Raiders

Dolphins trade away firepower ahead of game against Raiders

jay-ajayi-dolphins-ap.jpg
AP

Dolphins trade away firepower ahead of game against Raiders

PHILADELPHIA -- The NFL-leading Eagles bolstered their running attack Tuesday, acquiring Jay Ajayi from the Miami Dolphins for a 2018 fourth-round draft pick hours before the trade deadline.

Ajayi has 465 yards rushing and is averaging 3.4 yards per carry with no touchdowns. He went to the Pro Bowl last season after running for 1,272 yards, including three 200-yard games.

"We like our running back group," Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said. "This was an opportunity that came to us, a good player who could add to our team. He's a young player who is under contract for the next couple years."

Dolphins coach Adam Gase signaled his displeasure with Ajayi last week after Miami was routed 40-0 at Baltimore, noting missed blocking assignments in pass protection .

"The running back, we never blocked the right guy," Gase said. "I don't even know if we know who we've got. We've got to get that fixed."

LeGarrette Blount leads Philadelphia with 467 yards rushing and is averaging 4.7 yards a carry with two touchdowns. Roseman said Blount remains the starter and he's confident Ajayi won't create problems.

"We weren't going to bring anyone here that would disrupt team chemistry," Roseman said. "We feel very confident and comfortable about the player."

The Eagles (7-1) have the fifth-ranked run offense and have won six straight games. On Monday, coach Doug Pederson wasn't sure the team needed any help.

"It has to be the right fit," Pederson said before the trade. "It can't just be anybody. From my standpoint, you don't want to disrupt the chemistry that is going on in the dressing room right now. Those guys are playing with a lot of confidence and they're rallying around each other so it would have to be a pretty special fit to make it work."

Ajayi fits the "special" category despite his inconsistent season. He had 122 yards rushing in Week 2 and 130 in Week 6.

Last year, Ajayi was lauded for his durability and ability to break tackles. He helped the Dolphins reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008, and joined O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell and Tiki Barber as the only players to rush for 200 yards three times in a season.

The London-born Ajayi wasn't drafted until the fifth round in 2015 because of a knee issue, but he has averaged 18 carries a game the past two seasons and has made 19 consecutive starts. Ajayi has been held out of practice a lot this year to protect his knees, and the Dolphins may have doubts about his longevity.

The Dolphins (4-3) needed a shake-up. They're in the playoff race even though they rank last in the NFL in points and yards.

With Ajayi gone, Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake are expected to share duties at running back Sunday against Oakland.

The Eagles have to make a roster spot for Ajayi. Wendell SmallwoodCorey Clement and Kenjon Barner are the other running backs on the roster. They lost Darren Sproles for the season in Week 3.

The Raiders got beaten to the hearts of the customers...again

The Raiders got beaten to the hearts of the customers...again

“And her mother said, ‘Never mind, your part is to be, what you’ll be.’”

                                   -- The Who, Sally Simpson.

#   #   #

One of the enduring lessons of American sports is that when it comes to sharing the same geographical space, there is an alpha team, and a beta team, and the roles are almost never reversed. The Dodgers lord it over the Angels, the Yankees lord it over the Mets, the Cubs over the White Sox, the Giants over the Jets, the Lakers over the Clippers, etc. That relationship dominates every decision the beta team makes because being the perpetual afterthought creates a corrosive atmosphere.

And locally, this applies as well. The Giants lord it over the A’s, the Warriors over the Kings, and the 49ers over the Raiders. In an economic system where only one winner is allowed and sharing is anathema, the alpha team gets used to standing on the beta team’s neck, and the beta team exhausts itself trying to escape.

Which is part of why the Raiders have always looked to leave their ancestral home, and why they are so enthused to become the Las Vegas Raiders.

Only they got beaten to the hearts of their customers – again. In a town that once had every team because it had no team at all, the hockey team Vegas was willing to accept is now the epicenter of everything the town’s sporting consciousness holds dear. The Golden Knights are the modest little team that went from fetus to newborn to full fledged king in 11 months.

And Jon Gruden has to follow that?

The Knights fought their way to the Stanley Cup Final in their first year of life. IN THEIR FIRST YEAR OF LIFE, YOU HEAR ME? This has been done twice before, both times in hockey, and only because of circumstances beyond the team’s control. And even if they do not end up winning the Cup and taking it from one casino to the next through the entire summer in a Bizarro world twist on an old Canadian tradition, Las Vegas is theirs. They were first, and they were best first.

And once again, the Raiders have to punch uphill, as they have every day for nearly their entire history. They had a window in the Seventies when they were demonstrably better than the 49ers in all ways, including the stadium in which they played, and then Al Davis left for Los Angeles and fighting with the Rams.

Then he came back at the tail end of the 49ers dynasty, briefly made an excellent team that faded too quickly, and since then there has been only losing, death, and wanderlust. Vegas was supposed to solve all of it – the Raiders would have their own state, and the gambling capital of the world. They would be the alpha dog at last.

And now there is a team that a year ago had no players and now is neck-deep in civic memories that will last forever, from the way they melded with the two in the wake of a terroristic act on Opening Night to the way they raced to the most improbable Stanley Cup Final ever. The Knights are the team that turned the concept of the honeymoon and layered it in platinum.

Next to all that, Mark Davis is the beta dog again, and unless he moves to a city that doesn’t even have a successful Division 1 college team, it would seem he is doomed to be that guy forever. His part is to be what he’ll be.

Michigan coach calls star pupil perfect for Raiders, 'a disruptive, attacking force inside'

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AP

Michigan coach calls star pupil perfect for Raiders, 'a disruptive, attacking force inside'

The University of Michigan football team is in a quiet period between spring practice and fall camp, but Greg Mattison is hot on the recruiting trail. The University of Michigan’s defensive line coach is crisscrossing the country trying to secure quality Wolverines, without much time for anything else.

Squeezing in an interview request during a brief stretch home in Ann Arbor, Mich., wasn’t easy. Mattison, I was told, would get to it during a free moment over a few days.

The respected defensive coach called within the hour.

“I am pretty busy these days, but after I saw (the interview request), I wanted be sure and talk to you,” Mattison said. “Anything for Mo.”

‘Mo’ is defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, Mattison’s star pupil and a Raiders fifth-round pick. The bond is strong between player and position coach. Mattison recruited Hurst out of Xaverian Brothers High in Westwood, Mass., and spent five subsequent years developing him into an NFL-caliber player.

Mattison gave a glowing review of his time working with Hurst during an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area, as you’d expect from a college coach talking about a former player.

College coaches don’t publicly criticize their guys. But, if they don’t have anything nice to say, they don’t say anything at all.

Mattison called back in a snap.

“I recruited him and coached him for five years, so I probably know Mo Hurst as well as anybody around,” said Mattison, a longtime college coach who was Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator from 2009-10. “He comes from a tremendous family, and his mother is as good a person as you’ll meet and did a tremendous job raising him. Mo has all the work habits and character you want in a player. He’s one of those guys, where I’ve never seen him do something that wasn’t the right thing to do.”

Mattison has great affection for Hurst, which is why the NFL Draft was so tough to watch. Hurst is a first-round talent, arguably the draft’s best interior pass rusher, yet fell to the fifth due to concerns about an irregular EKG.

The University of Michigan cleared him to play despite a heart condition. The Raiders didn’t have a problem with it either, and drafted Hurst with the No. 140 overall selection. The draft slide was a disappointment for all involved.

“He has a lot of pride,” Mattison said. “You watch the draft and so many times I said, ‘Mo’s way better that the kid they just took.’ You know why it was happening, because of this test or whatever. The thing we all knew was that he was fine. It was the same thing when he came to Michigan. He was fine.”

The Raiders believe he is fine to play in 2018, and will have annual checkups to ensure that remains the case each season. Head coach Jon Gruden wants Hurst to be judged on the field -- he won’t discuss Hurst’s health any farther – and the Wolverine has a real chance to make an immediate impact as a three-technique in Paul Guenther’s defensive system.

“He fits perfectly in a scheme like that,” Mattison said. “The Raiders got the greatest steal in the world. He’s a perfect fit, and to get Mo when they did is quite something. What you always want in that type of defense is a disruptive, attacking force inside. I’ll put Mo up against anybody in his ability to do that.”

Hurst is an excellent pass rusher and solid run defender, perfectly capable of being a three-down standout. A lot of that is due to an explosive first step that’s as fast and impactful as any.

“He’s born with that,” Mattison said. “We certainly tried to improve it, but he has always had that great first step. Him doing that and playing low and strong, that’s what makes him special.”

Mattison also lauded Hurst’s football IQ and his willingness to study offensive tendencies, saying “he was really good identifying things on the field and using them to his advantage.”

Mattison believes the five years spent at Michigan gave him the maturity and toughness to excel at the NFL level. It allowed Hurst to earn his bachelor’s degree and start work on his master’s degree. Seeing Hurst move on after accomplishing so much gives Mattison a great sense of gratification.

“That’s why you coach, and that’s why I left the NFL to come back to college football,” Mattison said. “The pride you take in getting a young man to come to your school and watching him develop is immense. I have two goals with my guys. I want them to get a degree, and to play in the NFL. If they do that, then I’ve done my job and I’m the happiest guy in the world. Mo’s a perfect example of that.”