Raiders surviving with skeleton crew at cornerback


Raiders surviving with skeleton crew at cornerback

BRADENTON, Fla. – Raiders are woefully thin at cornerback. Have been for some time.

David Amerson has been concussed, worked through a shoulder issue and will now miss a second straight game with a foot problem. First-rounder Gareon Conley has been shut down indefinitely, maybe for good. Demetrius McCray was signed for reinforcement, and even he’s down for the count.

None of those guys will play Sunday night in Miami.

That leaves TJ Carrie, Dexter McDonald and Sean Smith to cover well. That’s it. There aren’t any career cornerbacks in reserve.

Obi Melifonwu will come off injured reserve Saturday and could play there in a pinch. Safety Keith McGill started his professional career at corner.

The secondary as a whole is unsettled, with impact strong safety Karl Joseph questionable with a groin injury that sidelined him in Buffalo.

That’s a difficult spot for a No. 26-ranked Raiders pass defense that has played eight games without an interception.

“I mean I think they’ve done a good job working,” head coach Jack Del Rio said after Friday’s practice at IMG Academy. “A lot of it is communication, working with each other and understanding the leveraging that you need to take on different guys and playing. I think the guys are doing a solid job of getting through that. We’d love to have arguably our two top guys there that we don’t have right now.”

Del Rio’s referring to Amerson and Conley. Amerson’s the No. 1 cornerback. Conley’s has the most talent.

Smith has fallen off this year, giving too many explosive plays. McDonald is new to the rotation, but generally in good position to flash ball skills.

Carrie has been the rock. He entered the spring as the team’s fourth cornerback, leap-frogged Smith in training camp and is now the most reliable cover man. He has given up a 69.6 completion percentage when targeted, but receivers are averaging just 9.3 yards per reception and precious few yards after the catch.

“I like the pressure, of having so many rely on you,” Carrie said. “I pride myself on being dependable, even in big moments. That’s why you play, to be there for your team. I know I have to be consistent, and I have to be physical and tough. I have to be a guy you can count on. That, as much as anything else, drives me every day.”

The Raiders secondary remains in a tough spot, light years from what they’d hoped after signing Amerson and Smith to big-money deals last offseason and drafting Conley and Melifonwu a few months back.

Depth has been key to sustaining decent play in the back, but Carrie, McDonald and Smith must be better. Solid coverage isn’t good enough on a 3-5 team that must go on a big run to save the season. They have to make big plays, create turnovers and spark the team with players previously down on the depth chart. Carr believes healthy corners are up to the task.

“We’re a close group, and we do everything possible to prep for game,” Carrie said. “We work hard and we’ve done a good job staying together despite so many injuries at the position. I think all of our DBs can cover well and make plays. We’re confident in whoever we put out there on the field.”

Does Gruden see Lynch, Crabtree on Raiders in 2018?


Does Gruden see Lynch, Crabtree on Raiders in 2018?

Jon Gruden doesn’t love offseason restrictions on player-coach interaction. They weren’t so strict when Gruden last coached nine years ago, but the new collective bargaining agreement prevents the new Raiders head coach from extended contact with his players at this stage in the NFL’s downtime.

He has, however, run into several Raiders stopping by the team’s Alameda complex.

Count running back Marshawn Lynch and receiver Michael Crabtree among them. Conversations with those talented, yet mercurial players will be key as Gruden and general manager Reggie McKenzie decide how best to use the salary cap.

Both guys have a long history of NFL production. Both guys are getting up there in age, and have some drawbacks. Both guys can be cut without a salary cap hit.

Gruden had nice things to say about both guys in a Wednesday interview with the Bay Area News Group.

He was asked directly if Lynch will be on the 2018 roster.

“I don’t know,” Gruden said. “I bumped into him. Some of these players that live locally do come to the facility to get a workout, see the trainer. I’ve been downstairs and met several guys. I have talked to Marshawn briefly. We’ll see. We’ll keep everybody posted. Right now, he’s our leading ball carrier. He’s our back, and we’re counting on him. Hopefully we get an opportunity to work together. That’s a man that has a lot of respect in this league as a player and I certainly have respect for him also.”

Lynch started slow but finished strong, and was the team’s best skill player in the season’s second half. He’s contracted to make up to $6 million in 2018.

Crabtree came up later in a discussion of what he likes on the roster.

“I got to bump into Crabtree,” Gruden said. “Hopefully we can get the best out of Crabtree and his career.”

Crabtree is coming off a down year following two stellar seasons in Oakland. He had just 58 catches for 618 yards – he still had eight touchdowns – but his targets and snaps decreased the last two weeks. He seemed at odds with the previous coaching staff, a group that was dismissed at season’s end.

Crabtree is set to make $7 million next season, though none of it is guaranteed.

Gruden meeting reinforces T.J. Carrie's desire to remain with Raiders


Gruden meeting reinforces T.J. Carrie's desire to remain with Raiders

PALO ALTO – Raiders cornerback T.J. Carrie became a father on Super Bowl Sunday. Newborn son Elijah Carrie has been the sole focus these last few weeks, as T.J. learns on the job how to be a dad.

Pardon him if he hasn’t thought much about impending free agency. The 2014 seventh-round pick turned full-time starter has a rookie deal expiring soon, with a raise on the horizon following his best season as a pro.

That’ll come in March. Early February, however, has kept him otherwise engaged.

“I’ve been so busy with my little one, and I haven’t been getting any sleep,” Carrie said Thursday. “Learning how to be a dad has been so engulfing that I haven’t delved into the details of what free agency will mean to me.”

Soul searching wasn’t required to realize his dream scenario. The East Bay native wants to stay in Oakland, with a Raiders team he loved as a kid.

“My intention is to be here,” Carrie said. “I’m a Bay Area guy, a hometown kid. I couldn’t see myself being anywhere else. This is a passion for me. I dreamed about playing for the Raiders for such a long time. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to play there for four years, I want to finish (with the Raiders).”

Carrie wants to work with a new Raiders regime. He visited the team’s Alameda complex on Wednesday and met with new head coach Jon Gruden and defensive assistants. The interaction left Carrie wanting more, furthering his belief that be belongs in Silver and Black.

“Coach Gruden is very energetic,” Carrie said. “He’s a coach that likes to have fun but it a very business oriented guy. There are a lot of things, I imagine, that are going to change, just from the way he has done things. It’s going to be different, but I embrace it. It’ll be very challenging entering into a new regime, but there are a lot of positive factors involved with it.”

The Raiders don’t have many cornerbacks under contract come mid-March. They released David Amerson, and could do the same with Sean Smith later this offseason. Gareon Conley should start at one spot, but everything else is wide-open entering free agency and the draft.

Carrie could find value on the open market after recording 70 tackles and nine passes defensed in 16 starts. He’ll explore his options further next month, before free agency begins in earnest March 14.

“I know March is really when it starts to go down,” Carrie said. “My son will be a little older then, so I can focus more on free agency and make some more decisions.”