Raiders

QB Cook tasked with helping Raiders prep for Newton's unique style

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QB Cook tasked with helping Raiders prep for Newton's unique style

ALAMEDA – Connor Cook is practicing in style this week. The Raiders rookie quarterback has been rocking the high shorts, wristbands, hi-tops and compression calf sleeves that, when paired with a silver No. 1 jersey, Cook a looks little bit like Cam Newton. Such homage is a regular occurrence for a scout team quarterback charged with approximating the opposing quarterback.

“It’s been a running thing throughout the whole season,” Cook said. “Whatever team we play, I try to dress up like that guy. … He has the swag in practice, we’re trying have swag like him.”

The look isn’t that tough to copy. Emulating Newton’s won’t be so easy.

Newton’s a hulk at his position, with a 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame that makes him tough to bring down. Combine that with a cannon arm and fleet feet to form a unique talent who has become one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.

“He’s a championship quality player,” Raiders edge rusher Khalil Mack said. “He’s someone you have to account for. It’s going to be a big challenge for us.”

The league’s reigning MVP poses unique challenges on the Raiders defense, one that has proven at times to be vulnerable to misdirection and play-action. Newton executes both concepts well, with running ability required to make multiple options possible.

Newton has been good, yet less than his Superman self. He has completed 56.5 percent of his passes for 2,168 yards, 11 touchdowns and seven interception. He has also been sacked 25 times and has taken some vicious hits. He has also lost a fumble.

He remains a considerable threat who can take control of a game and never let go. The Raiders have great respect for that.

“He’s in such control of what he’s doing,” Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. “He understands football. He understands his strengths and weaknesses. He’s a really good football player and there’s no question you have to really do your homework. You have to really be disciplined, responsible football to be successful versus this team.”

Part of that is having a solid game plan and get some practice reps against his playing style. That’s no easy task for Cook, who is a much different size and prefers to stay in the pocket.

“Not nearly as big as Cam,” Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said in jest. “Doesn’t throw nearly as hard. Yet. He’s getting in the weight room and working on that, (laughter). But, our guys are always trying to give the defense a real accurate portrayal and an accurate look. That’s Connor’s role this year, is to prepare the defense to the best of his ability.”

Antonio Brown to Raiders? Jon Gruden a 'big fan,' John Clayton says

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AP

Antonio Brown to Raiders? Jon Gruden a 'big fan,' John Clayton says

The hot rumor right now is Steelers All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown being traded to the 49ers.

Michael Irvin wants it. Jerry Rice wants it. George Kittle wants it. The oddsmakers have the 49ers as the favorites to land Brown. Even Brown himself wants it, according to Rice.

But what about Brown to the Raiders?

According to former ESPN analyst John Clayton, it shouldn't be ruled out.

“I think, actually, Oakland would have a better chance to do something because they have three [first-round] draft choices," Clayton said Tuesday on 95.7 The Game. "And, of course, I think you could pretty well anticipate that the Steelers would like a No. 1.”

The Raiders hold the No. 4, No. 24 and No. 27 overall picks in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft in April.

Clayton also eluded to Brown having a fan in the Raiders' building.

“I could see — the Raiders have three first-round picks — and I think Jon Gruden would be interested in getting a guy like Antonio Brown," Clayton said. "Because I know he was a big fan of Antonio’s work ethic and talent.”

Brown has been the subject of trade rumors since the end of the regular season. He reportedly got into a heated argument with a teammate, skipped practices leading up to Pittsburgh's season finale and then didn't play in that game.

Last Thursday, Steelers owner Art Rooney II said the team has no plans to release Brown, but a trade would be an option.

Raiders defensive depth chart: Upgrades mandatory at several key spots

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USATSI

Raiders defensive depth chart: Upgrades mandatory at several key spots

The Raiders have the salary-cap flexibility and draft picks required to significantly upgrade a talent-deficient defense. That unit was 30th in rushing, 19th against the pass and dead freaking last in points allowed.

Coordinator Paul Guenther needs more frontline talent and depth on his side of the ball, though there are a few members of the 2018 defense that will be counted on again next season.

Let’s take a look at the defensive starting lineup up as it stands heading into the offseason, and whether the Raiders can write those players in pencil, ink or a series of question marks where a name should be:

Defensive line

DE: ???
NT: Justin Ellis (ink)
DT: Maurice Hurst (ink)
DE: Arden Key (pencil)
Sub-package help: DT P.J. Hall (pencil)

The Raiders will be looking for upgrades across the defensive line, making it hard to put many names down with certainty. Both edge-rushing spots are up for grabs, with one vacant and likely filled by a veteran or high draft pick.

Key’s at the other end spot right now, but another import could take that spot as well. The LSU product could be an impactful situational pass rusher while developing skills, but was forced to play beyond that role. Dialing things back might be in his best interest.

The Raiders like Hurst a great deal, and have Ellis ready for the base defense. Another interior lineman could join the rotation, or even compete for serious snaps. The Raiders must get better up front, especially off the edges, and should spend significant capital to do so.

Linebackers

SLB: Marquel Lee (pencil)
MLB: ???
WLB: Tahir Whitehead (ink)
Jason Cabinda and Nick Morrow are available – Cabinda’s an exclusive rights free agent but should be back -- to assume the middle linebacker spot they manned last season. Both guys had solid moments working in a platoon, but an upgrade seems to be the right call here.

The Raiders could use a higher draft pick to get a middle linebacker, or bring in a veteran in free agency. Competition seems a necessary addition at the very least, though outright presumptive starter is the way to go. Lee performed well after moving to the strong side from the middle, but that position doesn’t play a ton with defenses in sub packages so often. His name’s still in pencil in case the Raiders snag an athletic edge rushing type who would play strongside linebacker and move to the line in sub packages.

The Raiders defense has lots of issues, and Whitehead isn’t anywhere near the top of the list. The veteran should return to the three-down role he held in 2018.

Secondary

CB: Gareon Conley (ink)
FS: ???
SS: Karl Joseph (ink)
CB: ???
Slot: Nick Nelson (pencil)
Conley will own one cornerback spot. Daryl Worley is expected to man the other, but we can't put him down yet. He’s a restricted free agent this offseason, and while the Raiders want to bring him back, there’s no telling what the open market will bear and whether the Raiders will match any offer or offer a high-round contract tender. There is a strong, belief, however, that Worley will be back.

Joseph showed great improvement down the stretch, and should be given an opportunity to develop further and bring physicality to the defense while attempting to be more of a big-play maker.

Marcus Gilchrist and Reggie Nelson are unrestricted free agentd and Erik Harris is restricted. Harris will likely return, but the Raiders should still look for an upgrade here in the starting lineup, either through free agency or the draft. ... Coaches like Nelson, who struggled some after losing valuable development time recovering from an offseason knee injury.

The Raiders could bring in some competition there, even as cornerback depth with Rashaan Melvin not expected back. A versatile corner could challenge and/or push Nelson over the spring and summer.