Raiders

Raiders minicamp observations: QBs Cook, Manuel battling for backup job

Raiders minicamp observations: QBs Cook, Manuel battling for backup job

ALAMEDA – Derek Carr took his helmet off after stretching and individual drills. The Raiders quarterback didn’t put it back on again.

The offseason program’s final practice was for the backups. Starters were spectators during team periods, as reps went to those needing it most.

Connor Cook and EJ Manuel assumed quarterback duties among the two active units, and continued a competition to be Carr’s primary backup.

It didn’t conclude Thursday, and should extend well into the preseason.

Cook has primarily run the second unit with Manuel orchestrating the third, though the pair have switched at times.

Cook’s more familiar with the system after a year in it. Manuel’s picking up since signing as a free agent in March.

“I think he’s come in and he and Connor are battling for the backup spot,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “They’ve alternated days, who’s working with the second group, who’s with the third group. They’ve alternated all throughout the offseason. We’ll continue that through training camp until we feel like someone’s earned that designation.”

The Raiders know too well the backup spot is vital. Carr went down in Week 16 last season and the Silver and Black never recovered. Cook and former reserve Matt McGloin struggled under difficult circumstances, and the Raiders never won a game without their starter.

Both quarterbacks had good moments and bad during offseason practices open to the media. Cook would seem to be a frontrunner, considering the Raiders traded up slightly to draft him in the fourth round last year. Manuel signed a contract with no guaranteed money this offseason, hoping for a fresh start after the 2013 first-round pick fell out of favor in Buffalo. He’s reunited with offensive coordinator Todd Downing – a former Bills quarterbacks coach – and enters a quarterback room that has had two and three guys on the 53-man roster under Del Rio.

The head coach likes his backup options, though there isn’t a clear hierarchy at this point.

“I think that room is strong right now, the quarterback room,” Del Rio said. “It’s a really healthy environment.”

Here are more notes and observations from Thursday’s minicamp practice:

-- Fourth-round offensive lineman David Sharpe received tons of work this offseason, with veteran right tackles Austin Howard and Marshall Newhouse missing time with injury. While pads are necessary when evaluating linemen, Del Rio was happy with Sharpe’s early work.

“He’s been bright. Has come in and joined a group. Fit right in,” Del Rio said. “He’s been very purposeful and working at learning the system and understanding how we do things. I think he’s growing from a technique standpoint with (offensive line coach Mike Tice). We think he has a bright future.”

-- Offensive guard/center Jon Feliciano went down hard and looked to suffer an apparent knee injury last week during OTAs. He was attended to by trainers for an extended stretch, but was able to leave the field under his own power. Del Rio said he didn’t expect Feliciano’s injury to be a long-term issue.

-- Cornerback Gareon Conley missed the last two days of minicamp, with an undisclosed ailment. Defensive linemen Jihad Ward, Fadol Brown and Darius Latham missed minicamp with injury. Howard, Newhouse and Feliciano also missed recent sessions, as previously mentioned in other notes.

-- Khalil Mack was given the professional 2016 Butkus Award on Wednesday by Dick Butkus himself in a private ceremony.

-- Receiver Seth Roberts, working on the punt teams this offseason, blocked a Marquette King offering during a special teams period. He could play more special teams this year, especially with Andre Holmes moved on to Buffalo. 

-- King took lots of reps Thursday, and sent several punts booming into the opposing 20-yard line.

-- Cornerback Kenneth Durden intercepted quarterback Connor Cook, collecting a ball originally well deflected by Dexter McDonald.

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

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USATSI

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’

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AP

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.”