Norton Jr: Raiders designed plan to increase Smith's interception total

Norton Jr: Raiders designed plan to increase Smith's interception total

ALAMEDA – Sean Smith has two interceptions already this season. His next will mark a career high.

That seems crazy for such an adept cover man, but it’s a verified low interception count that might be rising now.

Smith had 10 interceptions in seven seasons entering his first as a Raider, never more than two in a campaign. It’s something his new coaches sought to change with a personalized plan designed to insure Smith gets more picks.

He has two since signing a four-year, $38.5 million contract with the Raiders, and coaches believe he’s primed for several more this year after letting too many past opportunities slips through his hands.

“Early on, we knew he had good instincts and good knowledge, but he would always drop the ball,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. “The ball would come to him and he’d drop it. We put him on a JUGS machine and threw the ball to him often and talked to him about how to catch.

“We set up certain drills for him, and we really individualized his drills to make him aware of what his weaknesses are. He really listened and it’s shown in his ability to get his hands on the ball.”

Smith has two interceptions that count, and picked off a two-point conversion in Baltimore. He let a few slip through his hands this preseason, proving his coaches’ point that he needed to improve in that area.

Last week’s pick against San Diego proves he’s made strides. Smith said he identified Travis Benjamin’s route early and anticipated Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers would favor a one-on-one matchup and go deep.

Smith made Benjamin seem open and quickly closed in after the ball was thrown. He undercut the route, made a leaping interception and returned it 27 yards.

It was a highlight in a solid three-game stretch. Smith has two interceptions and three passes defensed in that span, where passer ratings are exceptionally low when targeting his man. Quarterbacks have completed 8-of-19 passes for no touchdowns and the aforementioned pair of picks against Smith.

That’s a stark improvement over the first two games, when he allowed a touchdown and got benched at New Orleans and allowed two scores against Atlanta.

“Sean is a competitor, and is really prideful about his work,” Norton said. “You can’t get to this level without caring about what you do. He is new to all of us, and he wanted us to know that wasn’t him. He wanted to really show that he’s a really good football player. He is a really good player, and it comes down to consistency and working hard.”

Smith can extend this quality stretch against his former team when the Raiders host Kansas City on Sunday.

NFL Draft 2019: Raiders pick Clelin Ferrell No. 4, add to pass rush

NFL Draft 2019: Raiders pick Clelin Ferrell No. 4, add to pass rush

The Raiders have selected defensive end Clelin Ferrell with the No. 4 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. 

Ferrell, 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, starred for three seasons at Clemson. As a junior, he recorded 11.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss on the undefeated national champions. 

Over his three-year college career, Ferrell finished with 27 sacks and 50.5 tackles for loss. 

Though he grew up in Virginia, Ferrell isn't new to Bay Area football. He mirrors his game after former 49ers and Raiders star pass rusher Aldon Smith. His plan is to be what Smith never lived up to be in his derailed NFL career. 

“I know his career didn’t pan out the way a lot of people wanted, but (he’s) the reason I wear No. 99,” Ferrell said Saturday during College Football National Championship media day at SAP Center. “I feel like I could be … and I don't know if anything’s over with [Smith's career] -- that’s still in the works -- but I feel like I can be what he should've been and where he should be in his career right now.

“I know he has had some setbacks, and I always pray that he'll return to the level he was. I always looked up to him and his game."

More to come...

NFL draft rumors: Dwayne Haskins moved up Raiders' board, is option at No. 4

NFL draft rumors: Dwayne Haskins moved up Raiders' board, is option at No. 4

The 2019 NFL Draft is less than 12 hours away and no one has any idea what is going to happen when commissioner Roger Goodell steps to the podium.

While there is a ton of intrigue surrounding the Arizona Cardinals, who hold the No. 1 overall pick, a lot of questions also surround what the Raiders plan to do at No. 4 overall.

For months it has appeared that Oakland would take Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams if he is still on the board, but there have been a number of leaks in the past week that suggest the Raiders have other plans.

Some have reported that head coach Jon Gruden loves Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray. The Raiders could either try to trade up to grab the Heisman Trophy winner or cross their fingers that the Cardinals pass so they can snatch him at No. 4.

But what if the Silver and Black have their eye on a different top-tier quarterback?

Reports leaked last week that Oakland has been "super impressed" by Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, and NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported Thursday morning that Haskins has moved up the Raiders' draft board and is an option at No. 4.

This is most certainly a draft day smokescreen from the Raiders.

But with news leaking that Washington owner Daniel Snyder has taken over the team's first-round approach in search of a quarterback, it's possible Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock are trying to force the Redskins, who reportedly love Haskins, to trade up in order to get their man. 

It could be that the Raiders assume Williams, Murray and Nick Bosa will go in the top three, leaving them with a choice between taking defensive tackle Ed Oliver or trading down.

The Raiders likely could get a haul for the No. 4 pick, and if the top three guys are off the board when they go on the clock, it would be a wise move to trade down in order to recoup more assets.

[RELATED: Follow all NFL draft rumors, news and notes here]

Of course, maybe they do really like Haskins and the draft will go off the rails four picks in.