Raiders

No days off: Raiders offense looks to align stars on offense with bye week

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AP

No days off: Raiders offense looks to align stars on offense with bye week

ALAMEDA – The Raiders beat the Miami Dolphins 27-24 Sunday night, flew across country and were back at their Alameda training complex around 6:45 a.m. Monday morning.

The bye week technically started then. Vacation, however, did not.

The Raiders put in work through Thursday, with two practices and meetings to refine operations before starting the stretch run Nov. 19 against New England in Mexico City. Their main focus, however, was on rest and recovery.

The offense is under a microscope. It was supposed to be a juggernaut. A unit that finished sixth in total offense and seventh in scoring now sits at No. 15 in both categories. That isn’t good enough, and must be better if the Raiders (4-5) are to make a legitimate playoff run.

Offensive coordinator Todd Downing knows it. He’s squarely focused on improvement, and is using the bye to find ways his talented unit can consistently do better.

“(We’re) diving into a really, really extensive self-scout and looking for efficiency,” Downing said. “(We’re looking at) what we’re good at, what we’re not good at, seeing if we need to tweak some things we’re doing schematically.

“Also, it gives us an opportunity to emphasize some of the things we’re doing well or possibly even eliminate some stuff that we’re not doing so well. We’re definitely looking forward to diving into that and being able to come out of the week with some hard information that we can use.”

Offense must key a second-half run after causing first-half troubles. That unit averaged 13.4 points in five losses this season and 32.3 points in four wins, proving how reliant this team is on putting up points to win.

“It’s obvious that in some of the games that we lost, we were not able to put up some points,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said in a Friday meeting with local press. “We definitely need to get better there and find a way. We have some guys we feel like can get that thing done and that’s what they’re working on. We’ll get it done. We just have to be consistent in the way our approach is.”

The talent is there, however, it doesn’t always show up.

McKenzie didn’t want to evaluate Downing publicly on Friday, though it’s become a common occurrence on the outside. The rookie play caller has been criticized, though he deserves praise for excellent game plans in wins over Kansas City and Miami that seem like efforts to build on. Those victories sandwiched a disappointment in Buffalo, which points again to consistency issues.

The Dolphins plan was especially impressive, with encouraging signs that the Raiders may be able to crank things up for good down the stretch.

That’s mandatory in McKenzie’s mind, though the other units must also pick up some slack.

“We need to get better offensively and score some points and move the football and help the defense out,” McKenzie said. “And vice versa, the defense has to get the ball back for our offense. We have to continue to work together in every facet of our game, starting versus New England.”

How rookie Brandon Parker earned respect of Raiders vets right away

How rookie Brandon Parker earned respect of Raiders vets right away

ALAMEDA – The Raiders have high hopes for Brandon Parker. They used a third-round pick thinking the athletic tackle can be a long-term solution on the offensive line.

The North Carolina product wasn’t thinking about the future this spring. Parker was focused on learning a new system, working with new position coach Tom Cable and endearing himself to new teammates.

That last goal isn’t always easy, especially on the offensive line. Rookies are tested and pushed early regardless of position. Offensive linemen want to see you stand up for yourself and protect your own. That is, after all, their primary job description.

Parker did that on the first day of last week’s minicamp, pushed back against defensive lineman Fadol Brown in an exchange that evolved into a post-rep scuffle.

Coaches didn’t love it. It distracted from practice and a two-minute drill. Brown was penalized and ejected from practice for fighting. The offense got some extra yards by penalty and kicking a field goal.

The linemen, however, were pleased to see Parker refusing to back down.

"Brandon stood up for himself,” left guard Kelechi Osemele said. “That was really cool to see. You always want to see that, you worry about a guy’s toughness. He’s a tough kid. He’s been playing well. He’s really intelligent. Really smart.”

Veterans test newbies. Parker made a good impression there.

“That’s a positive impression you want to leave,” Parker said. “You want to show the veterans that you’re not afraid of anything, and they you’ll go to battle with them like they’ll go to battle with you. It’s more a matter of gaining respect than proving you’re the toughest guy out there.”

Scuffles don’t improve your standing with coaches. Studying hard, executing well and flashing athleticism certainly does, especially before the pads come on. That was Parker’s primary objective during the offseason program.

“I think I presented well,” Parker said. “I do a good job retaining information. I didn’t really have a whole lot of mistakes. The first couple days are a whirlwind and a faster pace, but after I got used to it and got my feet wet and started to show the veterans what I can really do, they kind of warmed up to me. It has been a smooth adjustment ever since.”

Parker has had hiccups along the way, including a mistake early in the offseason program. He expected Cable to come up and correct what went wrong. Somebody different came his way quickly.

“I looked back and Donald Penn was there and was one of the first to address me,” Parker said. “Having his experience and (veteran Breno Giacomini) on the team and around to give us technical pointers is great.”

Parker and first-round offensive tackle Kolton Miller received significant work during the offseason program, and were praised for their intelligence and athleticism. There’s plenty of development remaining, but the rookies seem to be off to a good start.

“They’re smart kids. They listen,” center Rodney Hudson said. “They’re learning and working and asking questions, which I think is always important for young guys. To ask questions about where they can do better, and both of those guys do that.”

Watching Geno Atkins has Maurice Hurst excited to earn role in Guenther's defense

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AP

Watching Geno Atkins has Maurice Hurst excited to earn role in Guenther's defense

ALAMEDA – Maurice Hurst is familiar with Paul Guenther’s defensive scheme and his role in it. That knowledge didn’t originate from the Raiders offseason program, or sleepless post-draft nights studying the playbook.

Hurst studied it first at the University of Michigan, focusing on one of planet Earth’s best at his position.

“I’ve been watching Geno Atkins since I was in college,” Hurst said Wednesday. “He’s always someone I’ve had my eye on.”

The veteran Cincinnati Bengal is an elite defensive tackle both stopping the run and pressuring quarterbacks as a three technique, working a scheme Guenther coordinated the last four seasons. Hurst shares similar size, traits and explosiveness off the ball, making Atkins a proper athletic role model. He's a good one, with 61 sacks and six Pro Bowls to his credit.

Time watching Hurst was extremely well spent. The Raiders drafted Hurst in the fifth round – a health issue torpedoed this first-round talent’s draft stock – and paired him with Guenther, who came to Alameda this offseason to coordinate Jon Gruden’s defense.

The Raiders certainly hope Hurst can be like Geno in time, because a dominant interior pass rusher is vital to Guenther’s scheme.

“(Atkins is) strong and he’s fast,” Hurst said. “Those traits translate well in the NFL. He’s able to be very disruptive and get after the quarterback. The three technique is the penetrator of our defense. You have to have someone like Geno to make the defense go. That’s a major part of Coach Guenther's scheme, and why he brought in me and (second-round defensive tackle) P.J. Hall. We have Mario (Edwards). We have a good group of guys who can do what he expects us to do.”

Hurst has immersed himself in Guenther’s scheme since joining the Silver and Black. The Michigan man prides himself on scheme study and proper application in practice, but his head start may have helped. Having an inside man didn’t hurt. Fellow Wolverines defensive lineman Ryan Glasgow was drafted by Cincinnati last season and watched film with Hurst during the offseason.

“I had a pretty good idea of what the defense was like and what coach was expecting,” Hurst said, “from watching film with Ryan and talking to him on FaceTime.”

Hurst likes Guenther’s scheme, and his possible role playing three technique – lining up off the guard’s outside shoulder – for the Raiders.

“It definitely gets me amped up,” Hurst said. “The Bengals, their best player was their three technique. That’s the focal point of their defense, and that’s what Coach Guenther is used to getting, and what he has got his whole time in the NFL (with Atkins). He drafted Geno, and it says something for him drafting me and P.J. I think he expects a lot from us and expects us to fill that role he had with the Bengals.”

Hurst and Hall join Edwards as interior linemen with pass-rush ability. It’s unfair to heap expectations on a rookie and the Raiders won’t, but there’s optimism Hurst will make an instant impact.

He can’t make one right now – he hasn’t put pads on as a Raider – but believes he made a solid first impression during the now concluded offseason program.

“I handle those situations pretty well,” Hurst said. “I try to keep my knowledge of the game up, and I’m always on top of my plays. I’m making sure I always stay true to myself and stay true to the game by working hard and putting in a lot of effort. That’s what can set you apart, being reliable.”