Raiders

Derrick Johnson signing brings Raiders 'status at a critical position'

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AP

Derrick Johnson signing brings Raiders 'status at a critical position'

ALAMEDA – Jon Gruden felt no need to wait for a formal team announcement. He acknowledged the Raiders are signing veteran middle linebacker Derrick Johnson.

The four-time Pro Bowler and long-time Kansas City Chief visited the Raiders on Thursday and agreed on terms Friday morning to strengthen a weak spot, bringing veteran savvy and a tremendous resume to a vital, cerebral position.

Gruden was excited about the addition, especially with someone of Johnson’s track record.

“He brings us status at a critical position,” Gruden said Friday afternoon, following a Raiders rookie minicamp practice. “He has a great history in this league. He has been productive under a lot different coaches, different schemes. He understands the AFC and certainly understands this rivalry. We’re really excited to add him to our team with Tahir Whitehead and some of our young linebackers. I think his presence will really help us.”

Johnson is respected throughout the league as an excellent leader on the field and in the locker room, some one who can diagnose quickly and make sure tackles.

He is 35 years old and will be 36 in November. He looks a bit slower after suffering his Achilles’ tendon tear in 2016 – his second in three years – and there are questions about how much he has left.

The Chiefs terminated his contract this offseason, but he believes he found a good spot in Oakland and a kindred spirit in Gruden.

“We both knew this would raise eyebrows with some people, being I’m the Chiefs’ all-time leading tackler,” Johnson told Yahoo! Sports reporter Terez Paylor. “Yeah, it’s a little different. But I still want to play ball.”

He could play quite a bit in Oakland. The Raiders only have second-year pros Marquel Lee and Nicholas Morrow earmarked for the middle linebacker spot – Whitehead can play there, too – and Johnson could still be the three-down staple he was over so many years in Kansas City.

The Raiders tried to re-sign NaVorro Bowman, but haven’t been able to agree on financial compensation. The Johnson signing – Paylor reports the deal could be worth up to $3 million – seems to eliminate the prospect of Bowman’s return. Gruden cautioned against that line of thinking.

“I wouldn’t assume anything,” Gruden said. “We’ve made a lot of moves, and that means we’ll probably make more moves in the coming days. We just want to get better. There’s a sense of urgency to do that. We’ve added some young defensive tackles and some linemen. Getting someone like Derrick Johnson could be huge for us.”

Johnson plans to lead and contribute to his new team.

“I believe I can still play at a high level, and for me, my family and my legacy, I’m trying to figure out how can I chase that ring,” Johnson said. “Even though it’s a rival team, this is my best opportunity to chase a dream and play an important role. I have to go somewhere where there’s a plan for me, and that’s the Oakland Raiders.”

Raiders backup QBs don't inspire confidence in preseason loss to Rams

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AP/USATSI

Raiders backup QBs don't inspire confidence in preseason loss to Rams

LOS ANGELES – The Raiders got a glimpse of life without Derek Carr on Saturday.

It wasn’t pretty.

Oakland's starting quarterback was a healthy scratch, and backups Connor Cook and EJ Manuel struggled most of the time in a 19-15 preseason loss to the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Both made some positive plays, but each one lost a fumble in Raiders territory, missed some throws, and failed to consistently move the football.

The first half was atrocious, with one first down in seven series. Each quarterback played six series in this one, and didn’t get much help. The offensive line was porous – it allowed four sacks – and receivers dropped some passes, but the quarterbacks weren’t on target like they should be.

They surely didn’t live up to Jon Gruden’s standard for quarterback play.

“I thought EJ did some good things. I thought Connor did a couple good things,” Gruden said. “But … you know, fumbling the snap in the two-minute drill, turning the football over - those are things you can’t do as a backup quarterback. You got to come in and prove you can play mistake-free football in the short-term. And so far we have, I think, fumbled two snaps in two weeks inside the 5(-yard line), and it troubles me greatly. But we’ll look at the film and see. I mean, a lot of backup linemen, backup receivers, and backup running backs - and when you have a backup quarterback that hasn’t had all the work either it’s a very tough day at the office.”

Playing backup quarterback can be tough. They are generally thrust into adverse situations without getting much time to prepare. Carr takes most every practice snap during the regular season, so the reserve(s) don’t have much opportunity to develop or get physically involved in the game plan. That puts strain on those guys, but Gruden doesn’t want to miss a beat with a backup quarterback in the game.

There’s a wide chasm between Carr and the others, and the Raiders must figure out who will be his primary reserve for the regular season. Cook and Manuel didn’t separate themselves after subpar showings.

Cook has been the No. 2 in training camp. He played well in the exhibition opener against Detroit, but followed that with an uneven practice week and a lackluster showing against the Rams where he wasn’t able to establish an offensive rhythm.

“It’s our job to get into a rhythm,” Cook said. “You can’t make excuses, you can’t do anything like that. It’s our job to get the guys going, to set the tone in the huddle, and to get the offense into a groove. It’s our job to do that.”

Manuel hasn’t been as good this preseason as his last, when he easily won the backup job. The former first-round pick has a cannon arm and can be effective upon finding good rhythm, but that hasn’t happened much lately. He has struggled with ball security in practice and games, a new and unsettling trend for him this summer.

“We can be much better,” Manuel said. “I know on my part I need to have better ball security, getting around the pocket. Had to get relaxed with ball in my left hand and it slipped out, obviously don’t want to turn the ball over -- especially being down in their territory. There was just some throws, but you know that’s what happens in games. Besides that, I would just say I know things can be better I know I can be better."

Cook is younger and could be developed by a coaching staff well known for fostering talent. Moving up from the No. 3 spot, where he has been the last two seasons, would help achieve that goal.

The Raiders hope Cook and Manuel don’t play a lick this regular season. But Carr has gotten hurt each of the last two years, so having a quality reserve is essential.

Gruden must choose one – or acquire another – over the next few weeks. Carr should play extensive snaps in next week’s exhibition against Green Bay, so Saturday was a golden opportunity to step up in a competitive position battle. Neither guy took a leap forward on a lackluster Saturday in Los Angeles.

Three things you need to know from Raiders' 19-15 loss to Rams

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AP

Three things you need to know from Raiders' 19-15 loss to Rams

LOS ANGELES – With a 19-15 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday, the Oakland Raiders dropped to 1-1 in Jon Gruden's first preseason back with the Silver and Black. 

Here are three things you need to know from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum...

1. Progress hindered by preseason opponent

Jon Gruden wasn’t thrilled having to play the Rams in the preseason’s second game and again three weeks later when it actually matters. Starters typically play into the second quarter of this exhibition, expanding workloads from the previous week.

The Raiders went in reverse on Saturday, sitting 21 healthy players in this game to prevent the Rams from seeing too much of their personnel, play calls or hand signals. There’s no reason to help the opposition prepare to play you. The Rams took a similar tact. Both teams stripped schemes to the suds for this one, keeping exotic blitzes, pre-snap shifts and even their terminology away from prying eyes.

The Raiders will take less from this preseason game than usual, forced instead to focus on evaluating younger players.

"I’ve never been in a preseason game like this,” Gruden said. “I don’t know in the history of the NFL, if that’s ever happened. I’m not going to sit up here and cry about it because it’s the same for them as it is for us.

“But in our first year of operation (as a coaching staff), we didn’t want to play our starters. We didn’t want them to hear our audibles and see our hand signals. I don’t think they wanted us to get a feel for them either. It was a strange week of practice and a strange ballgame in that regard.”

2. Offensive line depth a concern

The Raiders have a solid starting offensive line. Center Rodney Hudson plus guards Kelechi Osemele and Gabe Jackson make up arguably the NFL’s best offensive interior. Kolton Miller and Donald Penn have the ability to be a strong tackle tandem if Penn can successfully transition to the right side.

None of those guys played Saturday. Their reserves, however, didn’t show well.

Jon Feliciano is a quality player but had a bad day at the office. He had a bad snap to start the game, and was called for a false start inside the Rams’ 20-yard line. Raiders blockers were called for holding four times – one was declined – and a false start.

Brandon Parker was pushed straight back into Connor Cook got sacked when he fumbled in the first half.

It wasn’t a great day for the guys up front, and those who played Saturday and make the roster must show better when called upon. Feliciano has been a quality reserve, and there’s confidence he will be again. Parker and David Sharpe must improve on the outside. Ian Silberman is a versatile backup, and could leapfrog the other two tackles.

3. L.A. still a Raiders town

The Raiders curated a rabid, devoted fan base during their 13 years in Los Angeles, so it was no surprise their supporters turned out en masse for Saturday’s preseason game against the Rams.

After all, they hadn’t returned to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum since returning to Oakland after the 1994 season.

The crowd was mostly black and silver, routinely booing Rams players and successes. They stayed engaged in a game that meant nothing, wasn’t terribly well played and manned by guys down the depth chart.

They didn’t seem to care. This was Raiders football, live on stage.

“It’s awesome being back here,” Gruden said. “The Raiders have a championship history in Los Angeles. There were a lot of fans here who remember those teams, and rightfully so. We appreciate their support and, hopefully, in a few weeks (when they play the Rams to open the regular season) we can give them a better game.”