Carr: Expectations raised for Raiders; '7-9 isn't going to cut it'


Carr: Expectations raised for Raiders; '7-9 isn't going to cut it'

ALAMEDA – The Raiders began their offseason program Monday in a much different place. This time last year, they were integrating a new head coach and new schemes after a disastrous 3-13 campaign.

The Raiders are now a sexy pick to make playoffs. That’s what happens when you “win” free agency, a moniker bestowed following several high-priced pickups this offseason. The honor doesn’t always translate to on-field success, especially if players believe their own hype.

“On paper it looks great. We don’t want to be paper champs,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “We’ve got some good guys, but none of that matters unless we put the work in. Everything can look good in theory and in practice it all falls apart. As a leader of this team, I’m going to concentrate on pushing to get better every day.”

The Raiders earned respect in 2015, a 7-9 campaign that produced five Pro Bowlers and hope for the future. It took two previous years to win that many games. Now outsiders are saying double-digit wins and an AFC West title are distinct possibilities.

Signing cornerback Sean Smith, guard Kelechi Osemele, safety Reggie Nelson and edge defender Bruce Irvin in free agency, upgrading weaknesses and adding to a solid young foundation, generated excitement about this year's Raiders.

“It’s a great thing that people are talking about us in that light. When I first got there, they certainly weren’t doing that,” Carr said. “It’s a credit to where we’ve come from, but that’s about it.”

“What we did last year on the field was better, but we want the same kind of jump again this year. We want to be better than 7-9. Honestly, 7-9 is not going to cut it. It felt good last year, I think we were close to winning 10 games. We have to continue to push ourselves to do better than that.”

The Raiders understand improvement came through hard work, and plan to use the same methods in an attempt to take another step forward.

The offseason is time for dreamers, where fans and analysts discuss what could happen when new talent meets old. Khalil Mack wants nothing to do with that. He doesn’t want to fantasize about rushing the passer with Irvin and eventually Aldon Smith. He wants to pour focus into the effort itself, even with meaningful games still four-plus months away.

“I’m a doer. I want to see us do something real special,” Mack said. “The only way to do that is to put in the work. That’s what we’ve been talking about. We need to keep our heads down and grind. We can talk about what could or should happen, but I want to go out and put it on film. That’s what the offseason is based on, getting ready to show up when it matters most.”

Ex-Raider Antonio Brown cut by Patriots amid sexual assault probe

Ex-Raider Antonio Brown cut by Patriots amid sexual assault probe

Former Raiders receiver Antonio Brown was released by the Patriots on Friday.

Brown is facing a federal lawsuit from his former trainer, Britney Taylor and has also been accused of sexual misconduct by his former artist who he sent menacing text messages to. 

Brown agreed to terms with New England merely hours after he was released by the Raiders on Sept. 6. 

The federal lawsuit filed in Florida is the latest twist in an offseason that has been filled with numerous turns related to Brown. He only arrived in New England after procuring his release from the Raiders, which occurred following a helmet-related holdout, frostbitten feet and an altercation with Oakland's general manager, Mike Mayock.

[RELATED: AB addresses Patriots for first time since signing]

The lawsuit, first reported by the New York Times, alleges that Brown sexually assaulted Taylor on three occasions, twice in June 2017 and once in May 2018. Darren Heitner, Brown's lawyer, said his client "denies each and every allegation in the lawsuit" in a lengthy statement. Brown reportedly intends to countersue Taylor for civil extortion, according to ESPN's Josina Anderson.

Paul Guenther, Mike Zimmer similarities at odds when Raiders face Vikings

Paul Guenther, Mike Zimmer similarities at odds when Raiders face Vikings

Mike Zimmer and Paul Guenther go way back. The respected defensive coaches linked up and became fast friends in 2008, when Zimmer was hired as Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator. Guenther already was on staff, helping several different position groups.

Guenther took over the linebacker corps in 2012, and was given the defensive coordinator job Zimmer vacated to become Minnesota Vikings head coach. Guenther could’ve gone with Zimmer to Minnesota – or to Washington with Jay Gruden, for that matter -- but stayed put and on a path that eventually paired him with Jon Gruden as Raiders defensive coordinator.

Guenther and Zimmer remain friends. Their families are close.

So are their defensive schemes. That’s logical, considering how long Guenther worked under Zimmer running an excellent defense.

“The foundation of it came from him, for sure,” Guenther said. “The coverage, the fronts, all the stuff we do. I owe him a lot of gratitude from working with him. I learned a lot from him, but I’m going to try and kick his ass on Sunday.”

Guenther and Zimmer will throw new wrinkles into familiar systems when the Raiders and Vikings clash at U.S. Bank Stadium, trying to keep the other team off balance and counter any insight provided to their respective offensive staffs. These two know each other well and how each other thinks, meaning this coaching chess match will have an influence on Sunday’s outcome.

“Paul will always have his spin on things, that’s kind of how he’s always been, but I think they’ll be much, much improved,” Zimmer said in a conference call. “They’ve got much better talent all the way across the board. I think former [Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict] really helps them get guys lined up and he understands their system so well, but they’ve got good players upfront. They’re much, much improved in the backend in my opinion as well, so yeah I think they are going to continue to get better.”

Zimmer’s right. The Raiders have improved this year, with talent upgrades and greater scheme comfort. It’s early yet, but the Raiders rank fifth in run defensive with 63 yards allowed per game. The pass rush still has issues, but they have five sacks in two contests. That’s a step in the right direction, even if the pass defense as a whole needs some work. Guenther’s scheme is effective, as we’re seeing as the Raiders acquire more quality players.

[RELATED: Why Raiders should use restraint when pursuing Ramsey trade]

While the Raiders are rebuilding their defense slowly and largely through the NFL draft, the Vikings are an established crew with most impact players having worn purple a long, long time.

“We know Mike Zimmer’s scheme is a very solid, very successful scheme since his time in the NFL,” Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “Also, now you add players as well. They’re very talented on defense and again, as you mentioned, they’ve had a number of players that they’ve drafted that they’ve been able to keep in their second contracts. That’s very rare. He’s been able to maintain continuity in terms of personnel, and he’s maintained continuity in terms of scheme being there. Certainly a challenge for us.”

It will be a bit easier on Sunday for a few reasons. The Raiders' offense has been practicing against this scheme all spring and summer, so quarterback Derek Carr knows it well. Guenther also has insight on Zimmer and vice versa, adding intrigue to this matchup.

“The systems are very similar,” Guenther said. “Obviously, he’s doing his wrinkles and I’m doing mine, but ‘Zim’ is a good coach. I learned a lot from him. We worked together a long time in Cincinnati and we had a really good time. He’s a good friend.”