Raiders standing by strategy for Mexico City altitude


Raiders standing by strategy for Mexico City altitude

MEXICO CITY – The Raiders spent all week at sea level preparing to play 1-¼ miles up. They left Oakland around noon on Saturday confident that altitude won’t be an issue in Sunday’s game against New England.

Estadio Azteca sits at 7,200 feet, a comparable elevation to where the Patriots have been practicing in Colorado Springs. That has created a debate of sorts about which philosophy works best. There’s science to support staying in altitude with New England.

There’s plenty more to back head coach Jack Del Rio’s desire to get in and out of altitude as fast as possible. We won’t break down the arguments here. There are plenty of stories written about that.

We’ll simply say the Raiders believe in their approach, and have experience to support it. The Raiders best Houston in Mexico City last year in a dramatic affair that required two fourth-quarter touchdowns.

“I thought we handled our business well last year and we’ve got a similar approach this year,” Del Rio said. “We expect to go down there and play in a great atmosphere. The fans are very engaged. It’s a great atmosphere to be a part of. Just go down there and play good football.”

The Raiders have worked toward this game the past three weeks. They’ve worked on exercise bikes and treadmills using elevation machine, which matches oxygen outputs at specific elevation. Players have done that and have then been able to recover at sea level. They’ve worn popularized oxygen deprivation masks during other activities, though they’ve practiced as usual.

The Raiders know what to expect in terms of logistics, altitude and air pollution. The Raiders have prepared well for this experience, but that doesn’t mean altitude doesn’t impact finely tuned athletes.

“When you get there, you’re going to feel it,” edge rusher Khalil Mack said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area. “It’s different than anything you’ve ever felt. It’s different than Denver. It was a way tougher challenge. You felt it right away. It hits you getting off the plane.”

Both teams must play in adverse conditions.

“We just have to go play,” Raiders linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. “You guys aren’t going to say the altitude had an effect on the outcome. You can’t use it as an excuse. You can’t think about that. You have to train and prepare the way they’ve been having us prepare and go out there and execute.”

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick hasn’t talked much about his strategy of staying at elevation after playing in Denver last week. Extended time away from home can be a bonding time, as the Raiders experienced a fortnight past in Sarasota, FL. He didn’t consider the time spent at Air Force Academy to be a significant advantage.

“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” Belichick said. “The way the schedule worked out, this worked out for us. We’re here and we’re just doing the best we can to get ready for the game.”

The Raiders anticipate Estadio Azteca to feel like home away from home. Raider Nation turned out en masse last year in Houston, giving the neutral site a silver and black edge. Fans took it to the extreme at times, pointing a green laser pointer in Texans quarterback Brock Osweiller’s eyes.

The NFL will certainly be looking to quell those disruptions, especially with a marquee Patriots team in town. New England fans will be audible this time, but another pro-Raiders atmosphere is expected. That’s why Derek Carr isn’t worried about distractions from the crowd.

“No, no, no, no, no. I think that going down there is a home field advantage,” Carr said. “I’m not worried about the laser pointers. I think that’s for the other guys.”

Raiders roster turning over quickly with Gruden in town


Raiders roster turning over quickly with Gruden in town

The Raiders went quiet during free agency’s first wave. They avoided paying heavy freight for some top talent with name recognition, but came on strong as last week grew late.

Most moves came from Thursday on, with a flurry of activity that radically changed the Raiders roster. There was something for everybody, with a receiver, and critical nuts and bolts of Jon Gruden’s run game. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s starting lineup got upgraded at linebacker and the secondary. A versatile defensive lineman joined the crew. Special teams got a new long snapper and some core coverage guys.

Michael Crabtree got cut. Cordarrelle Patterson was traded. Gruden found an upgrade over one guy, didn’t need the other.

The Raiders signed 10 players through Sunday night virtually guaranteed to make the 53-man roster, and Griff Whalen's got a shot. That’s a roughly 20 percent roster turnover right there – a draft class is also on the way – and the Raiders aren’t done in free agency.

Receiver Ryan Grant’s reportedly due in Alameda on Monday, and he might not leave. The Raiders have Patterson’s money to spare, assuming, of course, Grant passes a physical.

A bargain defensive tackle might be coming down the pike. Maybe. Time will tell on that front.

The Raiders had $20-plus million in salary-cap space entering free agency, but managed to spend smart in an attempt to get quality and quantity.

They’re believed to be close the salary cap after all this activity, but can create space by releasing veterans without guaranteed money. That happened with Sean Smith and the Patterson trade. Others can be cleared easily to import players who fit Gruden’s style and come available late.

Significant roster turnover is common with new coaches, who need fits for new offensive and defensive systems. Gruden was able to move fast in those aims, armed with significant clout in roster construction.

The head coach got hired in January, hired a staff to build schemes and evaluated the roster. The Raiders have some excellent pieces, Derek Carr and Khalil Mack chief among them.

It was also clear Gruden considered the roster lacking on several fronts. He said the Raiders weren’t getting enough from their last three draft classes, an accurate statement to be sure. He purged some productive members of last year’s squad he didn’t consider fits, and those already gone won’t be the last.

Recently signed free agents will take jobs. So will draft picks selected next month, as Gruden works to overhaul a roster and get more out of talent already on the roster.

It’s clear he’s heavily involved in picking these players, and will be responsible for getting the most out of the group, understanding full well it will probably take a few offseasons to get it just right.

Let’s take a look at key free-agents the Raiders have added so far, and what to expect from each guy:

-- WR Jordy Nelson: He’s the offseason’s big fish. The Raiders expect Nelson to be a locker room leader and a steadying on-field presence. They had no problem choosing him over Crabtree as part of a complete makeover at receiver.

-- CB Rashaan Melvin: Pencil him in to start opposite Gareon Conley. Better yet, use pen.

-- LB Tahir Whitehead: He’s a versatile talent with experience at every linebacker position, with success on the weak side. Whitehead can play in the middle, a role he might assume if NaVorro Bowman isn’t re-signed. Bringing Bowman back remains a possibility, however, especially if his market isn’t stout. Whitehead should also help Cory James and Marquel Lee and Nicholas Morrow grow.

-- S Marcus Gilchrist: He isn’t a dynamic playmaker, but is a solid versatile talent who can play either safety spot or in the slot. He should start right away.

-- RB Doug Martin: He’ll be a secondary option to Marshawn Lynch, but should see significant carries. His presence might spell trouble for DeAndre Washington or (less likely) Jalen Richard.

-- FB Keith Smith: Gruden said told the former Cowboy he has big plans for him. The blocking fullback will be integral to this scheme, and he’ll certainly help on special teams.

-- TE Derek Carrier: A blocking tight end can help in the run game, and has versatility required to catch passes. He’ll join Lee Smith in jumbo sets.

-- DE Tank Carradine: A solid run stopper who will compete for time at base defensive end, but believes he can be a better pass rusher than his stats suggest.

-- LB Kyle Wilbur: The Raiders need core special teams players. Wilbur can be one, and could help on defense in a pinch.

-- LS Andrew DePaola: Jon Condo’s replacement.

-- WR Griff Whalen: The Stanford product will compete for a return gig, and a spot as a backup receiver.

Source: Raiders trading veteran WR Patterson to Patriots


Source: Raiders trading veteran WR Patterson to Patriots

The Raiders are trading receiver/kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson to the New England Patriots, a league source told NBC Sports Bay Area on Sunday afternoon.

The Raiders will receive a fifth-round pick, while sending a sixth-round pick back to New England, according to the NFL Network. Patterson must pass a physical to complete the transaction, NFL Network is also reporting.

The moved frees $3.25 million in salary cap space for a Raiders team that was up against the NFL spending threshold. Former Washington receiver Ryan Grant is reportedly visiting the Raiders’ Alameda complex soon. Grant is available after a failed physical voided his free-agent deal with Baltimore. He passed a physical in Indianapolis, NFL Network reported, but left the Colts without a contract. Grant is a surehanded target who averaged 12.7 yards per receptions and had just three drops in 63 targets. 

The Raiders will likely add another receiver if Grant doesn't come aboard. One of head coach Jon Gruden's preference could be found in the NFL draft if Grant goes elsewhere.

The Raiders also added receiver Griff Whalen, a Stanford alum who has some returning experience, before free agency began. 

Patterson proved a productive, explosive member of last year’s offense, primarily as a gadget player. Patterson finished the season with 31 catches for 309 yards, and had 13 receptions for 121 yards and two touchdowns.

He never became a steady, standard receiving option, and wasn’t able to shed his reputation as a relatively poor route runner. That likely made him expendable in  Gruden’s eye. He needs quality routes and steady hands from his wideouts.

That outweighs Patterson’s prowess returning kickoffs. The two-time All-Pro averages 30.2 yards per kickoff return over five seasons, with five return touchdowns to his credit.

The Patriots are well known for excellent special teams play, and needed a returner with Dion Lewis leaving for Tennessee in free agent. The Super Bowl runners up now have a dynamic returner and gunner to pair with solid coverage and return units.

This is a developing story. Check back for further details.