Raiders cornerbacks find great value covering Antonio Brown in camp

Raiders cornerbacks find great value covering Antonio Brown in camp

NAPA – Antonio Brown was as dynamic as ever in the Raiders' padded practice Tuesday, regularly zooming by defenders while making big plays.

Cornerback Trayvon Mullen was one of Brown’s victims. The second-round draft pick got beat soundly for a touchdown, but didn’t get too down. He got beat by one of the NFL’s best wide receivers, and wanted to use it as a learning experience.

Brown made it a coachable moment. He advised Mullen after the rep on how to do better the next time, a common occurrence for someone he has chosen to mentor.

“Quite frankly, he’s getting me better,” Mullen said. “I’m going against the best and each rep I know he’s going to bring his best. So it’s going to do nothing but get me better. Him catching a ball on me, to me breaking up a ball, we’re both going to get each other better at the end of the day.”

While it didn’t come against Brown, Mullen showed improvement on a deep shot intended for J.J. Nelson, and the Clemson product showed great closing speed to break the pass up.

Mullen isn’t the only defensive back excited to face Brown on a daily basis. He practices at a different level than most, finding game speed on every active rep. Gareon Conley and Keisean Nixon also learned that covering Brown is difficult, though Lamarcus Joyner prevented a deep volley to Brown later in drills.

Conley matched up with Brown several times Tuesday with the team’s top cornerback facing its best receiver. Those reps are vital for Brown and Conley. The Raiders hope the latter can become a true lockdown cornerback, capable of competing with the NFL’s best.

“He was brought here because he is a great receiver,” Conley said. “Every time I get a chance to go I’m going to try to go against him and always ask him questions about when he breaks, what he’s doing at the line, down the field, how he plays against (cornerbacks). It’s going to make me better.”

While Brown vs. Conley was regular on Tuesday, head coach Jon Gruden said matchups will vary based upon the day. The goal is for each cornerback to get work against different types of receivers and deal with the dynamics of playing the same guy over and over like they would in a game.

“We are going to try to isolate matchups every day. Sometimes you’ll come out here and see Conley with Antonio, Conley with Tyrell [Williams], Conley with [Hunter] Renfrow, whoever,” Gruden said. “We are trying to see certain matchups and I think the competition has really helped everybody get better.”

The Raiders secondary will see Brown regularly soon.

The Silver and Black are keeping whatever ails him quiet, but one thing was plain Tuesday morning: There was no hitch in his giddy-up.

Brown spent a few days on the non-football injury list with an undisclosed injury, came off it during a Sunday practice cameo and returned to full-speed work in this training camp’s second padded practice.

He was active for most of the session, but skipped out prior to team drills. Brown went into the locker room, ditched his pads and was back before long playing with his kids.

While full practice work will come in time, each day Brown shows how dominant he can be even with somewhat limited action. Each rep also doubles as a master class in how cornerbacks should cover top receivers.

[RELATED: Renfrow positioned to be key piece of Raiders' offense]

All of the Raiders defensive backs see value in going up against Brown, but Mullen has done so more than most. He and Brown worked out together several times this offseason, and have bonded quickly over growing up in similar areas of South Florida.

“I mean, it’s something that we always did in the offseason was working out with each other getting it in,” Mullen said. “Getting to train with him is awesome. One of the best, so he’s preparing me for other guys that we got to go against in the league.”

Raiders' Karl Joseph disappointed to get hurt playing his best football

Raiders' Karl Joseph disappointed to get hurt playing his best football

ALAMEDA -- Karl Joseph sat in the Raiders locker room Monday, with a pair of crutches by his side. A walking boot was nearby, transportation aids given the state of his ailing foot.

Joseph got hurt sealing Thursday's victory over the L.A. Chargers, a leaping interception was his final on-field act as a 2019 Raider.

That’s a difficult reality for Joseph and those around him. The West Virginia alum was popular throughout the locker room, a relentless worker playing the best football of his career before an injury that ended his season far earlier than expected.

“I think, as a team, we really started to click. That’s especially true in the secondary,” Joseph, who formally placed on injured reserve, said Friday. “It wasn’t just me necessarily. I think I was playing good ball, but we were coming together. I really believe we started to play good football and I wanted to be part of it moving forward.

"We have a strong chance to go to the playoffs. That’s what is frustrating part for me.”

Joseph is an eternal optimist, someone who relies on faith to weather tough times. It doesn’t eliminate frustration completely. Joseph knew his season was in jeopardy right away.

“The first night was pretty rough,” Joseph said. “I knew right away that something was wrong. I couldn’t even walk right afterwards. The next day I was rebounding. I was raised on strong faith. I’ve been through a lot of adversity in my life, so this is nothing new. I’ll be okay.”

Joseph is waiting for the swelling to go down before formulating a rehabilitation plan. He will visit with renowned foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson in Green Bay, Wis., and ponder surgery based upon the doctor’s evaluation.

His season is over no matter what, with the possibility of a lengthy rehab ahead. The timing isn’t great considering the Raiders didn’t pick up his fifth-year option. He’ll head into unrestricted free agency without a chance to show he’s fully healed and ready to play at the high level found in games before the injury.

The Raiders’ 2016 first-round draft pick hopes to remain in silver and black next season, when the team moves to Las Vegas.

“Of course. This is the team that drafted me,” Joseph said. “I love playing with this group of guys. I love working with this coaching staff and in [defensive coordinator Paul] Guenther’s system. It’s great for me and the safeties. We’ll see what happens. It’s out of my control now. All I can do it get healthy and get better.

"I believe everything will work itself out.”

Joseph’s safety partnership with Erik Harris was working out well. The pair was in great sync in recent games, allowing both players to maximize abilities, make big plays on the ball and minimize the communication errors that plagued the secondary earlier this season.

Harris was disappointed to see his partner fall, especially when an interception slipped through his hands a few plays earlier.

[RELATED: Swearinger ready to bring immediate aid to Raiders' ailing secondary]

“He has a very positive outlook on life and that will help him through this,” Harris said. “I just feel bad because, if I would’ve made that pick, then him and [Lamarcus Joyner, who suffered a hamstring strain a few plays before Joseph got hurt] would be healthy right now. It’s just unfortunate.

"Karl is a great guy and a great player. I want to see him be healthy and to get paid. There is not a harder worker in this building than him. He strives to be great. He will lean on his faith, and that’s big.”

D.J. Swearinger ready to bring immediate aid to Raiders' ailing secondary


D.J. Swearinger ready to bring immediate aid to Raiders' ailing secondary

Yes, the Raiders are 5-4. Yes, the playoffs are a realistic possibility.

But issues abound in Oakland.

Jon Gruden's gritty club has fought through a rash of injuries, a five-game road trip, the suspension of Vontaze Burfict and Antonio Brown's decision to go AWOL to be in the thick of the playoff hunt in November. But the Silver and Black's secondary is running on emergency power after Karl Joseph suffered a season-ending injury on the final play of the Raiders' Week 10 win over the Chargers.

With Joseph out for the season, that means the Raiders are missing both of their starting safeties -- Johnathan Abram has been out since Week 1 -- as well as their starting middle linebacker and two defensive ends. Gruden is trying to patch the defense together as the Raiders prepare for a playoff run.

D.J. Swearinger is the latest member of the duct tape brigade. The Raiders signed the veteran safety Saturday, and hope he can slide in immediately and give them some relief in the backend. 

It's hard for players to come in cold off the street and learn a new system, but Swearinger played in a similar scheme in Arizona, so he isn't worried about the learning curve. 

"It's not a new system for me because Arizona ran the exact same system," Swearinger said Monday. "Just got to get the different terminology, which is sort of the similar terminology in Arizona --- almost identical -- with a few coverages so it's not a hard transition for me. I'm going to fit right in, do my studying and make it happen."

Swearinger played in four games for the Cardinals this season before being released. The 28-year-old veteran safety has played for four teams prior to the Raiders, including two stints with the Cardinals, notching 14 interceptions and 40 passes defensed in his seven-year NFL career.

He's versatile, experienced and likes to hit. Most of all he's hungry and ready to seize the moment, both for himself and the Raiders.

"It's a great opportunity, man," Swearinger said. "I'm happy to be here. Happy to be with a coach like coach Gruden. I know what he means to football, know what he brings to the table. I'm excited to be here, they are doing some great stuff here. I'm ready to add whatever I can to help this team win and win a championship."

With both their starting safeties done for the season, the Raiders are in the unfortunate position of having to rely on a guy that's been in the building for only couple days. Swearinger has the talent, and the Raiders need him to be at his best right away.

"I like Swearinger," Gruden said Monday. "He played for my brother in Washington. I was a broadcaster at one point, I spent a lot of time in South Carolina with my friend [Steve] Spurrier, so I know a little bit about Swearinger. I think he's a good player, he just has to put it all together. That's what he needs to do. He's got to start that process today. We need the very best of Swearinger."

[RELATED: Ferrell arrives with statement game in Raiders' TNF win]

He's spent the last month waiting for an opportunity, viewing this tough Raiders team from afar.

"They got grit and it starts with the head coach," Swearinger said of his new team. "I love the head coach, I've always loved coach Gruden. From way back in college, from him doing Monday nights. I know what he brings to football and I know playing for a coach like that we're going to bring it every time we step on the field. He expects that. The guys in the locker room ... there are some young guys but they are talented and they want to go to work and you can help but come in and get with the coach."

The Raiders will face an 0-9 Bengals team Sunday in Week 11, a vertically challenged team that should present limited problems for a new safety getting his feet wet in silver and black. Swearinger prides himself on being a physical safety with underrated cover skills. He's tough, emotional and hard working.

Gruden and the Raiders need all of that to translate into winning football in the backend of the Raiders' secondary. The playoffs might depend on it.