Raiders relying on 340-pound rookie TE in productive jumbo package

Raiders relying on 340-pound rookie TE in productive jumbo package

ALAMEDA – Lee Smith was a key cog in this Raiders offense. The hulking tight end is a decent receiver but considers himself an honorary offensive lineman, an important piece of the team’s protection.

Losing him to a season-ending ankle injury was a significant blow, one that caused the Raiders to adjust on the fly. They weren’t going to put unqualified options on the field just because it says tight end on their football card. Mychal Rivera and Clive Walford can block, but are primarily receiving options.

The Raiders got creative, and added another offensive lineman to their jumbo package. Vadal Alexander filled that role initially, though undrafted rookie Denver Kirkland has made it his own. He’s technically an eligible receiver and a tight end, but blocks like a tackle for the run and pass.

The package worked extremely well against Denver, with an extra offensive lineman helping block for the run or double team or bracket star Broncos edge rusher Von Miller. Kirkland played 42 snaps against the Broncos, 48 percent of all offensive snaps as the Raiders rushed 43 times for 218 yards and three touchdowns.

They used a straight forward rushing attack, often with a fullback in the game, to ensure speedy ball carriers reached the second level.

The Raiders have used extra offensive linemen before, but it’s become a more regular occurrence without Smith available.

“We’re trying to fill in for Lee, you know?” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “A big guy that gives us the ability to run the ball, that can pass block and can occasionally sneak out and be a part of a route. You know, he’s not going to be a big part of the route tree, but we do have plays designed, those guys get out and catch the ball and run over a little guy. So, they love that part. They love that and what they’re really good at is the blocking part and being physical. So, I think it just makes us physical.”

That’s a desired element among within a Raiders offense hoping to establish a stout running game. Del Rio wants to run well even when the opposition knows what’s coming, making solid protection a must from the five standard linemen all the way out to the receivers.

Kirkland is the new key cog in the protection effort.

“Denver is been a big, physical guy, tough guy,” Del Rio said. “We were drawn to him in camp, thought there were some things that were with developing and that development, obviously, has been accelerated a little bit with him being on the field as much as he is now.”

Kirkland was an early entrant into the NFL Draft who wasn’t taken. The Arkansas alum was still a popular commodity, with the Raiders pitching to sign him as an undrafted player before the selection process ended.

“They were calling during the draft, and I was up for it,” Kirkland said. “Other teams were calling me, but I have made my mind up. I talked to my mom for a quick 30 minutes, and we knew then that we were going to the Raiders.”

It was the smart choice. Coaches were clearly taken by Kirkland during the preseason, where he was versatile enough to play multiple spots. He ended up on the practice squad, mostly due to the talented depth on the Raiders offensive line.

He was promoted before Week 4 due to injuries at right tackle, but didn’t play until he was asked to step up with Smith out. Now, Kirkland appears a fixture as an extra blocker playing tight end.

Whether he leaks out as a pass-catcher or not remains a mystery. Donald Penn has caught a touchdown pass this year and Kirkland says he would be a reliable receiver if called upon.

“Oh, yeah. I’ve got great hands,” Kirkland said with a smile. “That would be a great moment for me.”

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.