ALAMEDA -- Li'l Wiz is going stir crazy, so to speak.Moving from left guard to center, Stefen Wisiewski is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and forced to stand around while his teammates practice in OTAs. But having to watch and not participate is not as painful as the shoulder injury he played through as a rookie.Turns out Stefen Wisniewski suffered a torn labrum early in the season, perhaps even as soon as training campand played on."Made for a long year," he said Wednesday. "(But) a lot of guys play through that."Were linemen. Tape it up and go to work. We dont have to run very far or move very far, so they dont worry too much about us being hurt, as long as you can take a couple steps and grab on to somebody."Wisniewski, though, would not say which shoulder was hurt, just that he expects to be a full-go by the time the Raiders report to Napa for training camp on July 29.The Raiders have a mandatory minicamp next Tuesday through Thursday in Alameda, in the meantime.Last year Wisniewski started once in place of Samson Satele at center -- the Thursday night primetime game in San Diego. So it's not as though he is starting completely fresh."Im fine with it," he said. "Im excited about it. Its nice to kind of be the boss of the O-line in there, making calls and you get to be in charge, which is nice. Its a good position. You got to be athletic, you got to be smart, you got to be tough. I like it a lot."Last offseason I was preparing to be the center. Thats what they told me. I ended up switching to guard, which was fine. This offseason they tell me now to play center. Thats what Im getting ready for. I dont expect to change back, but you never know."For now, it's all about mental reps for Wisniewski as Alex Parsons plays center with the first-team offense for a unit that is under new management, so to speak, with coordinator Greg Knapp and a zone-blocking scheme."Its similar (with) a lot of new wrinkles," Wisniewski said. "We have a million different ways to run zone. You've got to know the little nuances of each one, but its something were working on. I expect it to really help the running game. I think its going to really work well for us."And from a rehabbing center's perspective, does Li'l Wiz like it?"Absolutely," he said. "You've got to be able to move. If you look at our O-line, thats one thing we all can do across the board. We can move, we can run, were athletic. So I think its going to work for us, especially with the speed weve got at running back."
MEXICO CITY – The Raiders cornerback David Amerson didn’t practice all week, but ran just well enough to be considered “doubtful” for Sunday’s game against New England.
Translation: Outlook for Sunday is not good, but Jack Del Rio’s fingers remained crossed real, real tight. The Raiders hope there’s a way he can be active against Tom Brady’s buzz saw attack, because their cover men are beat up.
Amerson has missed two straight with a foot injury, and has dealt with injury all year. Gareon Conley’s season officially ended Monday, when he was placed on season-ending injured reserve. Antonio Hamilton and Demetrius McCray were already there.
Reggie McKenzie hasn’t reached out for reinforcements. That leaves TJ Carrie, Dexter McDonald and Sean Smith to play cornerback. Carrie’s been the rock, a sure tackler who hasn’t made spectacular plays but doesn’t give them up. McDonald has been forced into action, with holes let in his game.
Smith should be the No. 1 guy in this group, the steadying presence on the outside. That hasn’t been the case this year, where he lost a starting job in training camp and sub-package snaps during the season, only to have injuries to Conley and Amerson bring him in the fray.
He’s also been dealing with felony assault and battery charges in Los Angeles stemming from a July 4 incident in Pasadena.
Smith has been a lightning rod for fan criticism, a byproduct of his $9.5 million salary this year and explosive plays allowed early in the year.
If there’s an anvil weighing on his mind, teammates insist you’d never know.
“We’re human at the end of the day,” Amerson said. “You feel it, but you have to find a way to remain even keel and professional and do your job well.”
Smith will be counted on heavily Sunday against New England, especially if Amerson can’t play as expected. He has proven vulnerable to speed without help and proper disruption at the line of scrimmage, though that hasn’t been an issue lately because the Utah alum has recovered well after a rough start.
He got pulled after struggling against Vernon Davis in Washington. He didn’t play against the Chargers after giving up two huge plays to Baltimore the week before.
Amerson originally sprained his foot in Week 7 against Kansas City – he hasn’t played since – and Smith was called upon to respond. He wasn’t targeted in that game, and has been strong in coverage ever since.
Smith has allowed three catches for 12 yards in four targets over the last two games. The ninth-year veteran insists he wasn’t doing anything markedly different, and had zero interest in patting himself on the back for recent jobs well done.
“I’m not,” Smith said. “I’m out there doing my job, man, the best way I can.”
Smith says the off-field distractions during a roller-coaster season, one of his career’s most trying yet, haven’t impacted him much
“Nope. Not at all,” Smith said. “As long as I wake up a Raider, I’m all right. I’ll deal with whatever happens. I’ll always be there for my guys, and I’ll do whatever it takes to help our team win.”
Raiders defensive backs laud Smith’s locker room presence, saying he’s an excellent teammate. Cornerbacks in general must have a short memory when things go bad, to refocus and prevent that from happening again. Smith apparently has that in spades.
“I know how things go, especially when you have a target on your back,” Amerson said. “Sometimes you get hit with the perfect pass and you give up some plays. You can’t do anything about that but take advantage of the next opportunity. Sean’s a good player, and he definitely has that mindset.”
Smith will lend experience to this big game, something the Raiders need after suffering so many injuries.
"It sucks that so many of us have gone down,” Smith said. "You want to have all your guys out there, but that’s the NFL. Injuries happen. As long as everybody comes to work and acts like a pro, we’ll be all right. We all have a job to do. We all would like to start, but you have to be ready when your number’s called.”
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.”