Notes: McGee flashing interior pass rush Raiders crave

Notes: McGee flashing interior pass rush Raiders crave

ALAMEDA – The Raiders sack leader is not a guy you’d expect. It’s defensive tackle Stacy McGee, a fourth-year veteran primarily known as a rotational run stuffer who has shown greater pass-rush ability this season.

He has 2.5 sacks in the first five games, including 1.5 in Sunday’s 34-31 victory over the San Diego Chargers. He also had four tackles and two forced fumbles in that game, by far his best statistical showing as a pro.

“Stacy’s a guy who has done some great things for us,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said in his Monday press conference. “He has flashed rushes and been really close on a couple this year, and it was nice to see him finish some.”

It’s something McGee has been working on, to be a more productive interior pass rusher.

“It’s about continually rushing,” McGee said. “Even when I think I’m beat, I have to just keep going and going and going until I get to the quarterback. It’s starting to pay off for me.”

McGee has gotten better push on the inside, something the Raiders need with so much attention paid to Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin on the outside.

“We’re going to get a lot of attention with the outside guys,” Del Rio said. “We look forward to getting Mario (Edwards Jr.) back at some point, which we will.

“Guys like Stacy and (Jihad Ward) have to step up and be a presence in the middle for us to have the kind of rush we’re looking for.”

Edwards Jr. on track? The Raiders miss defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr., who has been on injured reserve since the season began. Del Rio was asked about his progress, and said he believes the second-year pro is on track for a return near midseason.

Edwards Jr. is eligible to play starting in Week 9 against the Denver Broncos. He’s allowed to practice starting next week in preparation for game action.

“Whenever he’s eligible to practice and all that and he’s ready to go, we’ll get him started,” Del Rio said.

Edwards Jr. suffered a hip injury in the preseason opener at Arizona, and is expected to be the one player the Raiders designate to return off of injured reserve.

Carr change play on 4th down?: The Raiders went for it on a crucial fourth down late in the third quarter against San Diego, and Carr didn't run the play as called. That's what NFL Network's Mike Silver reported, that he checked out to the play everyone saw, that became a 21-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree. Del Rio played coy on the topic in his press conference.

"He may have," Del Rio said with a smile. "He does have the freedom to do that. That goes back to the whole trust thing. As he’s made good decisions and made accurate throws, and in those situations, we give him more leeway to do those things." 

Injury update: Del Rio said he’s hopeful that running back Latavius Murray (toe) and weakside linebacker Malcolm Smith can return to play the Kansas City Chiefs next week.

Del Rio sounded optimistic about Smith’s return.

“I would anticipate getting him back this week,” Del Rio said. “We went into the game yesterday trying not to use him if we could, but he was available in an emergency role. We got through the game without having to put him in.”

Too many pre-snap penalties: Pre-snap penalties shouldn’t happen much at home, especially on offense. That wasn’t the case on Sunday, when four of the team’s six penalties were false starts. Another came before the snap with defensive lineman Denico Autry lined up in the neutral zone.

“The pre-snap penalties, don’t have a lot of patience for those,” Del Rio said. “We have zero tolerance for those. We’ve got to clean those up. Pre-snap penalties get me going there.”

Vontaze Burfict wants Antonio Brown beef behind him with both on Raiders now


Vontaze Burfict wants Antonio Brown beef behind him with both on Raiders now

Things might get awkward at the start of Raiders OTAs in May.

That's when new teammates Vontaze Burfict and Antonio Brown will share a locker room for the first time.

Burfict (Cincinnati Bengals) and Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers) played on opposite sides of one of the AFC North's fiercest rivalries, and things came to a head in the 2015 postseason. That's when Burfict knocked Brown out of the playoffs with a dirty, illegal hit to the head, and received a three-game NFL suspension. 

But Burfict, who signed a one-year contract with the Raiders on Tuesday, told reporters in a conference call he isn't concerned about any lingering tension between himself and the talented wide receiver.

"We're on the same team, with one goal. It's all positive, man," Burfict said. "He's a great player, he's gonna be a Hall of Famer one day, and honestly I'm gonna approach him just like I do all my other teammates. I'll introduce myself, all that good stuff. ... There's nothing negative over here, man. We're on the same team, everything's [about] trying to win a championship over here."

The Raiders traded for Brown earlier this month, and he tweeted Tuesday that he had already reached out to Burfict.

That's a marked departure from the ex-Steelers star. When former Pittsburgh teammate Juju Smith-Schuster crushed Burfict with a vicious block, "no one enjoyed [it] more than Brown," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook wrote Tuesday. In the aftermath of Burfict's hit, Brown made his displeasure with the play clear to Cook.

“I feel like guys don’t want to stop me no more,” Brown told Cook in early 2016. “They want to take me out. They want to kill me. They want to steal my dreams. They want to ruin me. They want to end me.”

[RELATED: Why Quinnen Williams remains so humble before NFL draft]

Burfict, for his part, sounded more than ready to bury the hatchet Tuesday. He said he'll keep an open mind when he meets Brown, as well as the rest of his new teammates.

"Honestly, we might [end up being] the closest friends on the team, you know what I mean," Burfict said. "So, just gotta go along with it, and I can't wait to meet him."

If Brown's tweet is any indication, he feels the same way. 

Vontaze Burfict wastes no time reuniting with Raiders DC Paul Guenther


Vontaze Burfict wastes no time reuniting with Raiders DC Paul Guenther

Vontaze Burfict was cut by the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday, and immediately called his mother. The veteran linebacker explained the situation, ended the call and then made another one.

“The second person I called was Pauly G,” Burfict said. “He didn’t pick up. I think I called him like seven times straight.”

Those who know Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther best call him “Pauly G.” Count Burfict firmly in that class.

That’s why Burfict didn’t last long on the open market. The Raiders signed him Tuesday night to a one-year contract reportedly worth up to $5 million, less than 24 hours after he was released.

A Guenther-Burfict reunion seemed inevitable because of the veteran’s expertise running the coordinator's defensive scheme and a clear bond on and off the field.

Player and coach have a close relationship dating to Burfict’s rookie season in Cincinnati. Guenther was Burfict's position coach in 2012, and the two fostered a strong working relationship during a long-night cram session before a Sept. 23 game against Washington. Thomas Howard hurt his knee, Burfict recalled, and Guenther told him he would start and play out of position. Burfict was a middle linebacker by trade, but the Bengals needed him on the outside.

“It was like 8 p.m., and he took his time out to set the trash cans up and go through the whole playbook over like two hours with me,” Burfict said in a conference call after he signed with the Raiders. “I got like nine tackles that game, and I just looked at him and said, ‘I appreciate that. You took your time out when you could’ve just gone home.' Ever since then, it has been a close relationship to where I know his kids and his wife. We go out to dinner. It’s a good time to have a good relationship like that with a coach.”

That should help Guenther’s system run smoothly, an important factor with so much youth on defense. Burfict can be an on-field coordinator if he can stay healthy and out of trouble with the NFL.

Burfict said he’s fully fit after concussion problems last season and health issues in recent years. The NFL has disciplined him several times for vicious, illegal after-the-whistle hits that some consider dirty. That includes a nasty blow dropped on former Steelers receiver and new Raiders teammate Antonio Brown that generated plenty of negative press.

[RELATED: Watch AB's hype video that's sure to fire up Raiders fans]

Burfict doesn’t consider his style poor form.

“I’m not a dirty player,” Burfict said. “I play a physical position at middle linebacker. I can’t go in there playing patty-cake. If I do that, I’m going to get run over. I have 300-plus-pound linemen coming in trying to block me. If I play soft, I’m not doing my job. … I play a physical position where I have to put my jockstrap on right, put my cleats on right and be ready to play physical.”