Calhoun adjusting well to stand-up role with Raiders


Calhoun adjusting well to stand-up role with Raiders

Shilique Calhoun had quite the college career. The Michigan State alum was a second-team All-American three times. He had 131 tackles, including 44 for a loss. He had 27 sacks in 54 games as a dominant defensive end, twice named a semifinalist for a national defensive player of the year award.

Calhoun was clearly comfortable and productive at defensive end. After becoming the Raiders’ third-round pick in this year’s NFL draft, Calhoun was asked to make a switch.

Calhoun will primarily play rush linebacker in the Raiders defensive scheme.

“I’ve been playing a little bit of everything,” Calhoun said this week in a SiriusXM NFL radio interview. “I’ve been moving around, but I’m mainly at (strongside linebacker) and the LEO. I’m trying to learn those two positions and master them behind two great players in Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.”

Mack and Irvin should see significant snaps, rarely, if ever, coming off the field. Calhoun could be counted on as the primary backup, a rotational pass rusher behind two stalwarts.

While strongside linebackers and LEOs are primarily on the prowl in the Raiders defensive scheme, Calhoun won’t always be attacking as he was at school. 

He’ll be playing in space at times, asked to cover on occasion. Calhoun is athletic enough to do so despite being 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, and has enjoyed the new responsibilities learned during the now-completed offseason program, where he spent most time in a two-point stance

“It’s different, but it’s fun,” Calhoun said. “I’m having a great time doing it. I’m having fun with a great group of guys who you may not have known if you didn’t play the sport.”

The Raiders are a tight group and Calhoun should fit in well. It’s been a long year thus far, from the pre-draft process through rookie minicamp and the offseason program. Calhoun went through a rookie transition program this week at the Raiders complex, but is now free until training camp in late July.

Calhoun doesn’t consider it vacation time.

“I’ll be training as much as I can and getting into the playbook,” Calhoun said. “I think it’s important to understand my position and the entire defense. You need to understand the bigger picture, so I want to stay focused and stay fit during this period. I also want to stay in touch with the veterans as well.”

NFL free agency: Why Le'Veon Bell to Raiders could be perfect signing


NFL free agency: Why Le'Veon Bell to Raiders could be perfect signing

Finally, Le'Veon Bell will get his wish and become a free agent

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert told local reporters the team will not place a franchise or transition tag on Bell this offseason. The two-time All-Pro running back sat out the entire 2018 season while in contract disputes with the team. 

"Le'Veon is still a great player," Colbert said. "We can't afford to use any other type of tags. Le'Veon will be an unrestricted free agent at the start of the new league year."

Bell appeared to be pretty happy about the decision.

Bell declined to sign a franchise tender last year, turning down $14.5 million as he held out the entire season. 

Now that he will be a free agent, Bell certainly won't remain a Steeler. Could he join the Raiders, though? 

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller thinks he could be a good fit.

Bell certainly does fit all three phases for the Raiders -- need, money and big name. Let's start with need. 

The Raiders' top two running backs from last season -- Doug Martin and Marshawn Lynch -- are both unrestricted free agents. Both are also over 30 years old, and have nowhere near Bell's talent. And the team's third-leading rusher, Jalen Richard, is a restricted free agent. 

When Bell, who just turned 27, last played in 2017, he rushed for 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns. The Raiders' trio previously mentioned combined for fewer than 100 more yards rushing in 2018. Plus, Bell is a threat as a receiver as well -- he has 2,660 career receiving yards, too. 

[RELATED: Le'Veon Bell to Raiders? Oddsmakers like Jon Gruden and Co.'s chances]

Secondly, the money. Bell wants to get paid, and the Raiders have the cash to do so. They will have roughly $81 million in salary cap space this offseason, with plenty of holes to fill on the roster. 

Lastly, the star power. The Raiders could certainly use and Bell certainly has it. Year 1 of Jon Gruden's return didn't go as planned.

To turn things around and kick off their move to Vegas in 2020, Bell could be the perfect player as the new face of their franchise. 

Why Mel Kiper Jr. considers Raiders NFL draft's 'most fascinating team'

Why Mel Kiper Jr. considers Raiders NFL draft's 'most fascinating team'

The Raiders have four of the first 35 overall picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, including three in the opening round. They have Jon Gruden making picks and Mike Mayock as his right hand, two respected football guys with TV experience.

Both guys know how to put on a show. That’s why longtime ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. considers the Raiders an interesting case study.

“It’s Jon and Mike working together,” Kiper said Tuesday in a conference call. “They have the three first-round picks. They have a chance with more next year. They have an opportunity to fill a lot of holes.”

Kiper’s latest first-round mock draft has the Raiders taking Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary at No. 4 overall, Washington cornerback Byron Murphy at No. 24, and Florida State edge rusher Brian Burns at No. 27.

That’s if the Raiders play it straight and use selections earned with a bad 2018 record, along with the Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper trades. That’s if the Raiders focus on defensive issues that could help the 2019 product more than anything else.

They could, however, ignore convention and be bold. That’s why Kiper puts the Raiders in the mix to trade for a mercurial veteran receiver or possibly draft a height-challenged quarterback with Derek Carr’s hefty paychecks still on the payroll.

[RELATED: Joe Flacco trade to Broncos could impact Raiders in 2019 NFL Draft]

“They have decisions to make, including with the Antonio Brown situation in Pittsburgh and them needing a receiver,” Kiper said. “They have the draft picks. Do they try and make a move there? Do they take (Oklahoma quarterback) Kyler Murray? Do they move Derek Carr or stick with him?

"Jon was always raving about quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson and the like. What’s his opinion of Kyler Murray in relation to Derek Carr? You talk about a fascinating player, and that’s Kyler Murray. You talk about the most fascinating team in this draft, for obvious reasons, it’s the Oakland Raiders.”