Raiders

Del Rio: Tighter coverage helping Raiders pass rush

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AP

Del Rio: Tighter coverage helping Raiders pass rush

The Raiders pass rush has picked up its pace and productivity in recent weeks. The Silver and Black have eight sacks during their two-game winning streak, a significant increase for a team that was dead last in that category a fortnight past.

“It’s definitely been what we’re looking for,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “The guys are cutting it loose and playing a little more aggressively.”

There’s credit to share. Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and Denico Autry are doing their thing. New defensive play-caller John Pagano has used disguise and player movement to create confusion and favorable matchups.

Del Rio also gave gold stars to a beleaguered group.

“When there is a little tighter coverage, you start holding it a little bit and then the sacks come,” Del Rio said in his Monday press conference. “I think they go hand-in-hand. I think you see the uptick in sacks, I think you see players having tighter coverage and doing a better job.”

That’s impressive considering those covering the most. TJ Carrie, Sean Smith and Dexter McDonald have manned the cornerback spot the last month-plus, while David Amerson nurses an ailing foot. First-round pick Gareon Conley is on injured reserve after having surgery on his shin. Needless to say, this isn’t the group the Raiders planned to roll out.

They’ve been doing better, albeit against bad Denver and New York Giants teams the past two games. McDonald in particular stood out, with just three catches allowed for 14 yards on six targets. He also had two passes defensed.

Smith missed a tackle that turned a short pass into a 29-yard gain -- he gambled trying to break up the pass -- but it was his only catch allowed.

Cornerbacks can help the pass rush by preventing separation an extra second or so, enough time to allow pass rushers to get home. Good things happen when Mack and Irvin are around the quarterback. Both guys had strip sacks against the New York Giants in key moments of a seven-point victory.

“We pride ourselves on getting turnovers,” Irvin said Sunday night. “We didn’t have many early, but they’re starting to come. We have three in two weeks. They say turnovers come in bunches, and we have to keep pushing for them.”

 

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Raiders give Conley green light, Melifonwu 'doesn't look close at all'

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USATSI

Raiders give Conley green light, Melifonwu 'doesn't look close at all'

The Raiders have been cautious with Gareon Conley’s return from shin surgery. The cornerback’s clearance turned from red to yellow earlier in the offseason program, but finally went green in time to start the OTAs.

Last year’s first-round pick was reportedly a first-team cover man during the Raiders first OTA session on Tuesday. It was one of three open to the media.

The Raiders plan for him to be there throughout the regular season, and believe he has the makings of a No. 1 cornerback.

Head coach Jon Gruden has been excited to see the Ohio State product in action, as part of cornerback corps also featuring Rashaan Melvin and Daryl Worley.

“Yeah, it’s great to see Conley out there,” Gruden said after Tuesday’s OTA session. “We’re counting on him. We need him. But to see Rashaan Melvin and Conley and [Daryl] Worley competing is really exciting.

Conley was impressive during his first offseason program, until he hurt his shin during the team’s June 2017 minicamp. Conley barely played after that, with two games action and a handful of limited practices. He had surgery to repair his shin in Nov. 2017, and was eased back into action somewhat.

Conley doesn’t have an injury history save last year’s mishap, and could have a real impact if he remains healthy and continues to progress.

“Conley is special,” Gruden said. “He’s a top pick in this draft for a reason. I think from a confidence standpoint, he needs to get some work in out here.”

The player Oakland selected after Conley last year still hasn’t been cleared to work. Safety Obi Melifonwu wasn’t able to participate in Tuesday’s team drills, the first time this offseason offense and defense can play against each other.

The UConn product missed last season’s first half recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, and then needed hip surgery after the season. He still isn’t ready for a return.

“It doesn’t look close at all,” Gruden said. “I’ll leave it at that. He doesn’t look close, to me, at all.”

Physical issues are problematic for a player looking to earn a role on the team. The team is stocked at safety, with Karl Joseph, Reggie Nelson and Marcus Gilchrist leading the way.

“He doesn’t look ready to roll yet,” Gruden said. “So, I don’t let anybody practice without being able to go physically. He doesn’t look like he’s 100 percent. I haven’t seen much of Obi except in the training room.”

NOTES

-- Khalil Mack was not present for the start of voluntary OTAs, as expected. The elite edge rusher has missed the entire offseason program to this point, withholding services while waiting for a big-money contract extension the the Raiders have budgeted to give him. 

-- Gruden said receiver Amari Cooper is dealing with a hamstring injury.

-- Left tackle Donald Penn is working his way back from foot surgery, and participated in individual drills on Tuesday. He was held back during team sessions, leaving David Sharpe to take first-team reps at left tackle. Breno Giacomini manned the first-team right tackle spot.

-- Rookies Kolton Miller (left tackle) and Brandon Parker (right tackle) worked with reserve units at this stage. Gruden was impressed with how both players absorbed the offense.

-- Fourth-round cornerback Nick Nelson remains out recovering from meniscus surgery. As previously reported, he’s expected back for training camp.

-- The Raiders are planning to have training camp practices against another team, but Gruden didn’t want to reveal the opponent until arrangements are finalized.

Raiders acquire 2016 second-round QB from Jets

Raiders acquire 2016 second-round QB from Jets

The Raiders added a fourth quarterback to the roster, trading a conditional 2019 seventh-round pick to the New York Jets for Christian Hackenberg.

Jets head coach Todd Bowles announced the transaction during a Tuesday meeting with local media.

Hackenberg joins a quarterback room that already contains starter Derek Carr and reserves EJ Manuel and Connor Cook.

Hackenberg was a second-round draft choice in 2016, but never played a regular-season NFL snap. He dressed for just five games.

He’ll be competing for a roster spot in Oakland, as the Raiders will keep a maximum of three quarterbacks.

The Jets were clearly looking for new signal callers this offseason and got them, signing Teddy Bridgewater in free agency before drafting USC’s Sam Darnold third overall in the NFL draft.

Hackenberg took a thinly veiled shot at the Jets Tuesday morning, questioning why a throwing motion overhauled by private coaches wasn't done earlier by the Jets. He was traded later that day

Hackenberg was taken two rounds before Cook in the 2016 draft – the Raiders traded up to get Cook in the fourth -- and both guys have failed to find footing on an NFL roster. Cook has been the No. 3 quarterback in two professional seasons, save an emergency playoff start in the 2016 season.

Manuel is older, though fared well in limited action last year.

Hackenberg has plenty of arm strength but has struggled with accuracy, and couldn’t secure the Jets’ starting spot that was most always up for grabs.

"I'm 23 and I got a lot of ball ahead of me," Hackenberg said Tuesday per the New York Daily News. "Hell, my career hasn't even started yet. So I'm excited about what the future holds."

News of the trade broke after Raiders head coach Jon Gruden’s Tuesday media session, meaning he was not immediately available to comment on the transaction.