Raiders might have the perfect player to slow down Rob Gronkowski


Raiders might have the perfect player to slow down Rob Gronkowski

ALAMEDA – The Raiders, like every other team, use scout teams designed to preview the next opponent and looks they might give. Practice-squaders often don the jersey of certain stars, skill players especially, while imitating key threats.

Someone might wear New England’s No. 87 this week, but there’s no replicating Rob Gronkowski. The dude stands 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds. He’s built like an ox, with a badger’s on-field disposition.

“There’s nobody really, not with his size and the way he can block and run,” rookie defensive back Obi Melifonwu said. “It’s hard, but you have to do what you have to do.”

The Raiders haven’t done well with tight ends. That position has notoriously plagued them in years past, especially the good ones. Gronkowksi’s the absolute best when healthy.

Tight ends have 45 receptions for 492 yards and four touchdowns against this years Raiders, with Tennessee’s Delanie Walker, Washington’s Vernon Davis L.A. Chargers’ Hunter Henry and Miami’s Julius Thomas causing the biggest problems.

In other words, size and receiving skill equals trouble for the Silver and Black.

Kansas City’s Travis Kelce has long been a Raider killer, but had just four catches for 33 yards and a touchdown in a victory over the Chiefs. That’s considered a good day at the office versus Kelce. They’d certainly take that Sunday against New England at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca.

The Raiders beat Kelce up pretty good in Week 7, with linebacker Bruce Irvin chipping him wherever possible. It’s less about knocking him down than rhythm and timing disruption. That tactic could be employed again, especially with emphasis being placed on avoiding explosive plays to speedster Brandin Cooks.

Slowing Gronkowski isn’t easy. Few, if any, do it well. Gronkowski has 60 catches for 583 yards and five touchdowns. He’s second in the league with 2.16 yards per route run, and has 15.3 yards per reception. The University of Arizona alum’s also an excellent run blocker, providing the versatility to trap a defense in sub personnel and run physical or pass deep with him against a defensive back.

He’s a matchup nightmare, a tag liberally applied to tight ends that fits perfectly in this case.

This would be a great time for Melifonwu to shine. He was drafted as a Raiders tight end eraser. That was the original goal, before a knee injury cost Melifonwu the season’s first half. His role is limited somewhat – he played seven defensive snaps in his NFL debut at Miami -- though playing the Dolphins and getting two more weeks practice leaves him better prepared for some one-on-one coverage.

Melifonwu has the size and speed to keep up with Gronkowski, but none of the veteran savvy. The key, in the UConn alums mind, is not playing into Gronkowski’s hands.

“A lot of people try to out-physical him,” Melifonwu said. “You have to play to your strengths. He’s a big, physical guy with strong hands. It’s definitely going to be tough, but it’s a matchup that’s going to be fun.”

Report: Raiders bring Reggie Nelson back


Report: Raiders bring Reggie Nelson back

Reggie Nelson has been on a reunion tour since signing with the Raiders. He first worked under Jack Del Rio, his head coach in Jacksonville and someone who choose to make him 2007’s No. 21 overall draft pick.

That link held for two years. Then Del Rio got run out in favor of Jon Gruden and Nelson hit the free-agent market. The 34-year old – he’ll be 35 in September – wasn’t expected back after a down year in 2017.

Another blast from the past created a road back to Oakland, where he reportedly signed a one-year deal with the Raiders. NFL Network reported news of Nelson’s pact.

Nelson thrived, with 23 interceptions and 62 passes defensed during six seasons in Cincinnati. New Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther was linebackers coach and then Bengals DC (for two years) during Nelson’s time in the Queen City.

Nelson had five picks in 2016, his first year with Oakland, but seemed to slow down some last season. He had 60 tackles, two forced fumbles and an interception in 2017.

Nelson will help teach a system familiar to him but foreign to most Raiders, but will certainly angle for steady snaps despite increased competition at his spot. 

He’ll compete for snaps at safety despite last week’s signing of Marcus Gilchrist, expected to take his spot, though it might be an uphilll climb. Gilchrist and Joseph should still be expected to start next season. The Raiders also have Obi Melifonwu at that position, though the second-year pro must earn a role in this defense. The other three have starter’s experience and will compete for that opportunity. Gilchrist also has experience covering the slot, which could help the secondary if a career cornerback isn't found to fill that role. 

Aldon Smith back in custody after police say he violated restraining order


Aldon Smith back in custody after police say he violated restraining order

SAN FRANCISCO — Former Oakland Raiders player Aldon Smith surrendered to police Friday on charges he violated a domestic violence restraining order.

San Francisco police said the 28-year-old Smith turned himself and was booked on three misdemeanor charges of violating a court order to stay away from a domestic violence victim.

Earlier this month, Smith pleaded not guilty to domestic violence and other charges and a judge issued a protective order prohibiting him from contacting the victim.

Police said Smith violated the restraining order earlier this week.

Smith’s attorney, Joshua Bentley, did not return a voicemail message from The Associated Press seeking comment.

The Raiders released the linebacker days after his arrest on the domestic violence charges.

He had been on the suspended list since late 2015 for violating the NFL’s policy on substance abuse.