Amari Cooper

Jon Gruden envisions Amari Cooper as 'focal point' of Raiders' offense


Jon Gruden envisions Amari Cooper as 'focal point' of Raiders' offense

INDIANAPOLIS – Amari Cooper didn’t have a great 2017 season. The Raiders receiver posted career lows in catches and yards in his third NFL season, nearly half of what he had the year before.

Cooper had 680 yards, 30 percent of which came from one game against Kansas City. He posted less than 10 yards five times, and only reached triple digits twice.

That’s a big step down after consecutive Pro Bowl seasons exceeding 1,000 yards. Cooper dealt with concussion-like symptoms and a significant ankle sprain down the stretch, but his slow start – Cooper had just 172 yards and a touchdown in his first five games -- happened when healthy.

New Raiders head coach Jon Gruden doesn’t view that as cause for alarm. Just the opposite, in fact. He believes this premier talent will return to form in his offense.

“He’ll be the focal point of our offense,” Gruden said Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I hope he’s listening here today. I’m looking forward to joining up with Amari Cooper. He has tremendous quickness. He’s smart, versatile and he’s a gamer. He likes the bright lights, and he’ll be the headliner in our offense.”

Cooper will lead a receiver corps that must play better all around. Micahel Crabtree, like Cooper must improve on a down year.  

Crabtree will be back next season, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie confirmed Wednesday afternoon, and also must return to old form. He was, at times, at odds with Jack Del Rio’s now jettisoned staff and members of the offense. The Raiders are putting those issues in the past, expecting Crabtree to excel in Gruden's offense. 

While McKenzie wouldn't address it specifically, it’s possible the Raiders ask Crabtree to restructure a contract with two years remaining and $7.5 million in salary and bonuses for 2018. None of that money is guaranteed.

“He’s on the team,” Gruden said. “I’d love to coach all these guys. That’s a big reason I was excited to get here. We’ll let you know. We’ll keep you updated as we gain more information. I’m going to get a chance to meet with (Crabtree’s) agent. April 9 I’m officially allowed to talk to these guys.”

Gruden has met with Crabtree since taking over as Raiders head coach.

He and McKenzie must also decide whether to keep Seth Roberts as the No. 3 receiver, or find an upgrade in free agency or the draft.

Fingers crossed for good news, Raiders 'feel the difference' without Cooper


Fingers crossed for good news, Raiders 'feel the difference' without Cooper

ALAMEDA – Amari Cooper has missed two full games and most of two others this past month.

Denver safety Darian Stewart set this course with a vicious, though not altogether dirty hit that concussed Cooper on Nov. 26 and sprained his ankle. The ankle was an afterthought then, but it remains the cause of his prolonged absence.

He missed the following game against the New York Giants, but pushed to play a crucial AFC West showdown at Kansas City.

Cooper’s ankle got rolled while blocking for the run against the Chiefs, and he ended up back on the shelf for a Sunday night loss to Dallas.

The Raiders hope Cooper can return for next week’s road game at Philadelphia. He worked on the side with trainers during Thursday’s practice, and will try and play the Eagles on Christmas.

“We hope to get him back to practice and have a good week of practice,” head coach Jack Del Rio said, “and be ready to go Monday night.”

That would immensely benefit the Raiders offense. This hasn’t been a season to remember for the two-time Pro Bowler, but the Raiders have missed him in the pattern.

His athleticism, route running and big-play ability demands significant attention.

“You’re covered differently when Coop isn’t demanding roll to him or attention that he normally gets,” Del Rio said. “Not having Coop, you feel the difference because he’s such a dynamic, explosive playmaker for us.”

Cooper’s career started with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He has struggled some this year, with just 42 catches for 499 yards and five touchdowns. Roughly 40 percent of that yardage total game in one game. The Chiefs let him roam, over 11 catches for 210 yards and two touchdowns, where he was his typical, explosive self. Something’s been missing outside that. He has 10 drops on the year, exposing a major issue as a rookie that got cleaned up his second year.

Despite a less-than-stellar season, his absence has created a void that impacts the entire passing game. Michael Crabtree gets covered like a top wideout, and tight end Jared Cook sees double coverage slide inside.

“When people cover Coop, they bracket him, they try and match him, they try and in-and-out him, they try a whole bunch of different things,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “When that doesn’t happen, the attention goes to Crabtree, the attention goes to Jared depending on the defensive personnel that they have. They’re able to roll coverages and make it hard for us. It’s one of those things that is next man up. We have to play ball.

“That’s why sometimes if we’re not as efficient or things like that, we’re trying to do the same kinds of things and make plays, it just hasn’t worked out that way. One of those years where we haven’t been as efficient. It’s not an effort thing. It’s not guys not giving it their all and things like that, it’s just that we haven’t been effective.”

Secondary takes another hit; injury updates for two key Raiders


Secondary takes another hit; injury updates for two key Raiders

ALAMEDA – The Raiders secondary has been beset by injuries this season. An already shaky crew never really had first-round pick Gareon Conley, who played two games due to a shin injury and is on injured reserve.

Even he did more than Obi Melifonwu. The second-round safety was active for five games but played just 34 defensive snaps. He won’t play another this season.

Melifonwu had surgery to repair an injured hip on Thursday, and was placed on season-ending injured reserve Friday afternoon. Cornerback Antonio Hamilton was called up in a corresponding move.

This is Melifonwu’s second IR stint this season. He spent the season’s first half on IR following knee surgery, but was designated to return. Melifonwu never played his natural position. The Raiders used him at cornerback, a desperate experiment that failed in a Week 11 loss to New England and barely played after that.

Injury may have played a part in that.

“I can’t tell you exactly when that occurred,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “I think it’s been a little bit that he’s been working with. It required surgery and he had it, so he’ll be out.”

Injuries ran deeper than the draft class.

Top cover man David Amerson has missed six straight games with a foot sprain, and remains doubtful for Sunday night’s clash against the Dallas Cowboys. That absence stings, especially with the secondary working without the young bucks.

Expect Sean Smith, TJ Carrie and Dexter McDonald to maintain their posts at cornerback.

“Those guys have done a good job in a tough spot,” Hamilton said. “They’ve stayed healthy and available for us. That has been key.”

Hamilton tore the meniscus in his knee in a Week 4 loss at Denver and is healthy and ready to contribute.

The NFL’s No. 25-ranked pass defense must make do with what they’ve got down the stretch. There’s some hope Amerson will return, even after being removed from practice the past few days. He performed side work with a trainer Friday right next to the media area, and continues to work on a return despite having so few games left.

Cooper could come back: Raiders receiver Amari Cooper re-injured his sprained ankle in a loss at Kansas City and was ruled out for the Cowboys game. It might not, however, keep him out the rest of the season.

“I think he’s better than he was, but he’s going to be out this week,” Del Rio said. “I think we have a chance to get him back.”