Raiders' 2019 success could hinge on these five second-year players


Raiders' 2019 success could hinge on these five second-year players

The Raiders need instant impact from their rookie class. Equally important, however, is a significant improvement from last year’s newbies. That crew was thrown into the fire in 2018, especially after a veteran exodus in the season’s second half.

Head coach Jon Gruden has said he needs his second-year pros to make a significant jump in performance in 2019, a common event after players get a full offseason without the pre-draft process deterring from their long-term goals.

“I want to see our second-year players play better,” Gruden said in March. “They got to play a lot last year. Big deal. I want to see them play great this year.”

Here’s a look at five second-year players who must show well to strengthen this team and take some burden off the rookie class:

DE Arden Key

The LSU product only had one sack last year despite significant playing time. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther believes he could’ve had eight with better finishing.

“I’m going to look back and think, 'I should have had more sacks,'" Key said late last year. “I could have had more, but it’s just a matter of inches at this level and when look back on film I can see where and why I missed them.”

Key doesn’t have great size at 238 pounds, but he has excellent bend and length and agility to get around blockers. He was asked to play most downs after Khalil Mack was traded and Bruce Irvin was cut, despite entering his rookie year expecting to be a situational pass rusher. That might suit his strengths in Year 2, and he could thrive coming in fresh on obvious passing downs. Key has an array of pass-rush moves, but must further hone his skills and finish plays strong.

The Raiders need production from the defensive end spot, where the No. 4 overall pick, Clelin Ferrell, will occupy one spot. Key and run defender Josh Mauro could split time on the other side, though 2019 fourth-rounder Maxx Crosby is a wild card in this equation. It can’t be assumed Crosby will contribute right away, leaving Key to create pressure opposite Ferrell and form a young, formidable pass-rush combo.

LT Kolton Miller

The Raiders were hell-bent on taking a first-round offensive tackle in 2018, and ended up with the UCLA product at No. 15 overall. Miller has athleticism to spare, which was on display at times last season. A balky knee made those times rare. He suffered partial knee ligament tears early in the year, battled through the chronic issue and was consequently overmatched on a regular basis.

Miller allowed 16 sacks last season, several in tight bunches, and had some run-blocking issues. He continued to play – the Raiders didn’t have any other legitimate options – showing great toughness and resolve despite some disappointing results.

Nobody needed this offseason more than Miller, who has regained health and reportedly gained significant lean mass and bulk. That will help him weather a second season and provide stability on the offense’s left flank.

The Raiders have chosen to leave Miller on the left – he has experience on the right, but struggled some there in college – even after adding high-priced signing Trent Brown.

Having Miller on the left and Brown on the right is the preferred alignment, though there are backup plans. The Raiders anticipate a big jump from Miller in 2019, where he can live up to his potential after a difficult rookie year.

DT P.J. Hall

The Sam Houston State product was drafted ahead of position-mate Maurice Hurst, but played second fiddle to him last season. Hall was hurt early in the year and, certainly needed development coming from a small school, but his interior pass rush ability will be required for improved defensive line play in 2019. He could work alongside Hurst on passing downs, to use his power and low center of gravity to break pockets down from the inside.

Hall can be a solid run defender as well. The Raiders didn’t add a defensive tackle this season, so they need better from the guys they have. There’s great optimism surrounding Hurst’s prospects. Having Hall take a step up as well will help a defensive front that has struggled to create pressure from anywhere recently.

P Johnny Townsend

The Raiders used a fifth-round pick to secure Townsend’s services, and got a punter who took some rookie lumps. His 38.3-yard net average ranked 30th last year, and he didn’t show the pinpoint accuracy he was known for at the University of Florida.

Townsend was given the job last year, but he’ll have some competition this year. The Raiders signed experienced punter Drew Kaser but have cut him already in favor of N.C. State rookie A.J. Cole, who will battle for the job this offseason and in training camp.

Townsend could well be a productive NFL punter, but he must show improvement and consistency to keep his gig.

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LB Jason Cabinda

The Raiders are hoping Vontaze Burfict can resurrect his career reuniting with Paul Guenther in Oakland following an injury-riddled 2018 campaign. He will start if healthy and will run the defense from the middle linebacker spot.

Burfict hasn’t played a full season since 2013 and hasn’t played more than 11 games during that stretch, hindered by injuries and suspensions.

That means Cabinda will likely be called upon to play an important role at some point. He’d better be ready for it, anyway. An undrafted rookie last year who started on the practice squad, Cabinda worked his way into the defensive rotation later in the season.

Development is required, and Cabinda must do so while learning the system from Burfict and prepping for when his time comes.

Doug Martin ready, willing to mentor Raiders first-round pick Josh Jacobs

Doug Martin ready, willing to mentor Raiders first-round pick Josh Jacobs

Doug Martin has spent most of his career as a feature running back, with some standout seasons to show for it. His career entered another phase last season, when he joined the Raiders knowing full well he’d be a backup.

Marshawn Lynch was the primary option when he signed up, and steady carries proved hard to come by as an understudy even with head coach/offensive play caller Jon Gruden’s propensity for using multiple backs. Lynch deserved the workload he got, and Jalen Richard was a change-of-pace back off the bench.

Martin went full-time after Lynch’s season-ending groin injury, and churned out a respectable 4.2 yards per carry. He wasn’t able to find another solid opportunity in free agency, and was unemployed when the Raiders drafted Josh Jacobs and signed Isaiah Crowell.

Crowell’s torn Achilles’ tendon brought Martin back to the Silver and Black, a second time with zero allusions of being the feature back. He came here to counsel Jacobs, and take over in an unexpected pinch.

He was frank about that fact after Tuesday’s OTA session.

“Josh Jacobs, he’s a good kid with good character,” Martin said. “You all heard his story, I read up on it myself. I commend him for being as strong as he is, and that being said I came here to mentor, push him, show him that I’ve been in the league eight years, so I am a vet now. I can’t believe it, but that’s the case and so I’m here to just be that role model for him.

"If he has any questions, I’m here for him to ask them. Like I said, he has good character, but at the same time he looks like he can just run you over, so he’s going to be great for the team.”

Martin definitely wanted a shot at steady carries, especially after leading the team with 723 rushing yards and four touchdowns primarily as a first-and-second-down back.

A Raiders reunion seemed likely at first, though the sides couldn’t agree on terms and Martin remained a free agent deep into the offseason. That was worrisome, but Martin insists it didn’t cause great consternation.

“If something doesn’t go your way, you just have to stay optimistic, and I was being optimistic with the situation,” Martin said. “I knew I was going to be somewhere and do good things, but it’s just crazy how things folded out. I wish happy healing to Isaiah Crowell for his Achilles' (tendon injury), but, when there is chaos you just make a positive out of negative and you just got to stay optimistic about it.”

Martin's back with the Raiders, understanding his role as mentor and backup capable of playing well on early downs.

This mentor/protégé partnership could work, considering how much Jacobs and Martin have in common. Both guys were first-round picks, with the Raiders adding Jacobs at No. 24 this year, and Tampa Bay taking Martin at No. 31 in 2012.

They also have similar builds, with Jacobs standing 5-foot-10, 220 pounds and Martin at 5-9, 223. Both guys can slash through the interior, with enough speed to pop good runs outside.

Martin had nearly 2,000 yards of total offense (on 368 touches!!) as a rookie, a sum the Raiders would gladly take from Jacobs early on.

Nearly a decade separates them and the Raiders are looking to get younger across the board, making this Jacobs’ time to shine.

[RELATED: Jacobs is Raiders rookie in best position to succeed]

This will be the first time Martin has assumed a mentorship role, but he’s ready for it.

“It’s not something I’m used to but it’s something that I want to do,” Martin said. “I’ve been in the league eight years. I’ve been through the whole spectrum of good to bad in this league and, if I can teach somebody, if I can teach Josh on what to do, what not to do, how to stay in on the narrow path and just keep his eye on the goal, then I’m here for that.

"And, yeah, I’m grateful.”

NFL rumors: Raiders-Packers to play Week 3 preseason game in Winnipeg


NFL rumors: Raiders-Packers to play Week 3 preseason game in Winnipeg

Buckle up, Winnipeg, Jon Gruden and the Raiders are coming to town.

It was reported in March that the Raiders were looking to play one of their four preseason games in Canada and now it appears they have found a site for that game.

The Raiders will play the Green Bay Packers in Winnipeg for their third preseason game, Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press reported Friday.

The Raiders have been looking to move one of their preseason games for some time, to mitigate some of the increased rent from their 2019 lease with Oakland Coliseum, and have honed on playing north of the border. The rent amount will decrease with a game off the schedule, a clause that was written into a new lease agreement with a revenue that is expected to host the Raiders one more season before the team is scheduled to relocate to Las Vegas in 2020.

It makes sense to play the Green Bay Packers in Canada, considering their close proximity to the country.

The Raiders originally looked at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium, home of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. That deal proved difficult, and the Raiders moved on to other Canadian options. Winnipeg was the best fit, and a formal deal seems to be in the cards.

The Raiders or Packers have not made a formal announcement, despite being less than three months from the game.

Oakland began Phase Three of its offseason program Tuesday when organized team activities began in Alameda.

[RELATED: Undrafted rookie WR drawing rave reviews from Gruden, Carr]

Derek Carr vs. Aaron Rodgers in a "dress rehearsal game" isn't bad NFL treat for the fine folks of Winnipeg. Enjoy.