Evolving Raiders run game showing signs of progress


Evolving Raiders run game showing signs of progress

Miami had the Raiders run game figured out. The Dolphins held the ground game to six yards on eight carries so, when the Raiders lined up in the shotgun on 3rd-and-3 with three receivers on the left, there was little doubt Derek Carr would be charged with a conversion attempt.

Not so. Offensive coordinator Todd Downing stuck with the run. Carr gave it to Lynch, who cut right behind a Marshall Newhouse block for six yards and the first down.

Then the Raiders lined up heavy, with two receivers left and two tight ends on the line, suggesting Lynch would get the ball again.


Carr faked the handoff, held on and launched a 44-yard strike to Johnny Holton. That’s some complimentary football, right there. The Raiders haven’t done that much this season.

Downing said the Raiders run game evolved in the first half. Melding Lynch’s rushing style and preferences with a hulking offensive line took some time. We’ll see if the attack’s hit a steadier stride as the season wears. There were signs of progress against the Dolphins, especially with Lynch in the backfield.

“Sunday was better than it has been,” right guard Gabe Jackson said. “I’m not sure about the stats, but you could see it just looking at the tape that it was better. We still thought some big plays and big opportunities were missed that we need to capitalize on in the future.”

Lynch had two yards on six carries prior to the aforementioned 3rd and 3. He had 55 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries after that.

Downing’s commitment to Lynch helped him get going, even after a rough start. The Raiders must do the same in the season’s second half. More balance is required of run game ranked last with 21.4 attempts per game – that stat’s a bit skewed because the Raiders’ total play count is shockingly low – to keep defenses honest and away from focusing on the pass game.

“We have to continue to get that going,” Carr said. “We have to continue to run the ball well and take pressure off of our wide receivers and tight ends in the pass game. It helps our offensive line. When you’re running the ball like that, the pass rush on the first and second downs is different. The calls coming in from the defensive coordinator are different. If we can continue to do that, it will only help us going forward.”

The Raiders ran pretty darn well last year. Latavius Murray, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington paced an attack that earned 120 yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry.

Numbers are down across the board this season, averaging 33 yards less per game on six fewer attempts.

Downing is a new play caller and Lynch is a new ball carrier, but the Raiders believe familiar fixtures are responsible for the lack of efficiency on the ground.

“I think they guys need to continue to sustain blocks,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said. “A runner is a runner, who is trying to get a feel for the guys in front of him. We have to block better. We have to run better. We have to get better all the way around. I don’t think getting used to people is that big an issue.”

The Raiders have the NFL’s biggest offensive line. They have the most expensive line in NFL history. The bar’s sky high for that group. The team expects more of the engine that makes this offense go, even with some schematic adjustments enacted to help Lynch feel comfortable. .

“It should be better,” McKenzie said. “That’s something we’re trying to improve on.”

The Raiders are looking for flow in the run game, something they definitely didn’t have a fortnight past in Buffalo. Lynch was suspended for unsportsmanlike conduct the week before, and the Raiders missed him dearly. Richard and Washington are quality compliments, but haven’t proven they can carry a full workload.

Raiders players and coaches said Lynch was supremely motivated upon return to the team, and it showed once he got going in the second quarter. Consistency is required in the run game, and Downing spent the bye looking for ways to put his backs and blockers in proper position to succeed.

“Each back has their own style,” Downing said. “One thing that we don’t want to do is get pigeon-holed into only doing certain runs with certain players. There are schemes that certain backs on our roster are a little bit more effective at. We want to be able to give them a chance to highlight their skill sets certainly, and Marshawn is comfortable in certain segment of schemes. So, we’re going to give him an opportunity to be as successful as possible for us. That’s my job as a coordinator to identify who we should have in and at what times.”

Raiders camp report: Jon Gruden's 'white tiger' returns to practice

Raiders camp report: Jon Gruden's 'white tiger' returns to practice

NAPA – The Raiders got Martavis Bryant back to practice Wednesday after two days away dealing with headaches. The explosive receiver primarily worked with the third unit during team drills as he continues to mesh with Jon Gruden’s system.

The Raiders head coach prefers his receivers learn every position and route in the tree, something that comes with steady reps and scheme study. Gruden also likes his players available and grinding with teammates through the dregs of training camp.

Bryant missed practice with illness last week and two straight sessions to start this one while reportedly dealing with migraines. Those headaches can be debilitating for sure.

Gruden wants his players working out as much as possible, and had a funny way of expressing the point.

“We’re calling Martavis the white tiger,” Gruden said. “I used to go to Busch Gardens in Tampa. We call (receiver Joey) Galloway the white tiger in Tampa. You go to Busch Gardens and they’ve got a white tiger. You go 12 times or 13 times, the white tiger was always in his cage. But the white tiger came out today. Bryant came out.

“I don’t know if you get that analogy, but sometimes he comes out to play and sometimes he doesn’t. It’s good to see him because he’s really special, like the white tiger. It’s late in the day here.”

Three things: 1. Gruden can be pretty funny. 2. He wants Bryant participating more. 3. He knows Bryant is a special talent.

While the draft day acquisition hasn’t wowed in training camp, expect him to having a prominent role in the Raiders offense. His speed is invaluable, and big-play ability rare. Bryant hasn’t spoken to the media since he was traded from Pittsburgh for a third-round pick, but said then he wants to be known as a complete receiver. There’s plenty of time to prove he’s capable of that. Quarterback Derek Carr said there’s a sense of urgency to his preparation, and receivers coach Edgar Bennett is well known as a solid teacher, who can help Bryant along the way. ,

Gruden on Penn trying right tackle

Donald Penn is trying a new position, working at right tackle in two practices since coming off the physically unable to perform list. It’s an experiment at this stage, to see if Penn can move across the line. It also keeps first-round rookie Kolton Miller working on the left, but the Raiders are still tinkering with offensive line arrangement as the preseason wears along.

“We haven’t settled on any starting lineups yet,” Gruden said. “We really didn’t want to disrupt Kolton’s status right now without being sure where Donald exactly was physically. This is an opportunity to get Penn back on the field with us. Not only to test the ankle, test his conditioning, but to get his timing down and get back in the channel of our offense. Then we’ll address this later next week.”

Battle in the slot

Receiver Griff Whalen has been working with the first-unit offense since Friday’s exhibition against Detroit, manning the slot of Ryan Switzer. He’s also heavily involved in return duties, which will be key deciding roster spots on the back end of the receiver depth chart.

“Well it’s very competitive situation,” Gruden said. “(Whalen and Switzer are) neck-and-neck. As you said, special teams will have a big part of that, but also shear production. You have to be able to go in there and make plays. You have to be able to go in there and block linebackers sometimes and big safeties. You have to know a lot of assignments because Derek [Carr] is going to change the play at the last second. It’s neck and neck with those guys.”

Seth Roberts returned to action on Wednesday, and Gruden maintains he’s in the mix working inside as well.

Injury update

Cornerback Daryl Worley returned to work after a Monday collision with Rashaan Melvin, but was limited to individual drills. Seth Roberts and Bryant also returned to practice.

Gruden said didn’t have an update on Obi Melifonwu’s continued absence with a lower body injury – he reportedly saw a specialist on Wednesday – but said an update could come next week when the team returns to Alameda.

Marcus Gilchrist, Breno Giacomini remain out of work. Jon Feliciano joined them after leaving Tuesday’s practice early. Jared Cook was given a veteran rest day.

Eddy Pineiro left practice early on Wednesday for an unknown reason and did not return. Mike Nugent kicked during this practice, which included several hurried (by design) field goal attempts.

This ‘n that

The Raiders claimed defensive tackle Gabe Wright off waivers from Miami. He was released after getting into an altercation with a teammate. He came after Kenyon Drake during practice while the Miami running back wasn’t wearing a helmet. Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin was placed on injured reserve in a corresponding move. … WR Keon Hatcher made an excellent catch, reaching up to grab a deep pass from Connor Cook with Shareece Wright draped all over him. …Gareon Conley had excellent coverage to break up a pass intended for Maratvis Bryant, proving a recent hip injury hasn’t impacted the cornerback’s speed. …Quarterback EJ Manuel has struggled mightily with the quarterback-center exchange. He lost a fumbled snap in last week’s game against Detroit, and has done so several times in camp. He had one Wednesday, right after being inserted with the second team over Cook. … The Raiders conducted a lighter practice without pads, one that remained intense in temp and rep count.

Raiders CB Conley grateful for renewed health, expecting to play vs. Rams


Raiders CB Conley grateful for renewed health, expecting to play vs. Rams

NAPA – Martavis Bryant streaked down the left sideline during Wednesday’s Raiders practice as Derek Carr’s pass went skyward.

Cornerback Gareon Conley matched the speed demon stride for stride, eventually reaching over Bryant’s head to defend the pass. Both guys tumbled to the ground, and got up without a scratch.

That was good news for all Raiders involved, especially for a player on a good (and rare) practice run.

Conley practiced three straight days this week after a hip strain eliminated out the previous two, returning to a secondary that desperately needs him.

“It feels really good to be out there with my teammates,” Conley said. “It had been a long time since I practiced in pads.”

Conley hasn’t done that much as a professional Last year’s first-round pick missed his entire rookie minicamp and most of that season with a shin injury that required surgery.

Then a groin strain cut his 2018 mandatory minicamp short and this hip thing happened on training camp’s first full-squad practice.

“The first day at camp I felt really good after my last injury, so getting another one was really frustrating,” Conley said. “All the coaches and teammates kept me high. That definitely helped.”

The initial prognosis brought him down a bit. He was supposed to miss four weeks but came back in half that. He poured effort into film study, putting himself in a different defensive back’s shoes each day to stay involved.

Outside that, it was all rest, rehab and patience waiting to return. A return to game action should come in Saturday’s preseason game at the L.A. Rams.

“I’m expecting to play,” Conley said. “It’s ultimately up to coaches, but that’s my plan. …I’m definitely looking forward to that, playing against somebody else for the first time in almost a year.”

It has been a while Conley played at Washington on Sept. 24, 2017, and later said he didn’t feel right doing it. Conley’s shin never got right until this spring, even during two cameos last year. He looked good in a Week 2 win over the New York Jets, but didn’t play or run well the following week.

He’ll be able to get some seasoning this preseason, heading towards a 2018 campaign that will essentially be his first. The Raiders have high hopes for Conley playing alongside cornerbacks Rashaan Melvin, Leon Hall and Daryl Worley. He’s excited about a coverage scheme that suits him well.

“Press man: it’s a hard job for cornerbacks but simple on paper,”Conley said. “There isn’t a lot of thinking. You just go out and do your job."

Assuming, of course, he can stay healthy. The key, in Conley’s mind, is not thinking about recent injury woes.

“If you think about it, it’s going to happen,” Conley said. “You have to put it out of your mind. If you don’t, it becomes more mental than physical. Once you think about it, you get hurt again. You can keep going down and down. You’ve got to stay (upbeat).”