it, all of us, starting with me. It’s coaches and players. It’s a team game, and we’re all in it together. And nobody is coming to help us.”

The Raiders must look inward to start a prolonged winning streak they’ve shown little evidence they can create.

The seat will be warm under players and coaches alike, even if only one change was made. Expect further shakeup on the coaching staff after the season, if vast improvements don’t come down the stretch, possibly with several position coaches being shown the door. More than a few higher profile players could be cut or allowed to leave, especially on defense.

While Del Rio has taken more heat the past month than at any other time in his Raiders tenure, expect him to be around a longer term. He was given a contract extension in February, and has significant capitol built after changing the culture in Oakland and re-teaching this team how to win. One bad year, even if this season continues heading downhill, shouldn’t erase that.

Del Rio was looking to shake things up, and Norton was the obvious move. Experienced play caller John Pagano was on staff – he was Chargers defensive coordinator from 2012-2016 – and firing the popular Pagano’s style could create some new waves and looks that any offensive Norton would make an impact in the locker room and prove this story’s opening quote, that no one should feel comfortable.

Del Rio hopes firing Norton will be a shock to the defense’s system.

“I really felt like I needed to shake things up,” Del Rio said. “We couldn’t continue doing what we’ve been doing to this point. So I made the call. The whole idea is to change what we’re doing and make sure…what I’m looking for at the end of the day is for us to play fast on defense. We weren’t playing fast enough. We weren’t playing confident enough.”