Isaiah Johnson ready for Raiders debut after facial fracture recovery


Isaiah Johnson ready for Raiders debut after facial fracture recovery

ALAMEDA – Raiders' rookie cornerback Isaiah Johnson is poised and ready to make his regular-season debut Thursday night against the Los Angeles Chargers. His big moment comes 10 weeks later than expected, after spending more than half the schedule on injured reserve.

It wasn’t like Johnson made a technical mistake and got hurt. His body didn’t give way trying too hard to make a play. Teammate Marquel Lee inadvertently kneed him in the head during the Raiders' preseason opener, an unusual incident that left him concussed with a facial fracture on his right side.

Johnson's concussion-like symptoms went away, but pain from this facial injury did not. He didn’t need surgery. That was a good thing. He did have to wait and wait for it to heal on its own, a drawn-out process extended by the NFL’s rules for returning off injured reserve.

He’s finally ready and eligible to play Thursday night, but Johnson isn’t overly hyped. The University of Houston product stays away from extreme emotions of any kind, even after 21 days of practice building up to this big moment. Adrenaline will be present during defensive cameos and special teams contributions, but Johnson doesn’t want to make this a big deal.

“I’m being completely honest when I say I’m treating this like any other game I’ve played,” Johnson said. “I feel like I’m back in the groove. I’m moving at game speed; my eyes are in the right spot to make reads and my body feels good and ready to compete.”

Impatience could shroud an otherwise positive mindset during all that downtime, but Johnson never let himself go there.

“I was at peace with it, because I knew it was beyond my control,” Johnson said. “Everything happens for a reason so, whenever my time does come, I’ll be ready because I was able to stay positive and stay focused. I never once asked the question, ‘Why me?’ Things happen in football, and you take the good with the bad.”

Johnson’s clearly an optimist with mature perspective, but even he admits to some rough times following his facial fracture.

“It had to heal on its own, which made it a waiting game,” Johnson said. “The pain itself was the worst part. There were times the right side of my face wasn’t able to function, and that was the hardest part. The right side of my mouth was numb. My right nostril was numb for weeks. I couldn’t chew on my right side, but you just learn how to maneuver around it.

“It was frustrating, but I really tried to practice being poised and patient and let it heal over time. I think, for the most part, I was able to do that, and I think that gave me perspective.”

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Johnson has missed significant time. He also was out most of training camp and the preseason, a developmental vital to most rookies. Then sitting out all that time during the regular season was a difficulty, but Johnson was happy the Raiders gave him a chance to return later in the year.

He tried to improve in any way he could. The Raiders have high hopes for the converted receiver with great size, length and power, preferably playing him opposite Trayvon Mullen at outside cornerback for years to come.

“When you take the physical work away, the mental stuff goes all the way up,” Johnson said. “That’s all I had to focus on for a long time, and I feel like I see the game better and I’m ready to apply everything I’ve learned and use it to my advantage.”

Raiders' primary objective vs. Titans: Stop 'machine' Derrick Henry

Raiders' primary objective vs. Titans: Stop 'machine' Derrick Henry

ALAMEDA -- Ryan Tannehill is receiving credit for Tennessee’s recent resurgence. That’s appropriate given how well the former backup quarterback has been playing during a 5-1 stretch since becoming the starter.

Let’s not forget who’s really driving the Titans' offense. That’s the 6-foot-3, 247-pound freight train coming out of the backfield.

Derrick Henry has been a monster this season, proving as tough to take down as ever. He has 1,140 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground, currently on a run of three straight games with at least 145 yards and a touchdown.

A repeat performance on Sunday against the Raiders at Oakland Coliseum would make Henry the only player to do so in four straight games.

The Raiders would like to prevent that and are armed with the No. 12-ranked run defense. They’ll try to slow a back that never seems to wear down.

“The secret sauce in Henry is he’s got all the talent, and size, and running instincts, but he never tires,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “He does not get tired. He’s a machine, man. This guy wears you down -- physical -- he can wear you down. You’ve got to gang tackle him. He’s a better-than-advertised receiver, but he just never tires. The more they give him the ball, the better he gets. It’s an impressive human being.”

Tannehill obviously benefits from Henry’s threat and a balanced offense that has the Titans going strong. Stopping the run, or slowing it at least, will be key for the Raiders' defense in this important game. It will not, however, be easy.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge, but we know it’ll be a challenge dealing with Superman Derrick Henry,” defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said on this week’s Raiders Talk podcast. "... He’s a great back. He’s big. He’s fast. He sheds tackles like there are kids trying to tackle him. I think, overall, we have to do a good job of keeping him in the backfield and not giving him open lanes or creases to work. We also need to hit him as much as we can, because he’s a big guy. Overall, I think we’re ready for the challenge. I’m excited for this game.”

[RELATED: Raiders' offense takes big hit with Brown out vs. Titans]

It’ll take the entire defensive unit playing disciplined football to slow Henry down. Give him an inch of space or leverage or poor tackling technique and he’ll take chunk yards by the mile.

“I just think you’ve got to be in good position,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “You’ve got to have eleven guys to the ball. You’ve got to play the blocks. First and foremost, you’ve got to be in the right spots, play the block, and then when he gets through there you’ve got to have eleven guys to the ball. He does a good job of trying to get extra yards, so we’ve got to put hats on him wherever he is, on his body as he’s trying to get those extra yards. We’ve got to make sure we get eleven to him.”

Raiders launch Josh Jacobs' NFL Rookie of the Year campaign online

Raiders launch Josh Jacobs' NFL Rookie of the Year campaign online

ALAMEDA – The Raiders have launched a campaign to help running back Josh Jacobs become the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

They have opened a website extolling his virtues. They have passed out buttons. They even have fullback and "chief of interior transportation" Alec Ingold giving a fireside chat about how awesome Jacobs has been in 2019.

The promotional materials may draw some extra attention, but Jacobs’ case is easy to make.

He has smashed every Raiders rookie rushing record. He exceeded 1,000 yards in his 12th game and will have huge totals even if he isn’t able to play Sunday against Tennessee. He’s formally questionable with a fractured shoulder he's been playing through since trucking Green Bay safety Adrian Amos in Week 7.

His numbers are pretty awesome. Jacobs has 218 carries 1,061 yards and seven touchdowns. That’s 4.9 yards per carry, and he ranks fifth in the NFL in total rushing yards. He also has another 18 receptions 146 yards.

The competition must always be considered, but he has to be the frontrunner after winning back-to-back rookie of the month awards.

Arizona's No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray is certainly a candidate, but the Cardinals don’t have many wins. Washington receiver Terry McLaurin and Baltimore wideout Marquise Brown have had good seasons, but they shouldn’t be considered serious competition here.

The Raiders haven’t had an offensive rookie of the year since Marcus Allen won it in 1982, and Jacobs has smashed Allen’s records from that strike-shortened year. Charles Woodson was the last rookie of the year on either side of the ball, winning the defensive award in 1998.

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Jacobs’ shoulder injury could hurt the campaign more than anything, especially if he misses a few games or gets shut down for the rest of the season if the playoffs become a distant pipe dream.

Outside of that, he should be the favorite to win the award heading down the stretch.