Raiders activate Justin Ellis off injured reserve in time to play Chiefs

Raiders activate Justin Ellis off injured reserve in time to play Chiefs

OAKLAND -- Justin Ellis had been practicing well the past few weeks, after the Raiders designated him to return off injured reserve. He was eligible to return for last week’s game in Baltimore, but he wasn’t quite ready for action.

The fifth-year veteran kept practicing strong, but it wasn’t until a Friday afternoon conversation between Ellis, coaches and trainers did the green light get lit.

The Raiders formally added Ellis to the 53-man roster Saturday afternoon, meaning he’ll play for the first time since injuring his foot in the season opener.

Ellis has been missed on the inside, especially against the run. The NFL’s worst run defense will get a boost, and in certain situations play Ellis and fellow gap-plugging defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins together on the inside.

“It changes us,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said last week. “You could have two big bodies to stuff up the middle, and they're not just slugs in there. They're athletes, big guys who can move. Having both of those guys available would be a big asset."

That will happen against Kansas City, though it’s uncertain how much Ellis will play in his first game back.

He re-signed with the Raiders this offseason on a three-year, $15 million deal to shore up the inside and allow others to make plays. The team hopes he can do exactly that upon return.

Offensive lineman Denver Kirkland was waived in a corresponding move.

Paul Guenther, Mike Zimmer similarities at odds during Raiders-Vikings clash


Paul Guenther, Mike Zimmer similarities at odds during Raiders-Vikings clash

MINNEAPOLIS – Mike Zimmer and Paul Guenther go way back. The respected defensive coaches linked up and became fast friends in 2008, when Zimmer was hired as Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator. Guenther was already on staff, helping several different position groups. T

Guenther took over the linebacker corps in 2012, and was given the defensive coordinator job Zimmer vacated to become Minnesota Vikings head coach. Guenther could’ve gone with Zimmer to Minnesota – or to Washington with Jay Gruden, for that matter -- but stayed put and on a path that eventually paired him with Jon Gruden as Raiders defensive coordinator.

Guenther and Zimmer remain friends. Their families are close.

So are their defensive schemes. That’s logical, considering how long Guenther worked under Zimmer running an excellent defense.

“The foundation of it came from him, for sure,” Guenther said. “The coverage, the fronts, all the stuff we do. I owe him a lot of gratitude from working with him. I learned a lot from him, but I’m going to try and kick his ass on Sunday.”

Guenther and Zimmer will throw new wrinkles into familiar systems with the Raiders and Vikings clash at U.S. Bank Stadium, trying to keep the other team off balance and counter any insight provided to their respective offensive staffs. These two know each other well and how each other think, meaning this coaching chess match will have an influence in Sunday’s outcome.

“Paul will always have his spin on things, that’s kind of how he’s always been, but I think they’ll be much, much improved,” Zimmer said in a conference call. “They’ve got much better talent all the way across the board. I think former [Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict] really helps them get guys lined up and he understands their system so well, but they’ve got good players up front. They’re much, much improved in the backend in my opinion as well, so yeah I think they are going to continue to get better.”

Zimmer’s right. The Raiders have improved this year, with talent upgrades and greater scheme comfort. It’s early yet, but the Raiders rank fifth in run defensive with 63 yards allowed per game. The pass rush still has issues, but they have five sacks in two contests. That’s a step in the right direction, even if the pass defense has a whole needs some work. Guenther’s scheme is effective, as we’re seeing as the Raiders acquire more quality.

While the Raiders are rebuilding their defense slowly and largely through the NFL draft, the Vikings are an established crew with most impact players having worn purple a long, long time.

“We know Mike Zimmer’s scheme is a very solid, very successful scheme since his time in the NFL,” Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “Also, now you add players as well. They’re very talented on defense and again, as you mentioned, they’ve had a number of players that they’ve drafted that they’ve been able to keep in their second contracts. That’s very rare. He’s been able to maintain continuity in terms of personnel, and he’s maintained continuity in terms of scheme being there. Certainly a challenge for us.”

It will be a bit easier on Sunday for a few reasons. The Raiders offense has been practicing against this scheme all spring and summer, so quarterback Derek Carr knows it well. Guenther also has insight on Zimmer and vice versa, adding intrigue to this matchup.

“The systems are very similar,” Guenther said. “Obviously, he’s doing his wrinkles and I’m doing mine, but ‘Zim’ is a good coach. I learned a lot from him. We worked together a long time in Cincinnati and we had a really good time. He’s a good friend.”

Why Raiders must exercise (some) restraint pursuing Jalen Ramsey trade


Why Raiders must exercise (some) restraint pursuing Jalen Ramsey trade

Jalen Ramsey played possibly his last game as a Jacksonville Jaguar on Thursday night, an action that involved some risk. The All-Pro cornerback was on the trading block after asking to be dealt, and an injury against the Tennessee Titans could’ve ruined a prospective deal. Ramsey going down would’ve hurt the Jaguars as well, but Ramsey played anyway.

And he played hard. Ramsey was his usual, awesome self for the Jaguars, helping his teammates earn their first win of the season. He had nine tackles and forced a fumble. He was targeted seven times by Tennessee, but allowed only four catches for 74 yards.

Ramsey played without reservation for his teammates, knowing he it’s likely won’t be with them much longer. As a note, it’s reportedly possible the Jaguars simply keep Ramsey.

He could be traded as soon as Friday, per reports, and is expected to have a new team by next week.

There’s also a big-time payday coming sometime between the expected trade and next season. That didn’t matter Thursday night. He just helped the Jaguars get a win.

Jon Gruden must’ve liked that. The Raiders are among a long line of teams hoping to acquire Ramsey in trade, sources said. The Raiders head coach didn’t need convincing – the cornerback is amazing -- but Thursday night’s relatively selfless act didn’t hurt Ramsey’s stock.

The Raiders have the draft capital to make this deal, which reportedly could cost a first-round draft pick plus more picks and/or a player. Ramsey’s new team also will have to pay up despite him still having a year left on his rookie deal, plus a fifth-year option in 2020 and franchise tags after that.

A team could play contractual hardball, but keeping him happy seems the way to go.

Gruden could and would make this deal, dwindling his draft cache and future salary-cap space for a truly dynamic player. Let’s not forget: they have a cushion after breaking free of the Antonio Brown deal without paying a dime.

This isn’t another column about whether the Raiders should trade for Jalen Ramsey. Esteemed colleague Josh Schrock did that already and did it well. I agreed with his stance, and believe Gruden should try to make this deal.

Not, however, at any cost. Some restraint is required in moments like this.

There will be competition for Ramsey’s rights, but it’s unwise to get into a bidding war. The Raiders are interested and it’s believed the have inquired about Ramsey, but it’s uncertain what they’d be willing to give up.

They shouldn’t get into a bidding war with other teams. The Raiders should stick to their valuation, make an attractive offer if one hasn’t already been made and then keep fingers crossed.

Emotionally competing with others, especially if a rival’s involved, could hinder a roster rebuild with significant work left to be done.

The Raiders need another wide receiver, a top-flight edge rusher, a young linebacker and maybe another safety, and it’s only September. Those deficiencies won’t change if Ramsey comes aboard.

General manager Mike Mayock has exerted some influence and discipline in recent acquisitions, including the Brown trade – it didn’t work out but it was thought to be a good deal at the time, with third- and fifth-round draft picks certainly worth the opportunity to acquire a great player – and a few instances in the NFL draft.

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If the Raiders get Ramsey at a price Mayock and Gruden consider affordable both financially and through trade compensation without setting an overall rebuild back, they’ll celebrate. If they have to re-up, sacrifice and spend beyond their means, it could slow things down for a Raiders roster that still needs significant upgrades.

The Raiders can’t lose sight of the big picture while pushing to acquire a truly elite talent. Lots of good cornerbacks have played on bad defenses. The Raiders need a talented depth chart, and have several moves left to complete it.