Raiders looking for new leadership core on special teams


Raiders looking for new leadership core on special teams

NAPA – The Raiders were solid on special teams last season, with several core veterans anchoring that effort. Brynden Trawick, Darren Bates, Andre Holmes, Nate Allen and Taiwan Jones were chief among them.

That quintet has been disassembled. The first four left in unrestricted free agency, and Jones was cut just before training camp’s start. Trawick and Bates are in Tennessee. Holmes and Jones are in Buffalo. Allen’s in Miami.

Raiders special teams have gone through a youth movement, and a leadership shift towards remains veterans who understand the importance of the kicking game.

“I think you have to go to the other guys who have been here, like Jamize Olawale. There’s a really solid person. Keith McGill [II], another guy that’s a real solid person,” special teams coordinator Brad Seely said. “You have to look at our specialists, the kicker, the punter and the snapper. Those guys have been around a long time, so we ask those guys to be leaders. I think we’ll find out more. That, to me, is one of the things we’ll find out in these (preseason) games. Which guys will step up when there’s adversity, when something bad happens or when something good happens and how do they react to those things?”

Seely said that before news broke that his coverage teams sustained another blow. McGill suffered a foot injury in practice, according to a source. He’ll see a specialist, and could require surgery. That puts a greater onus on Olawale and young players like Cory James, Shalom Luani, Tyrell Adams and Marquel Lee. Johnny Holton will fill an important role as a gunner and use speed to be first on the scene covering kickoffs.

“Special teams is also about effort,” Holton said. “You have to be committed and determined to play well in the kicking game. It’s an area where I know I’ll be counted on. I’m ready for that.”

The Raiders have weapons on special teams, including All-Pro kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson. He’ll make a great impact on the battle for field position – he averages 30.4 yards per return – and is a scoring threat on every return. Patterson has five return touchdowns in his career.

He’s also an excellent gunner. He and Holton should be impactful on the outside. While Patterson is a veteran who understands the value of special teams, he isn’t much of a vocal leader.

“I think he’s a guy that, he leads by example because he’s a good worker,” Seely said. “He doesn’t have to be a rah-rah guy. He’ll speak up when there’s a time to speak up. I think we haven’t had any of those times yet. I’m excited about having him on our team because I just think he’s a pro.”


-- Cornerback Sean Smith worked with the second unit for the second straight practice. TJ Carrie took reps in his starting spot and made a few nice plays, including a diving deflection in the corner of the end zone. It’s uncertain how long Smith will work with the second string. He hasn’t looked comfortable or consistent working with either unit during the early days of camp. Both Smith and Carrie will be pushed by first-round pick Gareon Conley when he’s physically cleared to practice.

-- Receiver Amari Cooper stretched with the team, but didn’t participate in individual or team drills for the third time in four practices with an undisclosed injury. He has been wearing a compression sleeve on his left leg. K.J. Brent filled in for Cooper with the starting group, and was effective at times. He caught a beautiful deep ball from Derek Carr in heavy traffic as a highlight of the day.

Michael Crabtree took it easy during a practice not conducted in pads, and was largely held out of team drills.

-- Safety Obi Melifonwu, offensive tackle David Sharpe and defensive end Fadol Brown were out with injury. Gareon Conley, Jon Feliciano and Jihad Ward are still on the physically unable to perform list.

-- Quarterback Connor Cook had his best day of training camp on Saturday, with some precise throws to move the chains. He is still behind in the backup quarterback battle and hasn’t seen second-unit reps in training camp.

-- The defensive front seven was active for a third straight day, with simulated sacks from Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin and solid interior pressure from rookie Eddie Vanderdoes.

Norton looks at his Seahawks days to slow down Brady: 'I have a good feel'


Norton looks at his Seahawks days to slow down Brady: 'I have a good feel'

ALAMEDA – Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. has a good feel for Tom Brady. He faced New England’s legendary quarterback three times as Seattle’s linebackers coach, with some positive results. The Seahawks won two regular-season games and lost the Super Bowl at the last second.

He knows what worked then, and believes that should help prepare the Raiders defense for what’s coming Sunday in Mexico City.

“I played Brady a couple years ago in the Super Bowl with Seattle. We played very well against him,” Norton said Thursday afternoon. “I’ve had some success against him so I have a good feel for what can be done and what cannot be done. It’s just a matter of having the right emphasis and the ability to make the plays.

“Having a guy like (Brady) on the team who’s capable at any point of throwing a deep ball, capable at any point of getting it to the right players at the right time. He understands who is around him. He understands how to get the ball to the guys. He’s got a long resume of doing it well.”

Having success against Brady, however, is a relative term. He still produced against a loaded Seattle defense far better than this year’s Raiders unit. He will produce again Sunday, even if most goes right. Limitation, however, if key.

Norton believes certain things are essential when facing a Patriots team. Sure tackling. Impacting the quarterback.

The first is vital, something the Raiders have done well save a Week 9 win over Miami. The Raiders have to limit explosives and keep the ball in front of them, especially with the way Brady likes to play.

“The Patriots do a really good job of underneath coverage,” Norton said. “They have guys that catch and run really well. The backs, the tight ends, the matchups underneath, they catch and make people miss. They try to match up with your linebackers and safeties. They feel like their guys are pretty good. Tackling is something we’ve been really outstanding with all year but this last game against Miami we didn’t do so well and it kind of stands out, especially when it’s something we’ve taken a lot of pride in.

“I really feel like our emphasis and what we do well matches up well with that they try to do.”

There are some problem spots. One is limiting deep shots, something Brady has unleashed with startling efficiency. He’s 19-for47 for 410 yards and four touchdowns on passes of 20-plus yards, with speedsters Brandin Cooks and Phillip Dorsett able to haul them in. The Raiders have proven vulnerable to track-star receivers. 

Impacting Brady is mandatory, but also difficult given his excellent pocket presence. He’s especially good at feeling pressure off the edge, where reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack typically lines up opposite Bruce Irvin.

Brady has proven vulnerable to interior pressure, which is why Mario Edwards Jr. will be an X-factor on passing downs. He has four sacks this season and needs to break free in the backfield to force difficult decisions or, at the very lest, disrupt New England’s timing.

Brady gets rid of the ball fast at times. Raiders rushers can’t get frustrated by that, especially Mack.

“If the quarterback is going to throw the ball in less than two seconds, it’s going to be tough to get there,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “So when the quarterback is throwing the ball quick like that, we’ve got to tackle and have their punt team come out. They’ll get tired of punting or turning the ball over and they’ll sit and hold the ball a little bit and Khalil can get there. If they’re throwing the ball in two seconds or less, it’s going to be hard to get sacks.”

The Raiders only have 13 sacks this season, second worst in the NFL. Getting a few could swing a tight game. Norton’s Raiders believe they have a solid plan to mitigate somewhat the Patriots ferocious attack, that features versatile tight ends allowing them to do different things from one personnel package.

Don’t expect a shutout, or anything close. The Raiders understand that, but believe they can mitigate some damage.

“If you go back to the New England Patriots five, six, eight years ago they’re doing similar things,” Norton said. “They do what they do really well. They’re a fine-tuned machine. Everybody knows exactly what their role is. Guys know exactly what’s expected of them. Obviously the quarterback is the heart and soul and the one that makes that train run. Really, really good players that really understand what their role is and play well against leverage, run after catch, tough and they make plays.”

Khalil Mack wants to be Raider for life: 'That’s a no-brainer for me'


Khalil Mack wants to be Raider for life: 'That’s a no-brainer for me'

The Raiders gave quarterback Derek Carr a massive contract extension last June. Right guard Gabe Jackson got paid later that month.

Khalil Mack’s big deal is coming, likely this offseason. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie anticipates a deal getting done, and hopes Mack’s agent feels the same way.

Mack’s rep and Raiders contract folks will work out details of a massive contract extension. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year doesn’t have interest in all that. He has one preference above all.

Mack doesn’t want to go anywhere. He wants to stay with the Raiders long term.

“Of course. That’s not even a question,” Mack said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area’s Fallon Smith, which airs in this week's episode of "Raiders Central." “That’s a no-brainer for me, especially when you think about coming into this organization and try to build something special, that’s something you want to be a part of for a lifetime”

Mack has plenty of money, top-5 overall draft picks often do. The No. 5 selection in 2014 considered that first deal life-changing money, enough to help his family.

“That has been a treat for me so far,” Mack said.

He doesn’t daydream about signing a nine-figure contract. He doesn’t long to be the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player (although that might be in the cards, anyway).

“I’m not really even thinking about that,” Mack said. “I’m thinking about the Patriots, that’s just my focus that’s just my mindset – anybody who talked to me about that matter, whether it be my best friend, my mom, my dad, I tell them the same thing. I’m thinking about the Patriots and sacking Tom Brady.”

That, unlike signing a record contract, was a career a goal. Mack said in a post-draft press conference he wanted to sack legends. Peyton Manning and Brady topped the list.

Manning retired before Mack could check his box. Mack will have a second chance at Brady Sunday when the Raiders play New England in Mexico City. He had eight tackles and two quarterback hits against Brady’s Patriots in 2014, but didn’t bring the quarterback down.

Mack considered his third regular season game a welcome-to-the-NFL moment.

The University of Buffalo alum has accomplished a ton since then, with 34.5 sacks and last year’s top defensive honor to his credit. He’ll need a Herculean performance against the Patriots to help the Raiders win a pivotal game. A sack would certainly help, but Mack isn’t calling his shot.

“Yeah, I’m not one to talk,” Mack said. “I’ll express that when I get on the field, but I can’t wait, I can’t wait to play against him.”