Raiders

Jon Gruden pinpoints several spots where Jordy Nelson's 'it' factor will help Raiders

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AP

Jon Gruden pinpoints several spots where Jordy Nelson's 'it' factor will help Raiders

The Raiders have signed or re-signed 22 free agents since mid-March. Jordy Nelson remains that school’s biggest fish.

The former Green Bay Packers receiver inked a two-year, $15 million deal with $13 million guaranteed. He’s the most recognizable on the massive signings list, and prompted the release of Michael Crabtree, a popular and productive, yet mercurial talent who signed with Baltimore.

It doesn’t matter that Nelson’s nearly 33, coming off a disappointing statistical season by his standards. Expectations surrounding him remain high.

Count head coach Jon Gruden among Nelson’s biggest fans. Armed with intelligence from receivers coach Edgar Bennett – he worked with Nelson in Green Bay – and experience covering him as a broadcaster, Gruden has great confidence Nelson can positively impact the Raiders’ on-field product and locker-room culture.

“He can still run,” Gruden said last week at the NFL owners meetings. “He’s a guy we can put on the backside of (triple receiver formations). He can win at the line of scrimmage against press coverage. He’s good after the catch.

“He brings a lot of ‘it’ factor we need. He’s unselfish. He’ll block. He’s excellent at uncovering in scramble drills. His work ethic and consistency is something that will benefit our football team. He’s one of the free agents who will play a huge role for us.”

Gruden expects Nelson to be an asset to 23-year old standout Amari Cooper. Gruden expects him to be a tone setter throughout the offense, and help establish heightened levels of accountability throughout that unit. Gruden also expects excellence working with Derek Carr despite just 53 catches for 482 yards (9.1 ypc) and six touchdowns last season in Green Bay.

“We’re not playing fantasy football,” Gruden said. “We know his production fell off. So did (the production of) Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. So did the Packers offense when Aaron Rodgers went down.”

Gruden has a point. Nelson had 60 percent of his receiving yards and all of his touchdowns in six games before Rodgers was lost with a broken collarbone.

The Raiders believe Nelson will fit in well and enhance the team while essentially taking Crabtree’s place (and paycheck) on the Raiders roster.

“’Crab’ was a good player, no doubt,” Gruden said. “With a lot of receivers, sometimes a change of scenery is a good thing. I think Crab’s in a good place. I think this is a good place for Nelson.

Raiders' Josh Jacobs has lofty receiving goal in his second NFL season

Raiders' Josh Jacobs has lofty receiving goal in his second NFL season

Raiders running back Josh Jacobs had a tremendous rookie season. If not for a late-season shoulder injury, he likely would have been named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

The Alabama product is firmly situated as the lead back in what should be an improved Raiders offense in the team's first season in Las Vegas. The Raiders added pass-catching weapons Henry Ruggs, Bryan Edwards and Nelson Agholor in the draft and free agency, and Jacobs himself intends to be an improved receiving threat for quarterback Derek Carr (h/t Raiders Wire.)

"I worked on a lot of things that receivers do,” Jacobs said Wednesday at training camp. "Not just running-back routes, like how to get off the line, how to stack on top once you get vertical. I’ve just been working on all the little technical things that receivers do. Just trying to implement that into my own style and bring what I can to the table."

"My goal is to catch at least 60 balls this year," he added.

[RELATED: Raiders' Ruggs shows potential with wild one-handed catch]

Jacobs hauled in 20 receptions for 166 yards as a rookie, so that goal would represent quite a significant jump if attained. He certainly has the athleticism and ability to increase his reception total, but given the additional receiving talents on the roster, he might find it difficult to get that kind of volume. After all, there are only so many balls to go around.

Nonetheless, that's the kind of attitude the Raiders surely love to see out of one of their core offensive building blocks. There's every reason to expect Jacobs will improve upon his rookie season, and not simply as a runner.

[RAIDERS TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Raiders' Nick Kwiatkoski embracing challenge as anchor of defense

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USATSI

Raiders' Nick Kwiatkoski embracing challenge as anchor of defense

Timing sometimes being everything in life, it was almost too perfect that Nick Kwiatkoski finally got his chance to start on a consistent basis over the last seven games of last season.

Circumstance had previously blocked that possibility. A talented young linebacker with sideline-to-sideline and three-down play capability, Kwiatkoski was the victim of an extraordinarily talented Chicago Bears defensive roster that was particularly strong at linebacker.

On many other teams, he would have been a starter. In Chicago, he was a reserve.

But then came the opportunity for consistent playing time when Danny Trevathan went down with an injury in November. Kwiatkoski was inserted into the lineup. And with free agency pending and his long-range prospects uncertain, it was finally his time to show he could be counted on as a full-time starter.

Read more at the Las Vegas Review-Journal