Raiders OTA observations: Marshawn increases activity, remains limited

Raiders OTA observations: Marshawn increases activity, remains limited

ALAMEDA – Running back Marshawn Lynch practiced a bit more during the second week of Raiders OTAs than the first, but was still limited in his offseason work.

Lynch wore a helmet in a Tuesday OTA session open to the press, and participated in individual drills, some run-specific work and install periods, but wasn’t part of team periods in a practice without pads. Lynch frequently joined the first-team’s huddle, but watched those plays from a distance.

The Raiders are easing him back to action after a year away from NFL football, and aren’t concerned by limited participation during the offseason program. He has been around every day, and coaches have praised his work ethic since the Oakland native joined his hometown team.

“He has showed that it’s important to him to integrate himself into the scheme and into the locker room,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “It’s been nice to have him around. He did a little more today. We’re excited about where he’s at. What we’ve seen from him so far has been outstanding.”

Here are some other observations and notes from Tuesday’s OTA session:

-- First-round cornerback Gareon Conley moved up the ranks some in the second week of OTAs. He was the first-team slot cornerback – TJ Carrie occupied that spot last week – and played inside and out with the second unit. He looked comfortable and covered No. 3 receiver Seth Roberts well on the inside.

Conley worked with the second and third units last week.

-- Offensive coordinator Todd Downing praised tight end Jared Cook’s blocking skills, and said versatility within the position group will allow him to be unpredictable while using multiple tight end sets.

-- Marshall Newhouse continues to sit in pole position at right tackle, taking all first-team reps at that spot.

-- Offensive linemen Austin Howard and Jon Feliciano and defensive tackle Darius Latham did not participate in Tuesday’s OTA session.

-- Undrafted rookie linebacker Nicholas Morrow returned to the team after missing last week’s OTAs while Greenville College completed its academic year. Third-round defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes remains out with UCLA still in session. 

-- Linebacker Jelani Jenkins participated in team drills Tuesday after being relegated to side work during the last open OTA session. Ben Heeney's activity increased a bit, as the middle linebacker worked in individual drills this time around.

Cory James and Tyrell Adams remained the first-team inside linebackers.

-- The Raiders offense was out of sync on Tuesday, with several receiver drops and poor passes. Even starting quarterback Derek Carr threw a pick six to David Amerson in team drills generally dominate by defense.

“There was a bit of a Memorial Day hangover, no doubt,” Downing said. “We need to iron out a couple things, but I like the effort. I think the attention to detail will come with everybody getting re-acclimated to OTAs and not on a holiday weekend. Overall, I was pleased with their attention and effort.”

Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders


Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden had a hand in drafting Josh Johnson a decade ago. The agile quarterback and Oakland native was a Tampa Bay’s fifth-round pick in 2008, Gruden’s last year as Buccaneers coach.

The pair will reunite in Johnson’s hometown. The well-traveled quarterback signed with the Raiders on Monday, the team announced.

Johnson will compete with Connor Cook to backup starter Derek Carr, and brings a veteran’s influence to the position group. It likely spells the end of EJ Manuel’s short tenure in silver and black. The strong-armed former first-round pick, who started one game last season, remains a free agent after a year with the Raiders.

This move should make Marshawn Lynch happy. He and Johnson are extremely close and together run the Family First Foundation, a charitable organization that does significant work for East Bay kids. Johnson and Lynch also played football together at Oakland Tech High.

Johnson has played 10 NFL teams prior to this Raiders stop, but hasn’t played in a regular-season game for some time.

Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'


Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden needed specific tools to run his running game. He wanted blocking tight ends and a bruising fullback, relics of a bygone offensive era.

“If Marshawn Lynch is the feature back, I think it’d be nice if we serviced him with a fullback,” Gruden said at the combine. … You need a blocking tight end if you’re going to slam the ball with a beast. So, those are two things that I’m looking for.”

Gruden said he wanted to import some old-school elements to help run with brute force.

Enter free-agent fullback Kyle Smith and tight end Derek Carrier. Welcome back, Lee Smith.

Then, on Sunday, Raiders made another vital move in this old school effort. They cut Marshawn Lynch a $1 million check.

The Oakland native’s roster bonus came due and the Raiders had no problem paying it, the clearest sign Lynch will be the Raiders feature back in 2018.

He’ll have a great chance to thrive in that role. The Raiders have a hulking, expensive offensive line (that still needs a right tackle). They have new ancillary blocking elements, and the centerpiece remains in place.

That last part was expected in recent weeks. The coaching staff, offensive line coach Tom Cable especially, wanted Lynch back. NFL Network confirmed those facts, stating Lynch will be around in 2018.

That was the case, even with Doug Martin’s addition. The former Tampa Bay back is expected to be a backup bruiser, someone who might put DeAndre Washington or (less likely) Jalen Richard’s job in jeopardy.

The Raiders can cut Lynch without a cap hit. Lynch is scheduled to make $6 million in salary and bonuses, with another $2 million available in incentives. The Raiders should hope to pay those; it would mean Lynch is running well.

The Raiders have given him a great opportunity to do so. They have solid blocking and a coach in Cable who helped him succeed during dominant days in Seattle.

Lynch proved he’s still got it in 2017’s second half, with 70 percent of his 891 rushing yards in the final eight games. He struggled early on, and upset some fans by helping the opposition during a scuffle with Kansas City. That mitigated a PR bump the Raiders looked for when signing a popular Oakland native just months after committing to Las Vegas long-term.

Jack Del Rio and staff grew tired of what they perceived as leeway given to Lynch unavailable to others, and probably wouldn’t have kept him on if still gainfully employed.

Gruden seems committed to Lynch this season, though nothing is ever 100 percent with an enigmatic rusher who doesn’t make private thoughts public.

His elusive, rough-and-tumble rushing style fits well with what Gruden wants, though he demands commitment to the team and sport. Sports Illustrated relayed a story of Gruden saying he needed a “full-time Lynch.”

If he gets that, the Raiders run game should thrive.