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


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.”

Brandon LaFell out for Raiders' 2018 season with torn Achilles tendon

Brandon LaFell out for Raiders' 2018 season with torn Achilles tendon

Brandon LaFell’s season is over, and now the Raiders need another wide receiver.

Because of course they do.

LaFell tore an Achilles tendon during Sunday’s 23-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals, a team source told NBC Sports California’s Scott Bair, but an MRI is needed to confirm that diagnosis.

LaFell was seen in the Raiders’ locker room at Arizona’s State Farm Stadium in a walking boot.

Even before LaFell’s season-ending injury, the Raiders were digging deep for receivers during this lost season. Marcell Ateman and Saeed Blacknall both made their NFL debuts Sunday, and although they both performed well, the Raiders will need depth at the position, especially if Martavis Bryant and Jordy Nelson can’t play because of their knee injuries. Both veterans missed the game in Arizona.

So, who’s available in Week 11 of an NFL season? The Raiders will have to find out.

Then again, Ateman ended up leading the Raiders with four catches for 50 yards -- including a big grab on their game-winning drive -- so maybe they’ll want to see what they have in him and Blacknall.

Raiders report card: Grading offense, defense in win over Cardinals

Raiders report card: Grading offense, defense in win over Cardinals

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Raiders lost five straight by at least 14 points heading into Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.

They snapped that streak, and not just with a close loss.

The Raiders actually won. For real.

Derek Carr orchestrated his 15th career fourth-quarter comeback to help the Raiders beat the Cardinals 23-21 at State Farm Stadium.

We typically hand out Fs by the bushel in this space, but not tonight, my friends. Not tonight.

The Raiders were far from perfect, but still did several things well in this win. Here’s the report card from the Valley of the Sun.

[BAIR: Raiders wanted to win for fans impacted by California wildfires]

Rushing offense

The Raiders were committed to the run against the Cardinals, and it paid off in spades. Running backs Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington and Doug Martin rushed 33 times for 152 yards. That’s 4.6 yards per carry, a strong effort that gave the Raiders a balanced offense for once.

The offensive line opened holes and the backs burst right through them to keep the offense moving. Good job all around by the ground game.

Grade: A

Passing offense

Derek Carr didn’t pile up stats, but he completed passes at critical times. That was especially true on the game-winning field goal drive. He worked with the bottom of the depth chart, but still made plays with depth receivers Marcell Ateman and Seth Roberts, as well as Jared Cook.

The pass protection was spotty at best, and the entire operation needs to be cleaner. But, these guys got the job done when it counted Sunday.

Grade: B-minus

Rushing defense

After a terrible first drive, the Raiders did a solid job corralling star Cardinals running back David Johnson. All it takes, however, is one bad play to ruin a day. That came on a 55-yard run by Johnson that set up a go-ahead score with five minutes left.

In all, the Raiders allowed 154 yards on 31 carries, which will get you beat in most scenarios. Just not Sunday. 

Grade: D

Pass defense

The Raiders secondary delivered on Sunday with interceptions from defensive backs Gareon Conley and Karl Joseph. Both takeaways created great field position and resulted in Raiders touchdowns.

Cardinals rookie quarterback Josh Rosen was awful, and completed only 9-of-20 passes for 136 yards thanks to errant throws and some solid coverage from the Raiders secondary.

Grade: A-minus

Special teams

Daniel Carlson nailed the first game-winning field goal of his career as time expired. That’s all you need to get an ‘A.’

The rookie from Auburn is coming on strong the past few weeks. He could be a long-term answer at kicker if he keeps this up.

Grade: A


A cynic would say the Raiders blew it by winning, hurting their draft position in an already lost season. That’s not how the players and coaches think. They wanted to win and were able to.

It might not happen much the rest of the year, so they have to bask in this victory.

Grade: A