Raiders not first team to turn to backup quarterback in NFL playoffs

Raiders not first team to turn to backup quarterback in NFL playoffs

DENVER -- Connor Cook is an untested rookie. Brock Osweiler may have a feeling he's been here before.

The Raiders and Texans square off Saturday in a playoff game that might be called The Quarterback Bowl. As in, both these teams are on uncharted roads with their QBs, and neither heads into the week of practice knowing exactly who is going to be taking snaps.

Cook entered for Oakland in Sunday's 24-6 loss against Denver after second-stringer Matt McGloin left with a shoulder injury. If McGloin, who was starting for the already injured Derek Carr, can't go next week, Cook would become the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to make his first NFL start in a playoff game.

Osweiler could make his first playoff start, a development that seemed improbable a short year ago when he led the Broncos to the brink of the playoffs. So much has changed. On a roll after taking over for an injured Peyton Manning, he got benched for Manning in Denver's season finale last year, never to return. Osweiler signed with Houston in the offseason, but got benched there, too. And just when the Texans appeared settled on Tom Savage, Savage left Sunday's game with a concussion and Osweiler took over.

Who goes when the playoffs start?

"We'll talk about that tomorrow and the next day," coach Bill O'Brien said after Sunday's 24-17 loss to the Titans.

By those standards, the Dolphins seem stable, even though Matt Moore is also set to make his first playoff start when Miami travels to Pittsburgh for Sunday's game. Moore took over for the injured Ryan Tannehill in Week 14. He is 2-1 as a starter this year, including Sunday's 35-14 loss to New England.

So, while it looks like this season's playoffs will go down as some of the strangest ever in the quarterbacking department, it's hardly the first time. A look at some unusual situations from years past:

KAEPERNICK REPLACES SMITH: Let's start with a success story. In 2012, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith went down in midseason with a concussion, to be replaced by a not-yet-famous second-year quarterback named Colin Kaepernick. The league hadn't seen a quarterback quite like Kaepernick to that point and it showed. He led the Niners to a 5-2 record down the stretch and into the playoffs on a roll. He ran for 181 yards in his playoff debut and took San Francisco all the way to the Super Bowl, where he joined Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks to pass for 300 yards and rush for 50 in the title game. The Niners lost to Baltimore, and nothing has been the same since. Kaepernick has struggled ever since and Smith is now a (healthy) member of the Kansas City Chiefs, who won the AFC West this year.

LINDLEY FOR STANTON FOR PALMER: Ryan Lindley spent a good portion of the 2014 season on San Diego's practice squad. The Cardinals, who had originally drafted Lindley in 2012, picked him back up after their top two quarterbacks, Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton, each went down. That left Lindley at the controls for a playoff game against Carolina. It didn't go well. Lindley threw two interceptions in a 27-16 loss. The Panthers allowed 78 yards, the fewest given up in a playoff game. Arizona coach Bruce Arians on his QB's play: "I thought he did great up until the first interception."

SPEAKING OF PALMER: Though Jon Kitna doesn't get credit for a start in the 2005 playoffs, he played virtually the entire game for Cincinnati. Steelers nose tackle Kimo von Oelhoffen rolled into Palmer's knee on his first pass of the playoffs and knocked him from the game. Kitna took over and threw for 197 yards and two interceptions and the Bengals lost 31-17.

AND SPEAKING OF HOUSTON: T.J. Yates became the Texans starter in 2011 after both Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart went down. Yates actually led Houston to its first playoff victory, then its first playoff loss the next week. Maybe most significant about that season and those changes is that the Texans haven't had stability at the quarterback position since. Osweiler was supposed to bring that (at a cost of $72 million over for years), but his benching in Week 15 of this year scuttled that plan.

PEYTON MANNING, A BACKUP: Which brings us full circle. On Jan. 3, 2016, Peyton Manning suited up as a backup quarterback for the first time in his NFL career. That lasted barely more than a half. The Broncos were trailing San Diego 13-7, and though Osweiler wasn't particularly the problem, coach Gary Kubiak went with his gut and inserted Manning . The Broncos rallied for a win, got home-field advantage in the playoffs and Manning was no longer the backup. He led the Broncos to the title, and Osweiler moved on to Houston.

How will free-agent moves impact Raiders' draft plans?


How will free-agent moves impact Raiders' draft plans?

The Raiders sat out free agency’s inital, hyper-expensive phase and then kicked into high gear. They signed players at a frenetic pace, adding 14 new guys with a shot to make the regular-season roster and four of their own unrestricted free agents in 11 days.

It’s still possible the Raiders sign a receiver or a rotational defensive tackle in free agency, but signing volume will slow to a trickle as we head toward the NFL Draft.

We’ll know more about these signings this week. The NFL owners meetings start Sunday in Orlando, Fla., and access to head coach Jon Gruden should offer insight into Raiders offseason plans. This day’s downtime makes it a perfect time for a Raiders mailbag, to catch up on what has happened and look ahead to what’s next this offseason.

I asked for questions on my Facebook page (please “like” this link for Raiders insight, updates and behind-the-scenes photos) and got a bunch of good ones. Let’s get to them:

Q: Have any of the free agent signings shifted what you thought was Raiders' NFL Draft priority? And if so what changed? – Michael Varnam
A: Great question, Michael. Good way to start this mailbag. Actions always speak louder than words, and free-agent signings are often an indicator of what the Raiders like in the NFL draft. I don’t think it has shifted my thinking too much, because the Raiders still need help at every level of their defense.

The focus remains defensive tackle, linebacker and cornerback. I could see the Raiders taking any of those positions at No. 10 overall, and we should add offensive tackle to the list if they trade down.

Attractive options at DT (Vita Vea, Maurice Hurst), LB (Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds) and CB (Denzel Ward) that should be available at No. 10, in addition to some higher-ranked prospects at positions (Alabama DB Minkah Fitzpartick, for example) the Raiders couldn’t pass up.

I would say cornerback isn’t as pressing a need with Gareon Conley healthy and Rashaan Melvin now in the mix, but another long-term answer is required.

Tahir Whitehead doesn’t solve every linebacker issue but he’ll help lead that position group. NaVorro Bowman’s return would lessen that need. Defensive tackle, however, clearly needs an impact player.

A top-10 defensive tackle that can rush the passer could make the greatest immediate impact, especially after the Raiders stayed pat at the position in free agency.

Q: With the signing of Doug Martin, is it possible either Washington or Richard get traded? They are essentially the same player… -- Bubba Slim
A: They may not get traded, but it seems likely one of the two you mentioned won’t make the 53-man roster. DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard have similar styles, and both guys can return punts or kicks. Martin comes in as Lynch’s primary backup – he’ll have to earn that title -- and someone capable of shouldering a full load should Lynch be unavailable. Remember what happened in Buffalo when Lynch got suspended? Richard and Washington struggled as feature backs. The Raiders don’t want that situation to happen again.

Martin must prove better than the 2.9 yards per carry of his last two seasons. If he does that, Washington or (less likely) Richard could get cut or traded late in the preseason. It’s something to keep an eye on this summer.

Question: What’s the status on Bowman? – Jose Torres
A: I got several Bowman questions. Let’s address the situation by saying there isn’t much of an update. The Raiders hoped to have him signed before free agency began March 14, but numbers obviously didn’t match. Bowman’s camp has a certain value in mind that hasn’t been reached on the open market, and (this is just me talking here) he could slow play things and gain value to a team should an inside linebacker get hurt this offseason.

Last I heard, Bowman was training in Maryland – he’s from District Heights, Md. – and always stays in great shape. The Raiders still need help at linebacker, even after Whitehead signed up. They hope to have Bowman back. Room for a reunion still exists.

Question: Who is your sleeper free agent signing, Scott? One to watch IMHO could be Marcus Gilchrist.
Answer: Gilchrist is a good option, considering his versatility. He can play both safety spots, slot cornerback and is comfortable playing in the box.

That said, I’m going with fullback Keith Smith. He doesn’t have many stats, but Smith said Gruden has “big plans” for him. The Raiders head coach loves using the fullback in interesting ways, especially as a receiver. The athletic fullback and former San Jose State linebacker can handle those responsibilities, even with blocking as his primary mission. He could thrive in Gruden’s system.

Q: Are the Raiders going with the best player available approach in the draft? Could the first-round pick be an offensive player? – Thomas Davis
A: It’s possible the Raiders could go offense in the first round, with offensive tackle as a real prospect if they trade down. I still think defense is the play here, if they stick at No. 10. They have several quality options, especially if there’s a quarterback run in the top eight as expected. If four QBs go quick, the Raiders could be sitting at No. 10 getting the sixth-best non-quarterback on the board. There are lots of defenders that would work in that spot. That would satisfy need without needing to reach.

Q: What is your lock pick for us at No. 10, or are we trading down? – Manny Zaragoza
A: There isn’t a lock pick for anyone at No. 10 at this stage. Even the Raiders don’t know that. There should be a solid cluster available there the Raiders can choose from. I mention several options in the first answer. Reggie always likes trading down to get more picks. That could happen here, especially if a valued QB remains on the board a passer-starved team wants to come get him.

Q: As much as I’d love to bring it back to ’98 (as Gruden said at the combine), can that style of football still win? – Alec Rael
A: I think that’s a fun line said by a coach who’s a great quote. While some free-agent moves should help the Raiders protect well and run with power, Gruden is an innovator. He has studied and learned modern styles while broadcast Monday Night Football games. I believe the Raiders will be dynamic offensively, with an ability to run with power or operate with pace. Gruden has some tricks up his sleeve. It will be interesting to see them come out.

Q: Hey Scott, how high could WR be taken in the draft? – Richard Ramsawh
A: That’s a real wild card, and might depend what else, if anything, happens in free agency. It’s clear that Gruden wanted to remake the receiver corps, and did so in part by adding Jordy Nelson and subtracting Michael Crabtree. They’ve been involved in the free-agency receiver market – Ryan Grant and Eric Decker visited Alameda – and still have an eye on it.

They could sign another veteran this offseason. If they don’t, the Raiders could look for help relatively high in the draft or at some point before their picks are done.

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.