Raiders

Raiders' Carr, Mack promote unity, racial harmony during national anthem

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USATSI

Raiders' Carr, Mack promote unity, racial harmony during national anthem

OAKLAND – All eyes shifted to the Raiders sideline Saturday night when the national anthem played.

Yep, Marshawn Lynch took a seat. No shocker there. He did the same thing last week, and while he hasn’t addressed it specifically, the action is linked with other anthem protests bringing attention to mistreatment of minorities in the United States.

Bruce Irvin stood with his brethren but raised his fist, as he did several times last year.

Derek Carr stood right on the sideline, and put his arm on Khalil Mack’s left shoulder. That gesture wasn't happenstance. It carried a message. It wasn’t, Carr insists, meant to protest anything.

“We’re not doing anything like that,” Carr said after a 24-21 loss to the Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Coliseum. “We wanted to show the kids that look up to me, look up to him, white kids, black kids, brown kids, blue, green, it doesn’t matter -- all be loving to each other. We’re best friends and we’re loving to one another.

“The only reason we did that was to unify the people that look up to us because obviously you see what’s going on in the world. Obviously everyone pays attention to the national anthem nowadays. We just said that obviously this was the best time to do it while still honoring this country because I love this country. We’re free to live here and play this game but we’re also free to show that we love one another.”

Mack isn’t one to rock the boat. He and Carr wanted to make a statement without ruffling feathers, something that would remain positive while addressing racial issues prevalent in the news today.

“It’s discussed a lot,” Mack said. “It’s one of the things I feel passionately about but I just don’t like the tension that comes with it. But at the same time, just using our platform for positivity is what’s important to me.”

Offensive coordinator Todd Downing put an arm on fullback Jamize Olawale and echoed the Carr-Mack message. We’ve seen similar signs of unity across the league. Philadelphia defensive end Chris Long, son of former Raiders pass rusher Howie Long, put an arm around Malcolm Jenkins while he protested. Seattle center Justin Britt put an hand on Michael Bennett’s shoulder while he sat for the national anthem.

Those actions drew attention. Carr and Mack do the same.

Their star power increases the volume of their message. Carr’s an MVP candidate and the league’s highest-paid player. Mack is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. When they do something, people pay attention. That was their hope on Saturday, when the cameras would be aimed at them.

Carr and Mack are good friends off the field, and want to be an example of unity despite different races and backgrounds.

“I think that’s the message, the only message we were trying to get out,” Carr said. “Any kid, any family, any adult that follows us and looks up to us we knew their eyes would be on us and we wanted to show them for a white kid and black kid that grew up in different neighborhoods can grow up and love one another and be best friends.”

How John Pagano plans to impact Raiders defense: ‘There is always room for change’

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How John Pagano plans to impact Raiders defense: ‘There is always room for change’

ALAMEDA – John Pagano can’t implement his scheme in a week. He can’t import his plays and preferences cultivated during five seasons as Chargers defensive coordinator. Full offseason programs and training camps are required for that.

Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. was fired on Tuesday. Pagano will call his first Raiders game five days later against Denver at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders’ assistant head coach – defense believes he can impact how the Silver and Black does business.

“There’s always room for change and there’s always room for doing things better,” Pagano said Thursday. “Without telling you our game plan, it’s about how we go out and execute the call, bottom line.”

Head coach Jack Del Rio said the Raiders weren’t playing fast enough. They weren’t creating enough turnovers, weren’t doing well enough on third down and weren’t regularly affecting the quarterback due to a lack of both rush and coverage.

That’s why Norton had to go.

Pagano’s first objective, which must get accomplished in a few days, is getting the Raiders to play with confidence. Then he can add some design wrinkles with some of his personality.

“You have to have that ability of going out there, knowing your assignment and playing faster,” Pagano said. “It’s not to say that there have been times where we’ve simplified things, but taking the thinking out of the game and making them react is, I think, most important. Going out there and playing fast and that’s doing the little extra things, the attention to details of studying and getting those things processed. See ball, go get ball.”

That last sentence sums up how Pagano wants his guys to play. He’s a quality play caller and creative blitzer with a knack making simple plays look complex. He can find and exploit opposing weak links. His defenses have always been good creating pressure and turnovers alike. The Raiders need more of both.

To do that Pagano wants to relieve a player’s mental burden and keep them focused on using talent well.

“The one thing I’ve always stressed and always been about is technique, fundamentals and unbelievable effort,” Pagano said. “I think those three things can get you home.”

The Raiders haven’t been home much as a defense. They’re tied for last with 14 sacks. They’re dead last with six turnovers. They’ve gone 10 games without an interception, the longest single-season drought in NFL history.

A lack of big defensive plays has killed the Raiders this season. It obviously increases points allowed. Good field position has been hard to come by. The offense has to earn everything the hard way. That’s a recipe for losing football, a maddening turn after the Raiders finished second with 30 takeaways last year.

Pagano has a chart listing “MOPs,” short for missed opportunities. There have been many, especially in a secondary he oversaw before this week.

“I talked to these guys this week about we need to do simple better,” Pagano said. “What is simple? It’s fundamentals of covering. It’s tackling. It’s communicating. It’s catching the ball when it comes. We’ve had opportunities. It’s not like we’re out there struggling and straining to dive and layout for the thing. It’s hit us in the hands where we’ve had many, many opportunities.”

Missed opportunities have also plagued a pass rush featuring reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack. Pagano brought up a moment early in Sunday’s lost to New England, when Treyvon Hester forced a fumble near three teammates that the Patriots somehow recovered.

Pagano’s goal is to improve performance. Players must buy in to do that. Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin headline a large group close to Norton, one with enough pride and professionalism to get behind a new playcaller in Pagano, who could be here long term.

“There is a human element to this,” Pagano said. “We are family. It’s sad any time a member of your family gets dismissed or something. At the end of the day, we have the Broncos coming in here on Sunday and we have to get our minds right to go play this game. That’s something that they’ve done a great job with this week, truly focusing in on what we need to do.”

Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice

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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 was open to the press, headed into the main building and did not return.

There was no perceived 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 Irvin and Mack were given a practice off. 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.

This day off's timing did raise an eyebrow.

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

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

Several defensive players were upset about Norton's firing, but 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.” Defensive stars declined comment Wednesday or didn't appear in the locker room when the media was present. 

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.”