Raiders

Derrick Johnson feeling ‘positive pressure’ to master, lead Raiders defense

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RAIDERS.COM

Derrick Johnson feeling ‘positive pressure’ to master, lead Raiders defense

ALAMEDA – Derrick Johnson joined the Raiders relatively late. Teammates had a head start learning new schematics when the veteran middle linebacker signed with silver and black, creating a viable excuse why Johnson would be behind this spring.

The four-time Pro Bowler didn’t want to use it. Not his style.

Johnson also understood the Raiders brought him here to lead this defense on the field. His resume with the Kansas City Chiefs gave Johnson street cred. Becoming quickly versed in the Raiders defense would validate it.

That’s why Johnson didn’t celebrate after signing with the Raiders. He immersed himself in Paul Guenther’s scheme.

“My abilities come out when I know what’s going on; for me to know what’s going on I have to gear down,” Johnson said after Tuesday’s OTA session. “You don’t want to rush it, but really, thoroughly get it down and make sure I have Paul Guenther’s defense really down, so I can start moving some pieces here and there. Start helping some guys out if they’re iffy on some things and telling certain guys what to do at sometimes.

“That’s not a bad pressure (to master the scheme quickly), that’s a positive pressure for me. That’s one of those things where this is what I’ve been doing for a long time in KC. I’m used to telling different guys what to do.”

The input is welcome. The Raiders have lacked stability at middle linebacker, save midseason respite from Perry Riley Jr. and NaVorro Bowman, respectively, the last two years.

Johnson made his presence felt quickly in OTAs, and has earned rave reviews from his coaching staff. He demands accountability in practice, and is active in meetings. Such command is only allowed, however, with the scheme down.

“He has picked it up real quick,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “He’s able to get us in and out of defenses. When you’re at that point, the guy has been here for what, two to three weeks now and he’s able to really understand what we’re trying to get to. To have a veteran piece that can kind of control the show out there is a big, important part for me.”

Learning new terminology is the toughest part, but Johnson believes he has consistently improved during this spring in Alameda.

That has allowed Johnson to quickly assume a leadership role.

“This Raider team really respects me; really respects me,” Johnson said. “Once I say something, they kind of get it. My style isn’t too aggressive. It’s not that guy that’s in their face. I’m a big guy of lead by example, of course. But at times you have to speak up. You have to let them know what you’re thinking. You have to demand some things at times. Everybody is different, with different personalities. You can’t talk to everybody the same. I have to talk to (second-year pro) Nick Morrow different than (veteran) Bruce Irvin. It’s just a different type of deal.”

Johnson has gravitated toward veterans that litter the roster, especially fellow first-team linebackers Tahir Whitehead and Emmanuel Lamur. He has also taken Morrow under wing, helping the coverage linebacker find his way after a promising rookie year.

Johnson feels comfortable with his new team after 13 seasons in Kansas City. He fits in well with the coaching staff and a scheme that heaps responsibility on its middle linebacker.

“Man, Paul Guenther’s defense, it’s very aggressive,” Johnson said. “There are so many different looks. The onus is really on the linebackers to learn a lot of stuff. That’s good for myself because I know a lot. It’s putting a lot of pressure on me to learn it quickly. Learn it well enough where I can put my own flavor in making plays on this defense.

“I’m having fun with it now. The last couple of days have been my best days, running around. I was telling the young guys this, once you get the system down… you’ll look a lot faster out there on the field. We all can run fast and jump high, but mentally, once you got it down, all your abilities, your talents can show out there on the field. That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there.”

Why Raiders QB Derek Carr should be primed for huge 2019 NFL season

Why Raiders QB Derek Carr should be primed for huge 2019 NFL season

Derek Carr reports Tuesday for his sixth Raiders training camp, his fifth as an unquestioned starter. He snatched the top job as a rookie second-round pick and never let go, weathering an early rebuild that produced an all-too-short-lived competitive renaissance and a lucrative contract.

The Raiders dipped yet again, with Carr drawing ire intensified by a then-record $125 million deal that seems pedestrian by today’s standards. A legitimate MVP candidate back in 2016 is now subject to regular slings and arrows for a downturn that completely isn’t his fault.

Carr’s partly culpable for a 10-22 record since 2016. Stats are nice, but franchise quarterbacks are judged on wins and losses.

He obviously played a role in offensive struggles, but there are mitigating factors here that can’t be ignored. Carr can’t protect himself. He didn’t cycle through offensive play callers, skill players and head coaches. He didn’t trade Khalil Mack or embark on another roster rebuild. He showed up and worked and said the right things and tried to adapt to difficult circumstances.

Mention those points and you’re an apologist.

Hammering well-worn criticisms is easy and more accepted, but saying that he’s at-times skittish, too sensitive, can’t handle head coach/play caller Jon Gruden means you’ve just joined the chorus.

Uneven stat lines foster debate, providing fodder for both sides of the Carr aisle.

Let’s paint a fuller picture here, of a cannon-armed quarterback dealt some crappy hands who has also fallen below lofty, yet realistic expectations in recent seasons.

Carr can make every throw. He’s smart and sneaky fast. The bar is and should be high. After all, that’s where he sets it.

Carr flew under it last season, but was under constant duress last season playing with two rookie offensive tackles. He had no one to throw to last season save Jared Cook. Despite all the tongue-in-cheek rhetoric last summer about Carr knowing Gruden’s system better than its creator, the quarterback was transitioning between systems.

All that and he still set career marks in completion percentage, total yards and -- this won’t fit the popular narrative -- yards per attempt despite being sacked and pressured more than ever.

That’s well and good, but you just can’t throw it away on a last-ditch fourth down to secure defeat, even if the play was never going to work. You can’t throw picks in the end zone, especially late in games. Even 16 career fourth-quarter comebacks won’t excuse that.

Carr’s performance is a polarizing, easily argued topic that depends on perspective and willingness to accept context.

This season should provide a clearer, more objective look at the quarterback.

Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock stacked the skill positions and spent heavily to secure the offensive line.

When Carr thrives well protected and feels safe in the pocket. Having Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams are excellent at creating separation and winning receptions in the air. Having them in the pattern should provide confidence making riskier decisions. Josh Jacobs and the running game should provide balance.

A second straight year with the same play-caller in the same offensive system, a luxury Carr has experienced just once before as a pro, should also provide great benefit.

Carr still can’t play defense, so he can’t completely control outcomes, but he’s in solid position to have an excellent year and find 2016 form, when he ranked among the NFL’s best quarterbacks.

[RELATED: Five bold predictions for upcoming Raiders season]

The football smarts and arm talent remain. The supporting cast is back, possibly better than ever. The situation seems ripe for a monster season and a resurgence that could quiet some critics and noise about Gruden looking harder at alternatives as Carr’s contract becomes easier to escape.

Sailing on the calm would be welcome after a few tumultuous seasons, but that privilege must be earned with on-field excellence.

Entering his sixth season with quality around him, Carr’s in prime position to do exactly that.

Raiders training camp questions: Can Antonio Brown set new standard?

Raiders training camp questions: Can Antonio Brown set new standard?

Antonio Brown talked a good game at his Raiders introductory press conference. He vowed to set a new standard within the Silver and Black as a prime example of work ethic and accountability and, of course, by putting up crazy stats often under pressure.

He only has been through an offseason program since being traded from Pittsburgh, without much chance to back all that up. He has been excellent in spring opportunities to do so, showing great work ethic in private, behind closed doors as he does so often on social media.

The man practices so hard and so fast on every play that receivers can’t help but notice. He talks serious trash during drills, but has gained the respect of Raiders cornerbacks by helping them at times and always raising the level of competition.

Fans attending Raiders training camp in Napa starting this week will see incredible work rate firsthand.

He’s steady, dynamic and shockingly durable, the first Raiders offensive superstar since Jon Gruden’s previous head-coaching stint.

Superstars produce. If healthy, Brown will do that even in heavy coverage. He has six consecutive seasons with at least 101 receptions, 1,284 yards and eight touchdowns, all of them played with the spotlight shining bright. He has had more than 100 catches, 1,499 and 12 touchdowns in half of those years.

The best superstars also lead. That’s what Brown said he wants to do here. That effort ramps up in training camp. He shouldn’t play much, if at all, in the preseason. Risking his health is foolish in meaningless games. He should push his teammates, and his quarterback to be better throughout this summer stint in Napa.

Brown is eccentric. Lots of players are. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially if the leadership by example trend continues and he helps elevate teammates by more than just drawing coverage.

The main question from now on is that effort’s sustainability through training camp’s dog days. And, what if the Raiders stumble out of the gate and struggle mightily through a grueling schedule? How will he react then? What if Carr struggles some finding Brown as well or as often as he did with the Steelers? While it didn’t end well with the Steelers, Pittsburgh never finished below .500 while Brown was there, and averaged 10.4 wins per season. We simply don’t know how he’d adapt to steady losing if that happens because he hasn’t been through it as a pro.

[RELATED: Five incredibly bold predictions for 2019 Raiders season]

Brown will set a new standard for work rate and production around here, but maintaining it through tough times might be equally important.