Raiders

Is Wheeler a playmaker at SAM linebacker?

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Is Wheeler a playmaker at SAM linebacker?

NAPA -- Philip Wheeler is far from your prototypical strongside NFL linebacker.He's been told throughout his career that he is not big enough for the position. Not quick enough to elude blockers. Not shifty enough to cover tight ends in coverage."I don't think I'm prototypical anything," Wheeller said following Monday's practice. "I just feel like I can listen to what the coaches are telling me and play the proper technique. They know what theyre doing. Theyre putting me and other players in the best positions for us to make plays."And in this new multiple-look defensive scheme, that's all the Raiders are looking for from their new SAM linebacker.Yes, the guy he's replacing wracked up a combined 16 sacks the past two seasons, but Kamerion Wimbley signed with Tennessee as a defensive end after being cut by the Raiders in what amounted to a salary dump when the two sides could not come to an agreement on a more palatable -- to the Raiders anyway -- contract.And Wheeler is by no means a pass-rushing specialist -- he has two sacks in his career. But such was his existence in Indianapolis' Cover-2 defense. This new Raiders' scheme?"Its way more aggressive, its more fun, more playmaking for a lot of guys, more plays out there to be made for a lot of guys instead of a couple of guys," Wheeler said. "In Indy playmakers were like the defensive ends. I guess this is more linebacker-friendly and everybody-friendly. Everybody makes plays in this defense."In Monday's team session, Wheeler went horizontal to break up a Carson Palmer pass. The day before, he held onto the ball for an interception.GUTIERREZ: Raiders camp summary (86): Live hitting to ground makes appearance
"I think hes done a nice job," coach Dennis Allen said of Wheeler. "He gives us some athleticism at that position. Obviously, weve been able to rush him some and also put him back in coverage, but I think hes a guy that hasnt played a lot on the ball, but hes done a nice job there. And then obviously coming from Indianapolis and the Tampa-2 system, his stack-linebacker-off-the-ball play has been good."The Raiders linebackers last season were a relative soft spot against the run, while the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Wheeler had a career-high 84 tackles and forced a fumble for the Colts."I think hes a good tackler," Allen said. "Well obviously find out when we start really playing preseason games, because we havent done a lot of that, but from what Ive seen so far I would anticipate him being a good tackler."Wheeler concurred."I try to (be a good tackler)," Wheeler said. "I try not to miss tackles, try to wrap up, do the techniques that coaches tell us to do. We practice it every day. I feel like since we are out here in pads and were hitting -- we didnt hit as much where I was before -- so I feel like were getting used to it, and I think well tackle pretty good."Wheeler also has yet to get an interception in his -- Wimbley had one in Oakland.And about those lack of sacks?"Yeah, Im looking forward to getting some sacks, picks, knockout shots, not only from myself but from my other teammates," Wheeler said. "Weve got some amazing athletes out there. We got fast athletes, some of the fastest guys in the league out there. I think were going to be fine."

Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice

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USATSI

Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice

ALAMEDA – Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin were out at Raiders practice Wednesday for the stretching period. Both edge rushers left one-at-a-time during the individual period, which was open to the press, headed into the main building and did not return.

There was no perceived reaction, certainly no surprise, from the coaching staff or players on the field. Irvin and new defensive coordinator John Pagano were seen joking around on the field before practice began in earnest. 

Both Irvin and Mack were given a practice off. A Raiders official called it a day off/rest-type day that was not injury related. The Silver and Black typically practice in pads or shells on Wednesday, but were in jerseys and sweats in the interest of recovery.

This day off's timing did raise an eyebrow.

Wednesday marked the first practice Irvin has missed since training camp. Mack hasn’t missed one in months.

Mack and Irvin’s downtime also came a day after beloved defensive coordinator Ken Norton’s firing.

Several defensive players were upset about Norton's firing, but Mack and Irvin especially were among those loyal to Norton. Mack and Norton developed a bond after the coach was named defensive coordinator in 2015. Norton and Irvin go way back to their days together in Seattle. Irvin credits Norton for helping him get on the right path and stay there.

Neither player was happy Norton got the axe. Irvin made his displeasure clear, tweeting “BULLS***” shortly after news of Norton’s demise broke. Mack told ESPN “I like to keep my thoughts private.” Defensive stars declined comment Wednesday or didn't appear in the locker room when the media was present. 

It isn’t immediately clear if the non-injury related day off was related to Norton’s dismissal. Head coach Jack Del Rio won’t speak to the media again until Friday. New defensive coordinator John Pagano is scheduled to speak Thursday afternoon.

Del Rio addressed the media before Wednesday’s practice, and was asked how he’ll handle players unhappy with the in-season shake-up.

“I don’t try and 'handle' them,” Del Rio said. “I think the biggest thing is to understand the relationship, respect that, give him a little space and then at the end of the day, we’re going to get on with our work. But, I’m human. It wasn’t easy for me either.”

Del Rio: 'Nobody should feel comfortable,' following Norton firing

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Del Rio: 'Nobody should feel comfortable,' following Norton firing

ALAMEDA – Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio put out a statement Tuesday explaining why he fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

He went into greater detail Wednesday afternoon, his first time facing the media since a change was made

Specifics will be discussed further down this story. We don’t, however, want to bury the lede.

Del Rio’s main message wasn’t about Norton. It applied to all in Silver and Black. This season has not met lofty expectations. That is unacceptable.

“I know one thing,” Del Rio said. “Nobody should feel comfortable, because what I’ve been watching is not good enough.”

Del Rio didn’t absolve himself from blame. Norton got fired, but everyone has played a part in this disappointing 4-6 record.

“It’s always shared,” Del Rio said. “A change was made, obviously. We all share in it, all of us, starting with me. It’s coaches and players. It’s a team game, and we’re all in it together. And nobody is coming to help us.”

The Raiders must look inward to start a prolonged winning streak they’ve shown little evidence they can create.

The seat will be warm under players and coaches alike, even if only one change was made. Expect further shakeup on the coaching staff after the season, if vast improvements don’t come down the stretch, possibly with several position coaches being shown the door. More than a few higher profile players could be cut or allowed to leave, especially on defense.

While Del Rio has taken more heat the past month than at any other time in his Raiders tenure, expect him to be around a longer term. He was given a contract extension in February, and has significant capitol built after changing the culture in Oakland and re-teaching this team how to win. One bad year, even if this season continues heading downhill, shouldn’t erase that.

Del Rio was looking to shake things up, and Norton was the obvious move. Experienced play caller John Pagano was on staff – he was Chargers defensive coordinator from 2012-2016 – and firing the popular Pagano’s style could create some new waves and looks that any offensive Norton would make an impact in the locker room and prove this story’s opening quote, that no one should feel comfortable.

Del Rio hopes firing Norton will be a shock to the defense’s system.

“I really felt like I needed to shake things up,” Del Rio said. “We couldn’t continue doing what we’ve been doing to this point. So I made the call. The whole idea is to change what we’re doing and make sure…what I’m looking for at the end of the day is for us to play fast on defense. We weren’t playing fast enough. We weren’t playing confident enough.”