Raiders

Amari Cooper fighting another case of the drops

Amari Cooper fighting another case of the drops

ALAMEDA – Amari Cooper led the NFL in dropped passes as a rookie. The Raiders receiver wasn’t happy about it. He worked tirelessly, as he’s known to do, to get it fixed.

His drops dropped from 18 to 5 from freshman to sophomore seasons. The original issue, however, has returned.

Analytics site Pro Football Focus says he has six drops out of 16 catchable passes this season, double the league’s second-worst offender. Some of those “drops” could be argued – one was tipped, another was overthrown – but even a few is too many for someone with elite receiving skills.

His last was a doozy. He cut across the middle, with the ball upon him just beyond the first down marker. It was 3rd-and-9. The Raiders were stagnant, and needed their best skill player to step up. Derek Carr threw a strike that slipped right through his hands and off the crown of his helmet.

It was a big moment in Sunday’s disastrous loss at Washington.

Time and again he’s helped win crucial games with dynamic route running and significant yards after the catch. Cooper needs to get the Raiders out of tight spots, not magnify them.

That mission wasn’t accomplished in Washington. Cooper dropped to his knees after the aforementioned play, and spent a minute with his head in the turf.

“It can be a little frustrating,” Cooper said Wednesday, “but you have to go and fix it.”

The problem has been identified.

“Most of the balls I’ve dropped,” Cooper said, “have been a result of trying to run before I actually catch the ball.”

Coaching can only help so much in these situations. Cooper must react well at a moment of truth, to see it, pluck it and tuck it.

“If I felt like I could talk my way through it, I’d be yapping all over the place,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “It’s not something I can talk my way through. He’s just going to have to make the catch, do the work. I believe in him. I believe he will. To me, he’s one of our dynamic playmakers and we need him to make plays and he will.”

Cooper can be a tough read. He doesn’t show emotion on the field or in front of cameras. That’s just not his style. It’s hard to imagine anyone with consecutive Pro Bowl elections and 1,000-yard seasons to start a professional career lacking confidence. He surely isn’t at this stage. Cooper is a great route runner with speed and agility. It’s just a matter of finding last season’s form, when he was catching everything close. He was doing that this preseason as well, so this drop streak hasn’t lasted long.

Production, however, is the name of this game. Cooper currently has 10 catches for 101 yards and a touchdown in three games. That ranks 92nd among receiving leaders. Talent doesn’t match that ranking, even in a small sample size. Cooper wants to do better, and work to achieve that goal. The key at this stage, especially going up against Denver’s top-flight, often intimidating secondary, is playing free.

“I don’t think he’s pressing or anything like that,” Carr said. “I think he just expects so much more out of himself that he gets mad at himself. I’m looking forward to getting out here at practice and throwing him some balls today.”

Raiders RBs should share the load, with Lynch getting lion’s share

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Raiders RBs should share the load, with Lynch getting lion’s share

Jon Gruden typically spreads the love among his running backs. There’s never a true split – his primary back has exceeded 180 carries in all 11 of his seasons as head coach – but his backups have received 90-plus carries six times. Multiple backs have averages 650-plus all-purpose yards eight times under Gruden.

That wasn’t the case last season, with Marshawn Lynch did most of the damage. The Raiders haven’t diversified their rushing attack much (save 2016) in recent seasons, a trend that will change under Gruden.

Lynch remains the bell cow, but Doug Martin could play a significant role in this offense.

Don’t forget about the fullbacks, a rarely used position revived under Gruden. That’s good news for Keith Smith, who should be heavily involved offensively, especially in the passing game.

The blocking scheme will vary, with multiple zone concepts and the good, ol’ fashioned power the offensive line’s built for. There should be carries to go around in this group, though Lynch will get the lion’s share.

Who’s Here

: RB Marshawn Lynch, RB Doug Martin, RB DeAndre Washington, RB Jalen Richard, RB Chris Warren, FB Keith Smith, FB Ryan Yurachek

Best Of The Bunch: Lynch

Most professional rushers fall off the map at 30 years old. All the hits, working hard over so many yards can take a toll. Lynch didn’t show such wear in last season’s second half.

This generation’s toughest takedown ran strong late in the year, improving on a slow start to 2017. Lynch didn’t meld with the Raiders system right away, but showed resolve down the stretch following a one-game suspension for his role in a brawl with Kansas City. He should fare better with new offensive line coach Tom Cable, who ran the blocking scheme during his salad days in Seattle.

He might not produce the 1,339 yards he averaged from 2011-14, but Lynch will still be primary battering ram in Gruden’s offense. Even at 32 years old, Lynch should still produce.

Top Camp Battle: Washington vs. Richard

This pair turned pro in 2016, with both members making an impact as rookies and second-year pros. One problem: They ran the same. Coaches were asked time and again to differentiate the two, without many evident separations. Both guys are smaller in stature. Both guys can slash and sprint and catch passes out of the backfield. Both guys return punts and kicks. Both fit in Gruden’s offense, but both could be considered complimentary pieces.

Another problem: Gruden probably doesn’t need two guys for one role, especially with Lynch and Martin expected to assume large roles and fullback Keith Smith in an important offensive role. That might make for an intense camp battle this summer and one tough cut for an NFL-caliber back.

Longshot: Warren

The undrafted rookie from Texas is an intriguing prospect, a bulldozer at 6-foot-2, 246 pounds. His power and size means he could be a hybrid back capable of blocks and carries from the backfield. Roster spots are hard to come by in this position group, but a strong summer (and quality special teams play) could put him in the mix for a surprise roster spot. Some practice squad seasoning might help, and prep him for an injury-related promotion.

Overview

We haven’t talked enough about Martin yet. That changes now. The 29-year old Stockton native impressed this spring – we know, pads weren’t on yet – and showed great burst. This might be Martin’s last chance to revive his career after two down years. He seems hell bent on maximizing it.

Don’t sleep on him earning a larger-than-expected role in the offense.

Former Raiders interim head coach, 49ers assistant Tony Sparano dies

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Former Raiders interim head coach, 49ers assistant Tony Sparano dies

Former Raiders interim head coach Tony Sparano died unexpectedly on Sunday morning. He was 56.

The Minnesota Vikings announced his passing, though an exact cause of death is unknown.

He was the Vikings offensive line coach, a position he held since 2016. Sparano had been an NFL coach for nearly two decades, with stints in Oakland and San Francisco. He was also Miami's head coach from 2008-11.

He was hired to run the Raiders offensive line in 2013, and was promoted to interim head coach after Dennis Allen was fired four games into the 2014 campaign.

Sparano showed well in that role, kept the team playing hard during a difficult 3-13 season and nearly had the interim tag removed. He was a finalist for 2015 head coaching job, though Jack Del Rio ultimately got the job.

He left the organization then, and spent the 2015 season as 49ers tight ends coach. He ended up in Minnesota after that.

Sparano helped the Raiders finished 2014 with a three wins over their final six games, which started an upward trend that carried through 2016. He also remained patient with then-rookie starter Derek Carr.

Left tackle Donald Penn joined the Raiders in 2014, and experienced a career renaissance that season under Sparano.

The Silver and Black mourned Sparano's loss.

"The Raiders family was deeply saddened to learn of Tony Sparano's passing this morning," the team said in a statement. "Tony had a deep passion for football and was embraced by the Raider Nation during his time with the Silver and Black. Tony will be sadly missed by the entire NFL community. Our hearts are with (his wife) Jeanette and the Sparano family during this extremely difficult time."

The 49ers also paid respects to the longtime NFL coach.

“The 49ers organization is deeply saddened by the passing of Tony Sparano,” the 49ers said in a statement. “We share our heartfelt condolences with the Sparano family and the Minnesota Vikings.”

Sparano is survived by his wife Jeanette, their three children and four grandchildren.