Raiders minicamp observations: Luani shows playmaking ability

Raiders minicamp observations: Luani shows playmaking ability

ALAMEDA – Shalom Luani has a nose for the football. That was his calling card at Washington State, and certainly an attraction when the Raiders drafted him early in the seventh round.

“That guy is a playmaker,” general manager Reggie McKenzie said shortly after the draft, a statement supported twice in Wednesday’s minicamp practice.

He had an athletic interception of Connor Cook that could’ve been returned for a touchdown in a game situation. He was on the second-unit defense later in the practice going against the first unit when he came out of nowhere and broke up Derek Carr’s long, lofted pass.

“That was just me knowing my assignment and knowing what to do on the field,” Luani, who played at Community College of San Francisco. “You have to show the coaches that you’re picking up the system and that you can make plays.”

Luani had eight interceptions, 11 passes defensed and three forced fumbles in two seasons at Washington State. Attacking the football comes naturally to the young player.

“It’s instincts and knowing exactly where to be,” Luani said. “I can sense when a play can be made based upon how the quarterbacks react before the snap.”

That works on defense Luani will be counted on to make plays special teams as a rookie. Later-round picks generally earn stripes as a reserve and in the kicking game. That will be true for a safety working behind Pro Bowler Reggie Nelson, 2016 first-round pick Karl Joseph and second-rounder Obi Melifonwu.

Luani is ready for that challenge, to contribute heavily in the kicking game.

“Those kind of guys, what you do in the kicking game, and get noticed there, is a key way onto the roster,” special teams contributor Brad Seely said. “Then, hopefully you rise up and you play for us in the kicking game for one or two years and then you become a defensive starter or somehow, you just find a role for yourself and that's what he's trying to do right now. He's one of those guys that's really hungry, he's coachable and I'm really happy he's on our roster.”

Here are some other observations from Raiders minicamp:

-- First-round cornerback Gareon Conley was a spectator during Wednesday’s practice. He observed from the sideline without a helmet or shells, though he showed no signs of ailment. The Raiders are generally conservative with participation in the offseason program, preferring to sit players with minor ailments.

-- Punter Marquette King was flagged a few times last season for antics after his punts, something special teams coordinator Brad Seely doesn't love. 

"We’re not real thrilled with that, and he understands that," Seely said. "We had a stat the other day that there was five or six celebration penalties in the league, and two of them were on our punter. We can’t have that, and he knows that.

"We like guys to be themselves. Everybody has a mindset playing the game. Some are tight and others are loose. He fits well playing his way, but he has to stay within some parameters."

-- Head coach Jack Del Rio cancelled afternoon meetings and a post-practice weightlifting session in favor of taking his team to a bowling alley. This comes a week after the team went to a go-kart track. The rookie class has also been to the bowling alley once before during this offseason program. 

-- Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson had an excellent day playing with the first and second units. He had three touchdowns in practice and a few more catches working downfield.

-- The Raiders mixed up personnel groupings after they generally remained static during OTAs. Quarterback EJ Manuel ran the second team after being the No. 3 signal caller in previous workouts. He swapped units with Connor Cook. Cook threw two interceptions on the day.

-- Running back Marshawn Lynch was involved in several team drills on Wednesday, including interior runs where he showed characteristic burst and shiftiness.

-- Tight end Jared Cook continues to be a frequent target for Derek Carr this offseason, as that pair continues building chemistry.

-- In addition to Conley, offensive linemen Jon Feliciano, Austin Howard and Marshall Newhouse, defensive linemen Fadol Brown, Jihad Ward, Eddie Vanderdoes and Darius Latham missed practice.

Days after signing with Raiders, NaVorro Bowman expected to play vs Chiefs


Days after signing with Raiders, NaVorro Bowman expected to play vs Chiefs

ALAMEDA – NaVorro Bowman was a sponge this week, absorbing the Raiders defense as quickly as possible.

The veteran inside linebacker signed with the Raiders Monday afternoon and did enough to play Thursday night’s pivotal home game against Kansas City.

That’s a huge plus for a Raiders team looking to snap a four-game losing streak. Bowman should be able to help right away despite being new to the scheme.

“He’s a veteran. He understands ball,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said Wednesday. “We haven’t tried to install the entire playbook, but specific game plans and things. He’s had a good week. Even though it’s a short week, we feel good and he’ll play.”

He’ll probably start at inside linebacker and play the base defense as least. While many have criticized his speed and coverage skills diminished from major injuries, Bowman remains a sure tackler who can provide solid on-field leadership.

Veteran savvy and natural ability should carry Bowman while he masters a new scheme, allowing him to make the immediate impact required with the Raiders reeling at 2-4.

“He is very instinctive,” Del Rio said. "He’s a veteran guy that’s been there before. He understands what it looks like to lineup against a good football team and help us win.”

Bowman’s fresh and healthy, a step above his others at his position. Inside linebackers Cory James (knee), Marquel Lee (ankle) and Nicholas Morrow (ankle) are all questionable heading into Thursday’s game.

He has also been a willing teacher to a group of inside linebackers featuring a second-year pro and three rookies.

“They’re just soaking it up,” Del Rio said. “They’ll ask, ‘When do you lift? How often do you lift? When do you meet? When do you cover this?’ It’s good stuff to have for a really young group.”

In other injury news, right tackle Marshall Newhouse is out, leaving Vadal Alexander to start in his spot. David Sharpe should be the swing tackle in reserve.

Downing: Raiders offense off track, answers exist ‘in our scheme’


Downing: Raiders offense off track, answers exist ‘in our scheme’

ALAMEDA – Todd Downing has friends with fantasy football teams. Those faux general managers, like many across the roto world, took Raiders with high draft picks.

They would like to know why Derek Carr isn’t throwing touchdowns in bulk, Amari Cooper’s in a slump and Marshawn Lynch isn’t getting more carries.

“I have friends that have him on their fantasy team that are mad at me for that,” Downing said after Wednesday’s practice. “That’s part of the business.”

Ah, the life of an NFL coordinator. Players get credit when things go right. Play callers sit over a Bunsen burner the rest of the time.

Downing understands that part of this gig.

“I welcome the responsibility that this job has afforded me,” he said. “I understand that I’m going to have to deal with negative comments and consequences when things aren’t going well. I’m looking forward to standing up here in a more positive fashion some time soon.”

Positives were expected right away. He was given the keys to a Lamborghini with a franchise quarterback under center, 1,000-yard receivers on each flank, an older back considered among the best of his generation, and the NFL’s biggest and most expensive offensive line.

The Raiders ranked No. 6 in total offense before adding Lynch, tight end Jared Cook and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in free agency. Now they’re 30th heading into Thursday night’s game against Kansas City.

The mob is lighting torches, armed with pitchforks. After six weeks.

Everyone has an opinion on what’s wrong and how to fix this offense. More interior runs, less outside zone. More play action, please. Go deep, a lot. Have Derek hold on to the ball longer. Have Derek get rid of it quick. Do all that at once. Do it now.

Downing’s going to stick with his system. The Raiders will stick with their process, thank you very much, with faith that things will turn.

“When you look at the tape, you can see that we’re so close on so many things,” Downing said. “I know that sounds cliché and I know that sounds like someone sitting up here and trying to give you the rose-colored glasses, but it’s the truth. We know that we’re just this close to making a couple more plays each game and being able to come out on top and feeling like we put together a good product.

“…We’re looking for answers right now, but we know those answers exist in our room and in our scheme. Once we hit our stride, we’re excited to see what it looks like.”

There’s reason to believe that can happen. Take the season’s first two games, for example. The Raiders scored 71 points in that span. There’s talent everywhere in the starting lineup and behind it.

That’s why concern reigns during a four-game losing streak where the offense is averaging 13.1 points. They can’t sustain drives, come through on third down or block consistently in the run game. Their play count is dismally low. According to the Associated Press, the Raiders aver averaging 54 plays per game. Every other team has at least 60. The 2005 49ers were the last team that averaged such a sum. The Raiders haven’t had a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher or a 100-yard receiver.

Offense is blamed for a dismal 2-4 start. Even the universally beloved Carr has taken some heat for lackluster performances.

“I don’t think there’s a single guy that can look back over the last few weeks and say, ‘You know what, I’m really pleased with how I’ve played over the last three weeks,’ or, ‘Called the last three weeks’ or, ‘Coached my position the last three weeks.’ We all own this together,” Downing said. “There’s no one guy that is going to save it or break it or anything in between. We need to do this as a team and everybody needs to make the plays they’re afforded the opportunity to make and I need to call the right plays when afforded the opportunity to call them.”

The Raiders can and must do better before falling further. Righting the ship too late to reach the season’s goals might hurt as much as a completely dismal campaign.

Pressing, however, isn’t the answer.

“You do have to stay patient,” Downing said. “I tell the offense this every week, but it’s never been more true than where we’re at now as an offense. We have a belief in what we’ve done this far, and the system we’ve put in place, and the playmakers we have in that room, and the coaches that are up in the room with me, and you will never see me waiver in my belief of any single one of those guys, including myself. If I did, and I started acting different or started calling games differently, then that would mean I didn’t really believe in the first place.”