Raiders

Jared Cook's rare size-speed combination unleashed in Raiders scheme

Jared Cook's rare size-speed combination unleashed in Raiders scheme

DENVER – Jared Cook loved the Raiders game plan heading into Monday night’s season opener. Head coach Jon Gruden wanted to utilize Jared Cook’s rare combination of size and speed to exploit mismatches with L.A. Rams defenders.

Want to cover him with a linebacker? Cook’s gonna win that race. Want to cover him with a cornerback? Cook's superior size will win out. Even safeties struggle with the combination of size and speed that left Rams safety John Johnson to do most of the work against Cook. Gruden believed his man would dominate that battle and others when matched up in single coverage.

Gruden was certainly right. Cook had nine catches for 180 yards. That’s a franchise record for receiving yards by a tight end.

“I was excited about my role in the game plan, but you never expect to go for 180,” Cook said Friday. “It felt good to produce and get all those targets, but the stats don’t matter when you lose.”

Raiders coaches have said Jared Cook and running back Jalen Richard were primary targets against the Rams based upon matchups and areas of Rams defensive deficiencies. Other skill players will be featured in other games.

He was heavily featured in some contests last season, and was a relative nonfactor in others. Cook wants to consistently contribute to the passing game, and run roughshod over defenses if too much attention is paid to Amari Cooper or Jordy Nelson.

“That’s the goal, to find matchups you can exploit,” Cook said. “I feel comfortable with what I have been asked to do by the coaching staff.”

Gruden’s moving Cook around the formation, using him as a roving chess piece. He played 64 snaps against the Rams and, per analytics site Pro Football Focus, he spend 30 as an in-line tight end, 20 in the slot and 14 out wide as a receiver.

He’s fast enough to play a pure receiver position, tough enough to block for the run and pass.

“We can put him anywhere we want,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “The great thing about Jared is that he is so tough and physical that he can get in and block also. So, we are not one-dimensional when he is in the game. That’s a big point for us because if he’s in and every time it’s a pass that would be easy for coordinators. For him to be able to play tight end and then go play receiver in the slot or out wide is big time for us.”

Gruden can move him around, making it tough for opponents to cover him to their liking. The Broncos have made a point to slow him down during Sunday’s AFC West clash with the Silver and Black.

“He has size, he can run and he has great hands,” Denver defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. “He’s basically a receiver playing tight end. He’s hard to matchup – a linebacker, safety of a corner – because of all his attributes. We’re going to do a little bit of everything against him. Hopefully it’s successful.”

Cook would prefer it isn’t. He has enjoyed working with Gruden since the spring, and remains excited about his role in the offense. He believes steadily making a significant impact is possible working with Gruden’s creative offensive mind.

“I’ve been moved around a lot in my career,” Cook said. “It’s something we’ll continue to do here as we move forward. I’ll do anything to help the team win, but I love the role and the opportunities I have been given in this system.”

Raiders' early 2019 schedule easier after Colts QB Andrew Luck retires

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Raiders' early 2019 schedule easier after Colts QB Andrew Luck retires

The Raiders’ brutal early season schedule just got a little easier.

They still will start 2019 with AFC West home games against the Broncos and Chiefs, followed by a trip to Minnesota and then another flight to Indianapolis.

A Week 4 contest played at 10 a.m. PT in a loud domed stadium is never easy, but the Raiders sneaking out with a win certainly is more probable now after Colts quarterback Andrew Luck surprised many by retiring Saturday.

The Stanford alum and former No. 1 overall NFL draft pick was a Hall of Fame talent, but injuries piled up and prompted his shocking decision.

While the Colts certainly could make changes at quarterback, Jacoby Brissett is the starter there right now. He hasn’t been great in his opportunities, with a 5-12 record as a starter.

Or maybe the Colts will trade for another passer — Mike Glennon or Nathan Peterman, anyone? — but they will be reeling heading into the season without their fearless leader.

The Colts still are a good team, with a tough offensive line, speed at receiver and a strong run game led by Marlon Mack. Their defense is better, too, so the Colts won’t be a pushover even with Luck gone.

[RELATED: Who won? Evaluating Raiders' position battles as preseason winds down]

But there’s no arguing Indy is easier to handle without Luck, who had 705 passing yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions in three games against the Raiders. Luck lost to Oakland only once, in the fateful 2016 contest in which Raiders quarterback Derek Carr broke his leg.

The Raiders’ early schedule still is brutal — there’s a game in London against Chicago the week after the Colts game — but there’s a much more winnable game on it now.

Who won? Evaluating Raiders' position battles as preseason winds down

Who won? Evaluating Raiders' position battles as preseason winds down

The Raiders have, at long last, reached the preseason’s final stretch. A handful of practices and Thursday’s largely inconsequential game at Seattle remain before final cuts. Coaches have been chipping away for a little while, but that’s when preparation for the regular-season opener begins in earnest.

There were roles to fill and a depth chart to set this summer in training camp and over the preseason slate, but most position battles have been settled. Some were settled quickly, others took most of camp and new ones emerged during the Raiders’ time in Napa. We’ll update those position battles, declaring victors in some instances and identifying leaders in those still undecided.

Let’s go over pre-camp position battles turned out before moving on to some newer ones:

SLOT RECEIVER

Hunter Renfrow vs. Ryan Grant

Renfrow took control of this battle early, with an impressive start to camp. He proved reliable, with precise routes and soft hands. He built trust with Derek Carr, while Grant faded into the background. The veteran didn’t lie down, putting solid practices together against the Rams backed by two quality preseason performances.

It’s possible both guys make the roster, though Grant might be trade bait for the right opportunity. The back end of the receiver group remains in the air, but Renfrow’s a roster lock after giving opponents fits in camp.

Victor: Renfrow

BACKUP QUARTERBACK

Mike Glennon vs. Nathan Peterman

This one was tight early, but Glennon pulled away in Napa and seems to have the No. 2 spot locked up after largely effective preseasons. That doesn’t mean Peterman has been bad, or is off the roster soon.

The 25-year old has been solid in preseason games and improved in practices while gaining confidence, and could well prompt the Raiders to keep three quarterbacks. He has better long-term upside and head coach Jon Gruden might not be ready to give up on his pet project.

Victor: Glennon

LINEBACKER

Brandon Marshall vs. Marquel Lee

There was some question how Marshall would fare after missing offseason program practices, especially coming off injuries, but the veteran has been steady while getting into tip-top football shape.

He has worked almost exclusively with the first unit in camp, with Lee as the strongside backup. He has gotten some work in the middle, where he has played the longest.

Marshall worked with Vontaze Burfict in the sub packages, but Tahir Whitehead has done some of that lately. It’s uncertain at this point who comes out when slot cornerback Lamarcus Joyner comes in, but Marshall has been a first-unit fixture heading into the regular season.

Victor: Marshall

TIGHT END

Derek Carrier vs. Luke Willson

The top end of the depth chart was set in the offseason. Darren Waller is the primary receiving tight end, someone who moves around the formation. Foster Moreau was the primary in-line blocker. Finding the third member of the fraternity was tough.

Carrier looks like the guy, especially after an excellent touchdown catch against Arizona and the fact he didn’t play with starters and important role players skipped Thursday’s preseason game in Canada.

Odds-on favorite: Carrier

PUNTER

Johnny Townsend vs. A.J. Cole

This one ended fast, with Townsend waived shortly after the first preseason game. Cole ran away with it in Napa practice periods and in games, showing power and the hang time that helps punt coverage.

Cole was consistent while Townsend was erratic and largely ineffective, prompting the Raiders to punt last year’s fifth-round draft pick for an undrafted kid signed after a rookie minicamp tryout.

Victor: Cole

Some position battles over specific regular-season roles have emerged over the course of training camp. Let’s take a closer look at those …

FULLBACK

Keith Smith vs. Alec Ingold

This one was created by circumstance. Smith repaired a torn meniscus just days before training camp, giving Ingold opportunities aplenty. The undrafted free agent took full advantage in games and practices.

Smith returned with a vengeance during Thursday’s preseason game vs. Green Bay, scoring a touchdown while making his presence known. He’s a respected core special teams player who won’t give up without a fight.

The Raiders should be able to get Ingold onto the practice squad -- few teams require fullbacks anymore -- so the Silver and Black can keep both guys in the building.

Odds-on favorite: Smith

SWING TACKLE

Brandon Parker vs. David Sharpe

Parker seemed to have this gig locked up during the offseason program, but he slipped up a few times this summer and Sharpe has played tough despite dealing with injuries. The Raiders have both players working on the right and left, as they try to identify a super sub on the flanks.

Parker still seems like the guy. He’s bigger and athletic with room to improve, and the Raiders also spent a third-round pick on him just last year.

Favorite: Parker

RIGHT GUARD

Jordan Devey vs. Denver Kirkland

Gabe Jackson’s knee injury created a vacancy in the starting lineup, temporarily at least. Gruden said interior super sub Devey would get first crack at the position, and has taken ownership of it thus far. He sat while Kirkland played on Thursday, another sign that a hierarchy has been formed.

The Raiders could shake things up before or after final cuts if Devey doesn’t inspire confidence.

[RELATED: Antonio Brown dances with students at De La Salle football game]

Denzelle Good’s also a factor here, especially if he can prove healthy after missing most spring and summer work recovering from back surgery.

Odds-on favorite: Devey

NOTE: You don't see a discussion on the sixth receiver or whether the Raiders will keep a fifth running back or an extra lineman here. That comes later. Such roster math fits into our final 53-man roster projection, which will come out early Monday morning.