Raiders mailbag: Carrie, Hayden will fight for nickel CB spot


Raiders mailbag: Carrie, Hayden will fight for nickel CB spot

The Raiders' starting lineup is largely set heading towards training camp. That’s a relatively new phenomenon after years with lackluster talent left jobs open and fingers crossed young players would exceed expectations.

Quality exists at most starting spots, with one dominant force on top. This training camp will host a few key battles, including the nickel corner position.

That’s where we begin Saturday’s Raiders mailbag, with questions submitted via my Facebook page (@bairCSN):

Who do you think has the edge at slot corner Carrie or Hayden? (Riley Alltop)
Sean Smith and David Amerson seem set to start at outside cornerback, and should stay there in the nickel package.

DJ Hayden spent significant time working as the first-team slot cornerback during the offseason program, far more than other cornerback options. Head coach Jack Del Rio praised Hayden’s work this spring, saying he was excited about the former first-round pick’s development.

The Raiders declined to pick up his fifth-year option, making this a contract year for the University of Houston product still trying to gain traction at this level. The Raiders will give him an opportunity to earn a job, something he hasn’t done yet. He was given one before, but fell down the depth chart and was behind others to close out last year.

TJ Carrie, who started 14 games last year, is fighting for significant snaps as well. He has the physicality preferred in the slot, and experience operating in that unique role. He’ll have to take control of the No. 3 job over Hayden and Neiko Thorpe, who will re-join the fray after missing the OTAs and minicamp with injury.

This could be a battle waged all preseason for a key spot in a revamped secondary.

Who will win the KR/PR jobs? (Chris Parsley)
Special teams coordinator Brad Seely made it clear during minicamp that incumbents retain pole position in the quest to return kicks and punts. That makes Taiwan Jones and TJ Carrie your leaders heading into training camp.

There are other options, however, to be examined during the preseason. One is undrafted receiver/return man Joe Hansley, an undrafted free agent who impressed during the offseason program. Fifth-round running back DeAndre Washington is experienced and willing returning kicks. Jaydon Mickens and Antonio Hamilton are also prospects for key special teams spots.

The Raiders haven’t had fearsome returners in some time despite efforts to fortify that aspect of special teams, and while new guys are getting a shot, it’s highly likely Jones and Carrie get another crack at major return roles.

I was a bit surprised at the Jihad Ward pick but this guy looks like a freak of nature. Is it too soon to get on the hype train? (Thaddeus Hudson)
The Raiders have left fans scratching heads after their last two second-round picks, using selections on physically-gifted defensive linemen without much college production. Last year they took Mario Edwards Jr. a draft pick that looks pretty smart with Edwards healthy and dangerous attacking inside and out.

Illinois defensive lineman Jihad Ward could follow Edward’s path, and certainly looked good in the offseason program. A word of caution: These OTAs were conducted without pads or heavy contact. While Ward looked surprisingly agile for a man so large, true football must be played to fully evaluate Ward.

He has been running with the first team and should get a real opportunity to contribute at least on a rotational basis with Edwards Jr. and Denico Autry at the defensive end spot flanked by edge rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.

Is it 9 wins or bust this year for JDR? (Colin Mehigan)
The Raiders are entering new territory after playing four wins better in 2015 and improving the roster with productive offseason. After a decade plus spent at 8-8 or worse, .500 is a new baseline for success. Expectations are far higher, and many national pundits consider the Raiders realistic contenders to win the AFC West.

Del Rio should be comfortable in the captain’s chair after changing the culture in his first season, but the pressure is on to keep the Raiders on a winning track. He has the talent required to do so, armed with a hulking offensive line, firepower at the skill spots and a defense with sharp fangs. The Raiders have the talent required to win nine games. Can they perform well in the clutch and close out games they should win. That will be key to reaching lofty goals while giving fans something to cheer.

Inactives: Raiders have healthy offensive line for showdown vs Cowboys


Inactives: Raiders have healthy offensive line for showdown vs Cowboys

There was some concern the Raiders might not have Rodney Hudson or Jon Feliciano, the two offensive lineman that can play the center position.

But they will indeed have both when they take on the Cowboys under the lights Sunday night.

Hudson was added to the injury report Sunday morning due to an illness, but that appears to be ready to go.

The seven players listed as inactive for the Raiders are: CB David Amerson, QB Connor Cook, WR Amari Cooper, DE Mario Edwards Jr., T David Sharpe, TE Clive Walford, T Jylan Ware.

The Cowboys' inactive players are: Brice Butler, Orlando Scandrick, Trey Williams, Justin Durant, Lewis Neal, Blake Jarwin, David Irving.

Future in question, Raiders need hyphy Marshawn in final home game of 2017


Future in question, Raiders need hyphy Marshawn in final home game of 2017

OAKLAND – Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington were headed for the field when Marshawn Lynch held them back. The young Raiders running backs weren’t sure why their position group’s elder statesman would do so, especially before starters were announced to the Oakland Coliseum crowd.

Lynch wanted Richard and Washington to run out with him. Questions ran rapid fire through Richard’s mind: Are you sure you want company? This was, after all, the proud Oakland native’s homecoming game. Won’t that mess up your big moment in the sun? Is this even allowed?

Lynch wasn’t worried about any of that. Lynch rolled three deep into the Week 2 home opener against the New York Jets, flanked by young protégés he has advised all year. His big moment was theirs, too.

”That was my first time going through the tunnel,” Richard said. “The first time, I didn’t think they were going to let us do that. But Marshawn said it was fine, and brought us with him. It’s a different feeling running out the tunnel all three of us, through the smoke and onto the field. It lets you know you’re in the league.”

That was a true Marshawn moment. So was a tackle-breaking touchdown run during the game, and when the scoreboard broadcast him getting hyphy on the sideline. The entire stadium partied with him that day, his first regular-season game as a Raider at Oakland Coliseum.

Lynch has brought Washington and Richard with him each time he comes out of the tunnel, a moment when the hometown crowd praises their favorite son.

“You definitely feel the energy,” Washington said. “He’s a hometown guy. Marshawn wears this city on his back. There’s a roar when they announce his name. It’s been a fun experience throughout the year.”

Sunday night's clash with the Dallas Cowboys is the final home game this season, unless, of course, the AFC West completely and shockingly turns on its ear and the Raiders host a playoff game.

That fact begs this question: Will Sunday be the last time Marshawn plays in Oakland?

The answer remains uncertain, with several factors at play.

Lynch remains under contract next season, with a $4 million base salary and incentives and bonuses that could pay an additional $2 million. None of that money is guaranteed, so the Raiders could cut him without dead money attached.

Lynch could also retire like he did right after Super Bowl 50. He didn’t miss the game in a year away from it, and the enigmatic personality may decide one season in Oakland was enough. He came back to show kids in the community he champions firsthand that someone from their neighborhood could bring attention to Oakland before the Raiders leave. Will an encore season further that goal?

The Raiders signed Lynch for two reasons: to boost their backfield and offer an olive branch to Oakland after being approved to relocate to Las Vegas. The Raiders won’t move until 2020, and having Oakland’s most popular person in Silver and Black helps keep butts in the seats.

He has practiced all year save a few rest days and has been a quality locker room presence, though he rubbed some the wrong way getting ejected and then suspended for defending good friend and rival Kansas City Chief Marcus Peters in an on-field scuffle. Coach Jack Del Rio said he practiced and played with extra zest after serving a one-game suspension. Stats bear that out.

His production lulled before midseason – he struggled to meld with the Raiders scheme and offensive line – but has picked up that pace significantly in the second half.

Lynch had 100-plus yards from scrimmage in two home games preceding last week’s loss in Kansas City, where he had 64 yards on eight touches.

He has averaged 4.2 yards per carry, and his 2.68 yards per carry after contact ranks sixth in the league. Lynch still has it at age 31, and might hit the ground running next season behind a familiar line.

That’s then. The Raiders still need him now, against a No. 11-ranked Cowboys run defense. Local fans would love to see him succeed in person one more time this year, which might mark the end or the halfway point of his tenure playing for the Raiders in Oakland Coliseum.