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Reggie McKenzie searching for players who fit new Raiders schemes


Reggie McKenzie searching for players who fit new Raiders schemes

INDIANAPOLIS – The Raiders personnel department has been studying this year’s draft class quite a while now. They have long-standing opinions on these kids, though those views were skewed some after Jon Gruden got hired.

The offensive specialist will install a new scheme this offseason, though his playbook was largely written over the last month. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme will be a complete overhaul, with more of a standard 4-3 look than the Raiders had last year.

Scouts have to find players that work well within the scheme, one that’s still being refined in film rooms of the team’s Alameda training complex.

“Our scheme, especially on defense, is different,” general manager Reggie McKenzie said. “Offensively, it’s going to be a little different. We have to get the right players to fit what we’re doing. There are certain players who can fit any scheme, but there are positions where you need specific skills. That’s when you have to mix and match, and find guys who can fill roles on the team. We’re in the process of doing that.”

The Raiders need aggressive, physical cornerbacks. They’ll need versatile inside linebackers, guys who can cover and blitz through interior. They’ll need one-gap players up front, with defensive tackles who can rush the passer.

They need receivers with good hands. Gruden loves a good fullback, and solid blocking tight ends. The Raiders have significant holes to fill on this roster, either through free agency or the NFL Draft. Coaches really get into the scouting process at the NFL Scouting Combine, which wraps on Monday in Indianapolis. Gruden and Guenther especially will have say in who the Raiders add, looking for specific skill sets that can play important roles in these new schemes.

Adding the right talent is important. So is development. That’s something Jack Del Rio’s staff struggled with at times in recent years. Gruden assembled an all-star staff that should improve player development.

“We have great coaches here, and they’re going to put players in positions to succeed,” McKenzie said. “I’m not a fan of finding guys who can only do one thing. I wants guys that fit, guys that have range and versatility. I want guys with talent who can be developed.”

Additions will be made. Subtractions are coming, possibly to players you know well. The Raiders will try and trim salaries where possible – they’d like to restructure contracts for Marshawn Lynch, Michael Crabtree and Bruce Irvin, though that doesn’t mean those players will go for it – to make room for a Khalil Mack contract extension and better fits.

“We have to work within the cap and money situation,” McKenzie said. “If things work out where some players have to go, like with what happened with (recently release cornerback David) Amerson, those are things that happen. That’s down the line. We’ll see where we are when free agency starts, and we’ll see who we can sign and who we can’t. We’re not just looking to start with five players on the roster and build from scratch.

"We’ll get this thing…it’s going to be a process. We’re working with this staff, to make sure we have the best 53-man roster. Right now we’re trying to assemble a 90-man roster and let it play out.”

Sacramento native Rhys Hoskins reaches Home Run Derby semis


Sacramento native Rhys Hoskins reaches Home Run Derby semis

WASHINGTON — Bryce Harper thrilled the home crowd and surely made his father proud, winning the All-Star Home Run Derby on Monday night with an exceptional display of power that carried him past Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs 19-18.

Harper hit the contest-winning blast in extra time, the reward for hitting two homers at least 440 feet during the 4 minutes of regulation. After he connected with the game winner, the Washington Nationals slugger threw his bat in the air and pointed both index fingers toward the sky as a shower of streamers rained upon the crowd of 43,698.

The six-time All-Star arranged to have his dad, Ron, pitch to him in the annual contest on the eve of the All-Star Game. Harper responded with a performance that drew the loudest cheers of the night at Nationals Park.

It’s been a trying season for Harper, who’s hitting only .214 for the disappointing Nationals. He won a contest that many sluggers avoid, fearful it might wear them out and throw them off.

Harper can only hope this helps him get back into the swing.

The 2015 NL MVP beat Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves and Max Muncy of the Dodgers before trumping the fifth-seeded Schwarber, who put the pressure on with a solid outing before Harper stepped to the plate.

Wearing a headband that resembled the District of Columbia flag and displaying a right sleeve with stars and stripes, Harper trailed 18-9 with 1:20 left before rallying. He homered on nine of his last 10 swings before entering extra time.

Hours before the session, Harper spoke excitedly about having his dad pitch to him in the contest. The 25-year-old said his father “worked his tail off every single day to provide for me and my family” and “now being able to have him throw to me in a big league ballpark is the cherry on top.”

Harper advanced to the final with an astonishing spree of long-ball hitting. He trailed Max Muncy of the Dodgers 12-4 with 2:20 left, then peeled off six homers in 47 seconds before calling a timeout.

Harper returned to hit three more home runs in 22 seconds, the last of them inside the right-field foul pole.

The semifinal matchup between Schwarber and Philadelphia’s Rhys Hoskins was a thriller. After stunning top-seed Jesus Aguilar of Milwaukee in the opening round, the eighth-seeded Hoskins ripped 20 long balls to put the pressure on Schwarber.

Using a late surge, Schwarber pulled one ball after another over the right field wall to squeeze out a 21-20 victory — by far the highest-scoring matchup of the night.

The fans dutifully cheered most home runs during the first round, but they saved their loudest cheers for Harper, the last player to step to the plate.

After Freeman hit 12 home runs over the 4-minute span, Harper unleashed six shots of at least 440 feet and secured the victory with a drive to center long before the clock expired. As the ball cleared the wall, the left-handed hitting Harper walked out of the batter’s box and thrust both arms in the air.

Freeman was the oldest player in the field at 28, and the first Braves participant since Andruw Jones in 2005.

Milwaukee’s Aguilar, the NL home run leader at the break, was eliminated in the opening round by Hoskins 17-12.

Aguilar hit too many balls to straightaway center, where the wall stands over 400 feet from the plate. Hoskins pumped most of his drives into the left-field seats, where it’s 336 feet down the line.

The most thrilling first-round match featured a near buzzer-beater by Houston’s Alex Bregman, who fell to Schwarber 16-15. The difference was the pair of homers that Schwarber hit during 30 seconds of extra time, the reward for hitting two long balls of at least 440 feet.

Bregman — the lone AL representative — appeared defeated with a minute left, but he mounted a late surge and lost when his final swing produced a drive that landed at the base of the center-field wall.

Muncy advanced by defeating No. 6 seed Javier Baez of the Cubs, 16-15. Baez hit the longest shot of the Derby, a 479-footer.

Aaron Rodgers hits fan jumping off a boat in Tahoe in stride with perfect throw


Aaron Rodgers hits fan jumping off a boat in Tahoe in stride with perfect throw

Green Bay Packers quarterback (and former Cal Golden Bear) Aaron Rodgers is known for his downfield accuracy. 

Rodgers has three successful Hail Marys to his name. The first, on Dec. 3, 2015 against the Detroit Lions, kept his team's playoff hopes alive. Another, on Jan. 16, 2016 against the Arizona Cardinals, sent the Divisional game to overtime, and a third came en route to a Wild Card game win against the New York Giants on Jan. 8, 2007. 

At the American Century Championship Celebrity Golf Tournament in Lake Tahoe on Friday, Rodgers added another notch to his belt.

His latest effort won't be confused with the other three, but it's not like any of those receivers landed in a body of water, either. 

The real question? Whether or not that's a catch under the NFL's new rules.