Raiders

Experience keeps Latavius Murray grounded: 'I know how fortunate I am'

Experience keeps Latavius Murray grounded: 'I know how fortunate I am'

ALAMEDA – The Raiders made Josiah Moore an honorary captain prior to their Week 9 clash against the Denver Broncos. The boy battling an adverse heart condition became a Raider for a weekend via the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and attended a Saturday practice, a Sunday night game and was part of the pregame coin toss.

He spent time with several Raiders, including Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, Seth Roberts, Reggie Nelson and Latavius Murray. Before the game, he pulled Murray close and asked for a favor.

“He asked me to score some touchdowns for him, and I asked him how many he wanted,” the Raiders running back said. “He said three.”

That’s a difficult request. The touchdown total isn’t unrealistic or easily attained. Scoring three would be difficult, not impossible. Murray promised to give it a shot.

He first found the end zone from a yard out in the second quarter, extending the ball just across the goal line. Murray powered a second touchdown through from the same distance. The Raiders were a yard from pay dirt again in the fourth quarter, and Murray leaped over both lines to reach the end zone, giving his team a three-score lead and fulfill a promise.

It was a proud moment for Murray, who was awesome in a 30-20 victory over the Broncos. He finished with 20 carries for 114 yards and three touchdowns for Moore.

“I know how fortunate I am, and I know what kids in the Make-A-Wish program have to go through,” Murray said on CSN California's Raiders Insider Podcast. “Any way that I can help make a kid’s day, I’ll do it. Just being a part of something bigger than myself is always important. You want to give back whenever you can.

“That’s what it’s all about, and it really meant something that I was able to do that for him.”

Murray doesn’t let these moments slip. He knows playing in the NFL’s a privilege afforded to precious few, and that opportunities to play and produce should be cherished. That’s why he’s excited to contest the Houston Texans on Monday night in Mexico City, where he has acted as a team ambassador for promotional events.

That’s why you won’t hear complaints about lower carry counts or contract insecurity here. At his core, Murray’s a guy grateful for this chance.

He still thinks about opportunities missed, which is why he didn’t plan an exotic vacation last week during the Raiders bye. He went back to Onondaga, a small town in upstate New York, to watch his high school in the state playoffs. Onondaga Central hadn’t reached these heights since Murray was a Tiger.

Murray had his number retired, but never won a state title. Onondaga Central didn’t this year either. They lost a heartbreaker, but a homecoming was worth the long flight east. It’s a place where Murray could recalibrate and mentally prepare for the season’s home stretch. Onondaga is a comfort zone impossible to duplicate.

“I feel at home every time I go back there,” Murray said. “The community and the high school there have shown great support, and that’s why it was special to go back. That town is a part of the person and the player I am.”

Onondaga’s pull is strong, not just because he has close friends and family there. His rock resides there, too.

His mother Tawanna Wright is a stabilizing force in her son’s life, and at times set him on the correct course. She wanted him to attend Central Florida over local options and pursue his preference to play running back despite also being recruited as a linebacker.

She also kept him upbeat after he tore a knee apart playing pickup basketball while at Central Florida, an injury that put Murray in a funk. He lost the 2010 season rehabbing multiple torn ligaments, which prompted a decision to come home and play for nearby Syracuse. Wright pushed hard for an about face and eventually got one. Murray went back to Central Florida, flourished and became a draftable impact starter.

"The best part of Latavius is his mom," UCF coach George O'Leary said, via the Orlando Sentinel. "She's a very sound, sturdy woman and that's why he's back here.”

While Murray’s ego doesn’t overinflate, Wright tries to keep him centered and grounded to this day.

“It’s a constant reminder for both of my sons but more so for Latavius because people in his position can become arrogant when fans put you on a pedestal,” Wright said. “You have to always remind them to stay humble. You can be up one minute and down the next.

“Use your gifts as a tool, and always be humble about it. Success is a gift that isn’t easy to come by. Staying humble will open the door for more blessings.”

The door is open wider than a few years back.

Murray was a sixth round pick who spent his rookie year in Oakland sidelined with injury and most of his second season buried on the depth chart. His third year earned a Pro Bowl spot, and his fourth has featured decreased totals as the Raiders have split carries between Murray and rookies Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington.

While some Pro Bowler may demand the rock, Murray likes the rotation. All three backs remain focused on being efficient with carries they get, though Murray paces that pack when healthy. He won’t come close to last year’s 306 touches, but doesn’t mind considering the Raiders’ steady production on the ground and his efficiency with ball in hand. The young additions, Murray says, have given the run game a jolt.

“DeAndre and Jalen continue to push me and do great things when they step on the field,” Murray said. “They bring explosiveness and make guys miss. I’m trying to take things from them and continue to learn. We continue to compete in that running back room, and that’s why I think we’ve had success.”

That success has contributed to a 7-2 record that has the Raiders in position to make a playoff push. Murray was on terrible teams to start his pro career so, as you’d guess, he isn’t taking these wins for granted.

“I still have those moments where I realize where I am in life and the opportunities I have in front of me,” Murray said. “I was talking to Jalen about it during the (Broncos) game.

“We playing were in primetime, with the whole country watching. Here I am, a kid from Onondaga Central, from a little town in upstate New York. Jalen said he felt the same way. I said, ‘never stop feeling that way, because it’s going to separate you from guys in this league who may get comfortable. Always love the feeling, and revel in the knowledge that you’re fortunate to be in such a great spot.'”
 

Khalil Mack dominates in Bears win with Raiders lacking pass rush

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AP

Khalil Mack dominates in Bears win with Raiders lacking pass rush

Ex-Raiders edge rusher Khalil Mack did it again in Week 2. 

Eight days after showing the Silver and Black what they were missing, Mack followed up his Chicago Bears debut with another dominant performance in primetime. The 2014 No. 5 pick strip-sacked Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in the second quarter -- one of six times Wilson was sacked on the night -- en route to Chicago's 24-17 win. 

Through two games, Mack and the Bears lead the NFL with 10 sacks. The Raiders, meanwhile, have two, and are 31st. 

Alone, Mack has as many sacks as the entirety of the Oakland defense. 

Before Mack suited up Monday night, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden was insistent that the lack of pass rush made him lament trading the two-time All-Pro for two first-round picks. 

“It doesn’t make me regret it. We made the trade,” Gruden told reporters at his press conference Monday afternoon. “There is going to be hindsight and all that stuff. We would loved to have had him here. I’m not going to keep rehashing this. I would have loved to have coached him. I would have loved to have had him here, but he’s not here.

“Somebody has to step up. We have to keep building our football team. That’s what we’re going to do. Hopefully we see more from Arden Key. Hopefully we see more from PJ Hall when he gets healthy. Hopefully we prove that, in the long term, we did the right thing.”

Mack won't play his first game against Gruden's Raiders until next season. Something tells me Gruden will be asked about the trade just about every day until then. 

Raiders struggle to find solutions rushing the passer

Raiders struggle to find solutions rushing the passer

ALAMEDA – The Raiders have a problem rushing the passer. The defensive line can’t seem to get home, creating issues in the passing game defensive backs can’t solve.

The real question, it seems, is how it can get better with the roster as currently constructed. Head coach Jon Gruden is counting on linebacker Bruce Irvin and a bunch of talented, yet green rookies to generate pressure up front.

It isn’t working well, and it’s clear the Raiders miss ol’ you-know-who.

The Silver and Black had five pressures in last week’s loss to the L.A. Rams. That was a league low, per analytics site Pro Football Focus. They had just 12 in Sunday’s 20-19 loss at Denver, by PFF’s early count -- the number could change upon review -- and were unable to secure victory despite having a two-score lead late in the third quarter.

The Raiders have two sacks through two games. That isn’t good enough.

“We have to make improvements there,” Gruden said in a Monday press conference. “Across the board, we have to make improvements. That was pretty obvious.”

It was. Finding a solution this season is the tough part. 

[BAIR: Raiders Report Card]

The Raiders seemed to have a stout pass rush on paper this summer, with Irvin off one edge, Khalil Mack firing off the other and young interior pass rushers creating havoc up the middle.

Losing Mack changed everything. Trading him to Chicago for future draft picks gave the 2018 Raiders zero in return. He made produced despite significant attention, allowing Irvin to work in favorable conditions.

Without Mack, everyone struggles. That doesn’t mean, however, Gruden is having second thoughts.

“It doesn’t make me regret it. We made the trade,” Gruden said. “There is going to be hindsight and all that stuff. We would loved to have had him here. I’m not going to keep rehashing this. I would have loved to have coached him. I would have loved to have had him here, but he’s not here.

“Somebody has to step up. We have to keep building our football team. That’s what we’re going to do. Hopefully we see more from Arden Key. Hopefully we see more from PJ Hall when he gets healthy. Hopefully we prove that, in the long term, we did the right thing.”

Mack’s absence certainly hurts in the short term. It has made life tougher on Irvin to be sure. Outside his strip sack in Week 1, the edge rusher hasn’t been a dominant presence early on.

“We need to get more out of our captain,” Gruden said. “He’s been put in some tough spots, certainly. He’s a good player and has played some good snaps. We need more and more from him. I know he’s giving us everything he has. It’s tough on him because we have a lot of new guys around him up front, but we’re happy he’s here.”

Key, the rookie edge rusher, is a supreme talent still learning the ropes. He can be excitable on the field and get fooled by opposing scheme. Coaches are working to develop Key’s game, but it’s unrealistic and a smidge unfair to expect greatness out the gate.

Hall is rehabbing an ankle sprain and should miss one more game at least. Hurst had a sack against Denver but, like Key, is playing more than the Raiders would like at such an early stage. Unrest at defensive tackle isn’t helping matters much, with newcomers Brian Price, Clinton McDonald and Johnathan Hankins playing a lot right away.

The Raiders have started well twice but lost second-half leads in as many games, which has led to frustration but not outright pessimism.

“We’re disappointed in the outcome,” Gruden said. “We’re going to continue to see the glass half full. But, at the same time, I’m going to put my head down and keep digging and scratching and looking for ways to build the foundation of this football team.”