Raiders

Del Rio encourages Raiders fans to take over in Tampa

Del Rio encourages Raiders fans to take over in Tampa

TAMPA, Fla – Raiders fans are a migratory bunch. While the Bay Area remains its largest stronghold, the franchise has supporters across the country and will attract large crowds in opposing cities.

That’s logical in destination cities like New Orleans and Nashville, but they’ve had solid turnouts in less attractive destinations like Baltimore and Jacksonville.

Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter hopes that doesn’t happen Sunday when the Raiders invade Tampa Bay. Both teams sport similar mascots, and he doesn’t want Raider Nation feeling comfortable on the Raymond James Stadium pirate ship.

“Let’s keep those Raiders jerseys out of the lower bowl,” Koetter said after beating San Francisco in Santa Clara last week. “Let’s get some Bucs jerseys in there. Let’s rock that place next week.”

Koetter knows Raiders fans travel well, and imploring season ticket holders to hold onto their seats is a reaction to recent games where visiting fans have turned out in droves.

“Every place you play on the road is different, as far as how hard it is to play there and how hard it is to hear there,” Koetter said. “We’re not fooling anybody that some teams travel a lot better than others. Players notice, coaches notice. That’s the truth. And I’m 1,000-percent aware that the more you win, the better it gets. But with that said, do we have a home-field advantage? That’s our job to create it.”

The Buccaneers haven’t rewarded paying customers recently. They’re 3-15 at home since the start of 2014 and have lost both home games this season. Visiting fans can often get tickets easier without a good product on the field, especially in a market without strong roots.

“When you can’t hear, it’s rough,” Koetter said. “When you have to do everything silent cadence, everything hand signals, you can’t hear yourself think. Compared to if you’ve got to go to silent cadence in your own stadium.”

Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio wouldn’t mind that one bit. Raiders fans have been heard in all four road games thus far. It’s uncertain how big the visiting crowd will be, but Raiders fans have enjoying cheering on a winner in 2016.

“They’re a big presence,” Del Rio said after Friday’s practice. “We really appreciate their support. They do a tremendous job. Our fans travel. Wherever we’ve been thus far, they’ve been there in large numbers and I think it’ll be the same (on Sunday). Come on out, Raider Nation. We’re excited about it.”

Vontaze Burfict wants Antonio Brown beef behind him with both on Raiders now

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AP

Vontaze Burfict wants Antonio Brown beef behind him with both on Raiders now

Things might get awkward at the start of Raiders OTAs in May.

That's when new teammates Vontaze Burfict and Antonio Brown will share a locker room for the first time.

Burfict (Cincinnati Bengals) and Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers) played on opposite sides of one of the AFC North's fiercest rivalries, and things came to a head in the 2015 postseason. That's when Burfict knocked Brown out of the playoffs with a dirty, illegal hit to the head, and received a three-game NFL suspension. 

But Burfict, who signed a one-year contract with the Raiders on Tuesday, told reporters in a conference call he isn't concerned about any lingering tension between himself and the talented wide receiver.

"We're on the same team, with one goal. It's all positive, man," Burfict said. "He's a great player, he's gonna be a Hall of Famer one day, and honestly I'm gonna approach him just like I do all my other teammates. I'll introduce myself, all that good stuff. ... There's nothing negative over here, man. We're on the same team, everything's [about] trying to win a championship over here."

The Raiders traded for Brown earlier this month, and he tweeted Tuesday that he had already reached out to Burfict.

That's a marked departure from the ex-Steelers star. When former Pittsburgh teammate Juju Smith-Schuster crushed Burfict with a vicious block, "no one enjoyed [it] more than Brown," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook wrote Tuesday. In the aftermath of Burfict's hit, Brown made his displeasure with the play clear to Cook.

“I feel like guys don’t want to stop me no more,” Brown told Cook in early 2016. “They want to take me out. They want to kill me. They want to steal my dreams. They want to ruin me. They want to end me.”

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Burfict, for his part, sounded more than ready to bury the hatchet Tuesday. He said he'll keep an open mind when he meets Brown, as well as the rest of his new teammates.

"Honestly, we might [end up being] the closest friends on the team, you know what I mean," Burfict said. "So, just gotta go along with it, and I can't wait to meet him."

If Brown's tweet is any indication, he feels the same way. 

Vontaze Burfict wastes no time reuniting with Raiders DC Paul Guenther

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AP

Vontaze Burfict wastes no time reuniting with Raiders DC Paul Guenther

Vontaze Burfict was cut by the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday, and immediately called his mother. The veteran linebacker explained the situation, ended the call and then made another one.

“The second person I called was Pauly G,” Burfict said. “He didn’t pick up. I think I called him like seven times straight.”

Those who know Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther best call him “Pauly G.” Count Burfict firmly in that class.

That’s why Burfict didn’t last long on the open market. The Raiders signed him Tuesday night to a one-year contract reportedly worth up to $5 million, less than 24 hours after he was released.

A Guenther-Burfict reunion seemed inevitable because of the veteran’s expertise running the coordinator's defensive scheme and a clear bond on and off the field.

Player and coach have a close relationship dating to Burfict’s rookie season in Cincinnati. Guenther was Burfict's position coach in 2012, and the two fostered a strong working relationship during a long-night cram session before a Sept. 23 game against Washington. Thomas Howard hurt his knee, Burfict recalled, and Guenther told him he would start and play out of position. Burfict was a middle linebacker by trade, but the Bengals needed him on the outside.

“It was like 8 p.m., and he took his time out to set the trash cans up and go through the whole playbook over like two hours with me,” Burfict said in a conference call after he signed with the Raiders. “I got like nine tackles that game, and I just looked at him and said, ‘I appreciate that. You took your time out when you could’ve just gone home.' Ever since then, it has been a close relationship to where I know his kids and his wife. We go out to dinner. It’s a good time to have a good relationship like that with a coach.”

That should help Guenther’s system run smoothly, an important factor with so much youth on defense. Burfict can be an on-field coordinator if he can stay healthy and out of trouble with the NFL.

Burfict said he’s fully fit after concussion problems last season and health issues in recent years. The NFL has disciplined him several times for vicious, illegal after-the-whistle hits that some consider dirty. That includes a nasty blow dropped on former Steelers receiver and new Raiders teammate Antonio Brown that generated plenty of negative press.

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Burfict doesn’t consider his style poor form.

“I’m not a dirty player,” Burfict said. “I play a physical position at middle linebacker. I can’t go in there playing patty-cake. If I do that, I’m going to get run over. I have 300-plus-pound linemen coming in trying to block me. If I play soft, I’m not doing my job. … I play a physical position where I have to put my jockstrap on right, put my cleats on right and be ready to play physical.”