Raiders

Bruce Irvin's role with Raiders reduces further in loss to 49ers

Bruce Irvin's role with Raiders reduces further in loss to 49ers

ALAMEDA – Edge rusher Bruce Irvin’s role continues to decrease with the Raiders, reaching new lows in recent weeks. 

He played 24 defensive snaps in a Week 8 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, and that paltry sum dropped to nine Thursday night against the 49ers. 

That begs one question: Why phase the team’s only established pass rusher out?
 
Irvin, with 40 career sacks to his credit, has been used primarily in sub packages. Coach Jon Gruden said Friday that’s why his workload has decreased. 
 
“Well, last night we weren’t in our nickel defense very much,” Gruden said Friday. “Remember we’re a 4-3 team, we’re not a 3-4. So in the base defense, sometimes he doesn’t fit the role that we need done. No disrespect to Bruce. He’s an edge rusher. We haven’t had a lead. We haven’t had the opposition behind in the chains a lot. So his role has been reduced. I know he’s frustrated. I’m frustrated. We’ll try to solve that as soon as possible. He’s a good player. He’s a good player.”

Irvin was an edge rusher at strong-side linebacker in Jack Del Rio’s scheme the last two years, but was moved to the front in Paul Guenther’s more traditional 4-3 base alignment. Irvin is generally regarded as a quality run player, though at 250 pounds is a bit small to play on the strong side in the base defense. 
 
There is one problem with chalking up Irvin’s lack of playing time to an issue of which packages are on the field. 

The Raiders played 23 defensive snaps in the nickel package Thursday night. Irvin was only involved in seven of those plays. His two other snaps came in a goal-line defense. 
 
Irvin has been limited in practice with a pectoral injury, and last week Gruden said Irvin was dealing with a shoulder issue. 
 
Clinton McDonald started at end along with Frostee Rucker. Rucker has played there during a long career, though McDonald is playing out of position there after typically playing three technique. 

“We need somebody to line up on the tight end and jolt the tight end,” Gruden said. “We need somebody that can play on the edge and really be a factor, bend the edge, don’t let the ball get to the corner and credit to him, he’s been able to do a pretty good job of it. But to answer your question, outside of Frostee Rucker, we’re still looking for guys that can bend the edge and be a factor on the running game, particularly on the strong side where the tight end is.”

Tyrell Williams showing Raiders he's a 'technician,' in the pattern

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Tyrell Williams showing Raiders he's a 'technician,' in the pattern

The Raiders won’t play another color for months. The L.A. Rams are up first on the preseason slate, but that game isn’t coming until Aug. 10.

It’s all silver on black until then.

Raiders secondary coach Jim O’Neil is prepping his position groups to play well together in this scheme, with progress reports coming against a dynamic receiver corps featuring Antonio Brown.

Slowing the four-time All-Pro is a badge of honor, by far the toughest assignment in the pattern.

Gold stars should also go to those who stop Tyrell Williams, though few are being given out early in the Raiders offseason program. Williams was known commodity after quality time with the L.A. Chargers. He’s big body at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds adept plucking receptions from the sky, but there are other facets of his game Raiders defensive backs are learning about the hard way during OTAs.

That was clear in a conversation between O’Neil and Williams recorded by the team website and released on social media.

“All the DBs went, ‘Man. No. 16 can run,’” said O’Neil, who was mic’d up during Thursday’s OTA sesson. “I said, ‘yeah. You’d better get your hands on him.’”

“Yeah,” Williams said. “Everybody thinks I can’t run.”

Folks must have forgot he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash during the 2015 pre-draft process, or that his downfield prowess comes from size over speed.

Early routes had dispelled that notion. Williams and Carr have already flashed a deep connection due to speed-created separation and some solid route running.

“That was a good route you ran the other day on my guy,” O’Neil told Williams. “You sold the ‘jet,’ he took his yes off you and he started hauling a— across field.”

That exact play’s tough to place, considering how little of the offseason program is open to the press. Media saw Williams torch coverage deep on Tuesday, and make some smart catches underneath as Williams continues to prove a trustworthy target working with more than just size and speed.

“It’s kind of nice having something like that, but he can run these routes and set people up,” Carr said. “He’s a technician also. He’s just not a big, raw body.”

Carr and Williams have developed an early rapport from private throwing sessions with Antonio Brown and officially-sanctioned offseason program work. They’re taking another step during OTAs, where they can finally work against coverage.

Williams knows that trust comes from repetition, something he’s trying to build with touch catches against teammates when nobody’s watching.

“It’s just catching everything and if it’s a 50-50 ball make sure that if you don’t catch it, that nobody catches it and it’s not an interception, and he can trust that throws into a tight coverage either you catch it or nobody catches it,” Williams said. “I feel like I’m a bigger guy and have a lot of room I can separate for and be able to catch a lot of those balls that may not be perfect, so I think that’s a big thing from me.”

Williams knows he will be a secondary concern with Brown running routes, and that’s something he hopes to take advantage of with the traits many realize and others often overlooked to have a big season. He has exceeded 1,000 yards once, in 2016 when the Chargers had a rash of receiver injuries. Working opposite Brown could make him a feature target with winnable matchups that could lead to another big year working in a system that can play to his strengths.

“It’s vertical,” Williams said. “We like to go down the field and I feel like that’s one of my strong points, taking it and stretching the field. I think that will be big for me being able to get a lot of [focus] go to ‘AB,’ so I feel like I’ll get a lot of one-one-one coverage down the field. It’ll be big for me.”

Derek Carr building solid chemistry with Raiders' brand new WR crew

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Derek Carr building solid chemistry with Raiders' brand new WR crew

Derek Carr’s offseason program doesn’t start when the NFL gives a green light. The Raiders starting quarterback works hard on his own and has previously held a private passing camp in Bakersfield to building chemistry with his receivers during periods where the league prohibits team activity.

This offseason, however, has been something different altogether. Carr’s winter throwing schedule was packed getting in sync with his new receivers.

“These guys, they’re texting me saying, ‘Hey, I’m in town, let’s go.’ I’ll get off my couch, I’ll bring my kids and we’ll go throw,” Carr said Tuesday. “It’s nice to see how hard they want to work and how great they want to be.

“Every quarterback wants to do that, but to have wideouts reaching out saying let’s go do this, it’s pretty cool. Hitting them up saying, ‘Hey man, I’m going to be in town, do you want to throw this day and this day?’ And they’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I’ll be there!’ And literally, they’re taking flights the next day to get there. It means something to them.”

Carr was speaking in generalities about all receivers, but let’s be honest. Most of the texts are coming from Antonio Brown.

Brown has been, shall we say, forward about his desire to work out with Carr. They found an East Bay park to throw at before ink was dry on the trade that sent him from Pittsburgh to Oakland for third- and fifth-round picks. Brown and Carr went out together several times at San Ramon and Dublin parks, and even against Cal’s defensive backs at Memorial Stadium, before they were allowed to join forces at the Raiders Alameda complex.

It’s easy, however, to assume that only one receiver was going the extra mile because Brown’s camp blanketed social media with hype videos from these sessions.

It was Tyrell Williams, however, making an impromptu trip or two to work out with Carr and Brown during a dead period.

Brown and Williams will be featured players in the passing game, but were only part of a complete positional overhaul that left Marcell Ateman as the only returning receiver to make an impact last year.

Brown, Williams, Ryan Grant, J.J. Nelson and fifth-round pick Hunter Renfrow are all new, and are expected to contribute in the pattern.

“We all understood that we had to get on the same page – all the guys – we all got together and we all threw,” Carr said. “We understood that we had some making up to do, but I think we’ve hit a good stride and we have a little ways to go.”

Time and repetition. That’s the key to building a solid rapport. Sync comes with timing and trust on both ends. Receivers have to be reliable route runners with secure hands. Carr must deliver passes on time and within a certain radius. Both must make adjustments without saying a word to make Jon Gruden’s offense work.

Practice makes perfect, though Carr did some homework on the new guys, watching tape of them with other teams to better understand how they work.

“That’s huge, and seeing how someone breaks on a route – because half the time you only get a split second when you see them break, you don’t get to see the whole picture – I’m throwing behind massive bodies and I just have to know that that’s where the ball is supposed to be,” Carr said. “Same thing with ‘AB’, and Tyrell and J.J. and Ryan and Renfrow. Although, I didn’t watch any Clemson tape, forgive me for not watching college, it’s a little slower nowadays to me. (laughter)

“Watching these guys run these routes and watching how they break, you definitely take a look at it, especially with ‘AB’. The success that he and Ben [Roethlisberger] had, you’d be silly not to see what they did. I’d be a fool to say, ‘Ah, no, let’s do it our way.’ No, let me see what you all did good, because we can do the same things here, you’re just wearing a different color.”

The passing game has entered a significant growth stage. Players can go against defenders for the first time during the offseason program’s third phase, comprised of 10 OTA sessions – the first one came Tuesday – and a three-day mandatory minicamp.

Development should come quickly under these conditions.

"Starting here in OTAs, you learn how we like to run the routes against certain coverages, how I like to release, how long it takes me to get off the press, stuff like that,” Williams said. “He sees it in practice and then we’re able to watch the tape together, which is big (when building chemistry).”

That was clear Tuesday when Carr and Williams connected on a long bomb in OTAs. Williams created just enough separation and Carr let it fly, trusting Williams would win possession in traffic. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. That’s a trust point right there, when repeated in practice, that will make Carr take a shot without hesitation.

While Brown wasn’t at Tuesday’s OTA – they’re all voluntary – he has spent significant time with Carr. That was evident in a Wednesday session closed to the media, which was documented some by Brown’s team.

On-field connections sometimes come from off-field moments, just getting to know a guy. Carr and Jordy Nelson played lots of offseason golf. Amari Cooper played basketball games with Carr. Brown is heavily involved with Carr personally and professionally this offseason to help establish a connection.

“With these guys, they’re coming to the house, coming to kids’ birthday parties, they’re hanging out just randomly not even doing anything,” Carr said. “It’s different for every person, but just making sure we’re spending time together and helping build our team.”

[RELATED: Carr annoyed by speculation Raiders would draft another quarterback]

Carr has made a strong impression on his new receivers, with his ability to make every throw and how hard he works away from the practice field.

“He wants to be perfect at everything,” Williams said. “Timing, earlier, that’s a big thing and just getting together like that is really important to him. He’s always staying after and always communicating so that’s big. There should be no reason we all aren’t on the same page because we try to over-communicate everything. I think that’s important for him, and I like that too.”