Raiders

Irvin: Raiders pass rush making 'significant strides'

Irvin: Raiders pass rush making 'significant strides'

The Raiders pass rush wasn’t effective enough early on. Certainly not by Bruce Irvin’s standards.

He comes from Seattle, where defense dominates. The Seahawks bring pressure in waves, and Irvin believes he and Khalil Mack will lead a similarly persistent attack.

It just didn’t happen right away.

The new Raiders edge rusher wanted more out the gate and said as much, but was pleased to see progress made in a victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

The defensive front produced 26 total quarterback pressures in that one, including several when it mattered most. The blitz was effective, as was a four-man rush even when Irvin and Mack drew extra attention off the edge.

Mack had a fourth-quarter sack. Irvin had a sack that forced a turnover in the same period. Irvin, however, appreciated that it wasn’t a two-man show.

“The first three weeks, the pass rush wasn’t there much,” Irvin said Friday. “Last week though, we made significant strides. That happened because we were all rushing together. It’s not just one person getting pressure. It was everyone doing his part. That’s the biggest difference.”

The Raiders haven’t gotten good push on the interior. They clearly miss Mario Edwards Jr., on injured reserve until Week 9 at least with a hip injury. Denico Autry has intensified his efforts on passing downs, and Karl Joseph proved to be an effective blitzer from the secondary.

That, in turn, helped guys off the edge.

“The offense chipped them just like they usually do, but they just played hard,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. “They play hard every week and some weeks they’ll have better games and you’ll feel them more than others, but at the same time, with Bruce and Khalil, those are two really good football players who really play hard all the time. So, they’re always going to be out there, but you really felt them a lot more last week.”

Their presence should be felt on Sunday against San Diego. The Chargers have struggled protecting Philip Rivers. Their injury-riddled offensive line has allowed eight sacks, nine quarterback hits and 55 total pressures in four games. According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, San Diego’s pass blocking efficiency – the percentage of pass dropbacks where pressure is allowed – ranks 31st in the NFL.

That should create opportunities off the edge.

“Philip Rivers is a great quarterback,” Irvin said. “He does an excellent job of getting the ball out, but he will sit back in the pocket sometimes. If he doesn’t like his first read, he’ll hold it until something develops. That’ll give us some time to get back there, and we have to take advantage of it. Their o-line is kind of beat up, so we have to win our individual matchups.”

Irvin has won plenty over his first four games in silver and black. He has two sacks, five quarterback hits and six other pressures thus far. His badge of honor, however, comes from another category. Irvin has three forced fumbles thus far, including a pair of strip sacks resulting in turnovers. The Raiders have scored 10 points off those takeaways.

Irvin believes improvement is being made. After giving up 1,035 yards in the first two games, it couldn’t get much worse. He didn’t mask disappointment after a Week 2 loss to Atlanta, saying he didn’t want to spend the season on a subpar defense. The Raiders have been better the last two weeks, but still aren’t good enough.

“We’re still the 32nd ranked defense in the league,” Irvin said. “We’re not where we need to be yet, but we’ve definitely improved. Our communication has gotten better and guys are playing better together. That’s going to take time, but we need to make strides every week.”

Raiders' Kolton Miller promises to 'be better' after rocky rookie season

Raiders' Kolton Miller promises to 'be better' after rocky rookie season

ALAMEDA -- Kolton Miller's rookie season wasn't one to remember. 

The Raiders' 2018 first-round pick out of UCLA was given the nod at left tackle Week 1and underperformed expectations.

Miller gave up an NFL-high 16 sacks and league-worst 65 pressures while dealing with multiple knee sprains. He could have blamed the injuries for his limited mobility and disappointing rookie campaign, but instead, he just put on his brace and showed up to work, never making excuses for his performance. 

Despite a rookie season that saw him ranked as the 60th best offensive tackle by Pro Football Focus, the Raiders and head coach Jon Gruden expect big things from Miller, now that he's healthy and gained strength during the offseason.

"We think Kolton Miller’s going to be one of the best at left tackle in football," Gruden said Tuesday after the first day of the Raiders' organized team activities program. "He’s not only healthy, he’s in great shape. He’s gotten a lot stronger. He’s added some weight, some muscle. And he’s still a real flexible athlete that can run and change direction and being in the second year in the system we expect a lot of good things."

Miller, who weighed 310 pounds at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine last February, said he now checks in at 328. The Raiders signed Trent Brown to a massive contract in the offseason, but Gruden is electing to keep Miller at left tackle, where he is more comfortable, and have Brown man the right side. 

After using the offseason to get healthy and build strength, Miller promises to be a different player in 2019. 

"It felt good staying left [tackle]," Miller said. "But of course, I’m a team player, I’m going to go where they put me and what they think is best for the team. I know that I have a job to do and I know last year wasn’t good enough. There was a lot of problems with that and I’m expected to be better and I will be better.”

Miller believes that he can take a lot from his injury-riddled rookie season, even though his performance didn't measure up to the standard of play he's capable of producing.

“I think it will help tremendously," Miller said about being healthy. "I think the knowledge of how to deal with those injuries helped. I think the game experience helped and I think now that I am stronger, I’ll be a lot better.”

The Raiders will need Miller to keep quarterback Derek Carr stayed upright if they have any hope of having a successful 2019 season. The sixth-year quarterback has all the faith in the world in the man charged with protecting his blindside. 

“Man he is huge, y’all saw him," Carr said of Miller. "I don’t know if he’s gained 30 pounds or what but he looks great ... He worked his tail off and I knew that about him all season.

"When he was playing early in the season he was locking some people up," Carr continued. "And then when he got hurt, he never missed a practice, never missed a rep in practice. If coach said ‘You got to get out,’ he’s like, ‘No coach I’m good.’ I knew right then and there, ‘Man this guy is going to do whatever it takes to come in here and be better.’ I’ve seen nothing but that from him.

"He’s super quiet, so y’all don’t get to see that side of him. But I’ve seen him grit his teeth and really bare down in certain situations where I’ve seen other people cower away, to be honest with you, and he hasn’t shown that — not even close. And to see him come in, how big and strong he is in the weight room and how much it meant to him, it was really cool to see because it just confirmed everything I believed about him.”

While Miller will be a key to the Raiders' offensive success this season, the Silver and Black also will need to figure out a solution at left guard. 

Brandon Parker saw some reps at that spot Tuesday, but it's still unknown who will line up next to Miller when the Raiders open their season. 

[RELATED: Gruden not worried about relationships despite AB's OTA absence

Regardless of who slots in next to Miller, the Raiders' ability to win games may very well hinge on how he plays in his sophomore season. If Miller spends more time helping Carr up off the turf than he does celebrating long touchdown throws to Antonio Brown, the second year of Gruden's second stint at the helm could go much like the first. 

Miller has promised to be better and has seemingly put in the work this offseason to be a different player at left tackle.

His pledge will be put to the test immediately, as the Raiders open their season against Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and the Denver Broncos on Sept. 9. 

Raiders receiver Tyrell Williams already showing promise as deep threat

Raiders receiver Tyrell Williams already showing promise as deep threat

ALAMEDA – Tyrell Williams took off downfield, without offering much deception or distraction in his route. The new Raiders receiver simply turned on the afterburners and went.

Quarterback Derek Carr saw a sliver of separation created and launched one deep without hesitation, trusting Williams would make a big play downfield. Sure enough, the high-priced free agent signing jumped over his coverage and snatched the ball from the sky.

Touchdown, Raiders. Smooth and easy.

Having such a prominent deep threat gives Carr ample opportunity to fire his cannon arm.

“Contrary to popular belief, I like throwing it down the field,” Carr said with a smile. “I say that to mess with you guys, but we had fun out there. To see a guy that big, that fast – he reminds me of Andre Holmes – is great. He can run these routes and set people up. He’s a technician, not just a big body. To be able to hit those deep shots, it will help our running backs and offensive line. There’s no doubt we’ve added a lot of speed to the receiver room, and it’s going to be fun. It’s fun for a quarterback.”

Carr’s efficient throwing down the field, even though he didn’t have many opportunities last year with offensive line struggles and a pronounced lack of speed out wide.

Williams’ presence changes all that, though Antonio Brown and J.J. Nelson can make huge plays deep as well, which will, in turn, open up space for short routes and backs in the flat.

“A lot of football today is about stretching a team laterally,” Gruden said. “You also have to stretch the field vertically. When you can do both, you become a much more difficult offense to defend. That’s a goal that we’ve had since we got here.”

Brandon Parker moving around

Brandon Parker was thrown into the fire last year. The small-school third-round pick played almost exclusively on the right despite being a career left tackle, and did so right around 300 pounds.

An apprenticeship behind Donald Penn was expected but taken away after the veteran got hurt, and so Parker had to learn on the job. A bit too often through mistakes.

He won’t be asked to reprise his role as starting right tackle with Trent Brown around and won’t anchor the left with Kolton Miller back. He’s the team’s swing tackle instead and is physically equipped for the vital role following a productive early offseason.

“He spent most of the offseason living with (Gabe Jackson), and I don’t think they were just lifting weights down there,” Gruden said. “I think they were eating a little bit. Parker came back married. He came back stronger and heavier. We’re going to give him an opportunity to get on the field. He may end up being the left guard. Who knows? He may end up starting down the road. He has a tough assignment (at swing tackle). He played left tackle in college and right tackle last year. He does have experience playing both sides.”

Josh Jacobs leaves early, veteran LBs sidelined

The list of Raiders missing the offseason program’s first OTA featured several prominent names.

Brown did not attend the voluntary session. First-round running back Josh Jacobs stretched with the team and then headed back to the locker room, as planned, while dealing with an undisclosed ailment.

Veteran linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall worked on the side with trainers. So did defensive tackle Maurice Hurst. Daryl Worley was limited some during his return from offseason shoulder surgery.

Gruden wasn’t worried about any of those guys, especially at this point in the year.

“We have a lot of guys who are on different programs right now,” he said. “We’re not playing for a while. Jacobs should be back late this week, if not early next week. He’s taking part in the walk-throughs. We’re fast-tracking him to be ready. Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall are on a different program. So is Antonio, right now. We’ll come together as a team here shortly.

Early first unit defense/offense

The Raiders like to fluctuate personnel in their early units during the offseason program, so there’s zero assurance in most positions that first-team work in spring means they’ll be there in a week or three months later in training camp.

That said, let’s take a look at a few early groupings, especially those at (mostly) full health:

Offensive line: LT Kolton Miller, LG Denzelle Good, C Rodney Hudson, RG Gabe Jackson, RT Trent Brown
Defensive line: RE Clelin Ferrell, DT Eddie Vanderdoes, DT Johnathan Hankins, LE Josh Muaro
DBs: CB Gareon Conley, CB Nick Nelson/Daryl Worley, FS Erik Harris, SS Karl Joseph

Again, this is not written in stone. We’ll see who lines up with the top units next week.

[RELATED: Gruden not worried about relationships despite Brown's absence]

Peterman shows flashes

The Raiders are set with Carr as the starting quarterback and Mike Glennon as the primary backup. Landry Jones is here, as is Nathan Peterman, who had a rough start to his career in Buffalo. He’s trying to get back on the right track with Gruden, and made some good throws in Tuesday’s OTA session. He threw a near-perfect long bomb to Rico Gafford and showed good footwork moving around the pocket and making throws on the run.