Raiders

Raiders giving Trayvon Mullen first chance to fill Gareon Conley's spot

Raiders giving Trayvon Mullen first chance to fill Gareon Conley's spot

ALAMEDA – Gareon Conley is no longer a Raider. The 2017 first-round draft pick was traded to the Houston Texans for a 2020 third-round pick on Monday, a day after he played 97 percent of Raiders defensive snaps in a 42-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Somebody else will have to anchor one outside cornerback spot moving forward.

Trayvon Mullen will take over Conley’s spot. This year’s second-round draft pick will get first crack at the job vacancy, though the Raiders have other options on the roster.

“Trayvon is progressively improving,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “The only way to get these guys ready for primetime is to put them out there. We like the progress he has made. That’s why we took him at the top of the second round. We really like Isaiah Johnson and the way he looked last week on the practice field and Nevin Lawson has started 50 games. Throw in Keisean Nixon and we’ve got some guys we want to take a look at.

“We’re going to try to get Trayvon ready to go.”

Mullen will take over Sunday when the Raiders face Houston, with Conley awkwardly on the other sideline.

Mullen hasn’t played much this season, just 14 defensive snaps over the last three games and 78 in total this season. His professional career didn’t start with a bang, as he gave up three catches for 27 yards and a long touchdown against Denver. He hasn’t seen the field much since, though he worked 27 snaps in a Week 2 loss to Kansas City before his workload dropped precipitously.

Gruden knows Mullen will be a focal point of opposing offenses in coming weeks, until he proves he belongs.

“He's going to get targeted quite a bit, like all rookie cornerbacks,” Gruden said. ”It’s part of the process. I know he was in a tough spot opening night against Denver, but I have seen day-to-day concentration. I’ve seen day-to-day competitiveness and gradual improvement. He’s a guy who has a lot of confidence.”

The Raiders loved Mullen coming out of Clemson. He has the physical skills to play aggressive press-man coverage, with speed and range and ball skills required to succeed in Paul Guenther’s system. They would’ve gladly taken him at No. 35 overall but were able to trade down a few times and still land him at No. 40.

Mullen wasn’t targeted much at Clemson but was strong in big games and a complete player coming into the draft after his junior year.

The Raiders also took Isaiah Johnson in the fourth round, though he will spend the first eight games on injured reserve before an expected return in Week 10 against the L.A. Chargers.

Johnson will be in the defensive mix if he proves ready. Mullen has the first opportunity, and that starts now as we head into towards midseason.

“He has size and he’s young,” Gruden said. “He’s still raw and still has some green to him. He’s a great kid and a great competitor. He has change of direction. He’s tough. He has a lot of pride He has big upside.

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“I feel the same way about Isaiah. These guys need to get on the grass and play. I’ll take responsibility for how that goes, but I have their backs. I have a lot of confidence in them. I want to see them go out there and deal with some of the best receivers in football.”

Raiders' Oakland finale is end of an era for longtime Black Hole residents

Raiders' Oakland finale is end of an era for longtime Black Hole residents

OAKLAND -- Andrew DiDomenico is a lifelong, diehard Raiders fan. The San Jose native was shattered when his favorite team left for Los Angeles after the 1981 season and so thrilled when the Silver and Black returned to Oakland that he threw down cash for season tickets in the Coliseum’s southern end zone.

That’s all it was back in 1995, just a ground floor seat in a huge stadium with a unique view of the action.

It quickly morphed into something truly unique, a fan section unlike any other.

“I have been down here for 23 years, I think,” DiDomenico said before Sunday’s loss to the Titans at Oakland Coliseum. “I see the same people that I’ve seen for so long now. There are just a few of us who have been around since they came back, when the Black Hole was actually invented.”

The Black Hole was formed by Rob Rivera and some friends back in 1996, who set the tone for a rowdy, at times aggressive group of Raiders loyalists that grew and grew and now dominates sections 104-107 along the southern end zone.

“This place is legendary,” said Rivera, the Black Hole president. “There are so many good times and good memories with good people that it’s hard to pick one, two or even three. …There are probably some that we can’t repeat.”

We won’t chronicle them here, not even the craziest from the 1990s, when the Black Hole was an anarchist’s paradise not to be trifled with. Yes, that includes the experience of one Raider -- Rivera wasn’t naming names, but it was Desmond Howard -- who got his car rocked back and forth after being too happy leaving the Coliseum after a heartbreaking loss.

Those anecdotes are interesting (and often R-rated), but that’s not what this story’s about.

This is about the end of an era.

The Raiders will relocate to Las Vegas in 2020 and bid farewell to Oakland Coliseum after Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a point of devastation that might send tears streaking through silver and black face paint.

“It’s like a second home,” Rivera said. “I feel like I’ve been here all my life. There are so many great memories in this place. It’s just unbelievable. This place should be revered like Green Bay or other legendary venues. Yeah, it’s old and torn down and it’s ugly, but it’s ours. Because of all the great teams and the great games that have taken place in this place, it’s beautiful to us.

“… The Raiders are on their way out of town, and we’re heartbroken.”

While residents of the Black Hole can be rough around the edges, they aren’t quite as scary as some costumes make them seem. Passion and unwavering loyalty pervade down there, as they always have. Troublemaking no longer is a defining Black Hole characteristic.

That’s especially true of those closest to the field, who enter the stadium early and line the rails before the game and stand and scream from kickoff to final whistle. They welcome players vaulting into the stands after a score. They revel in moments when coach Jon Gruden visits after a win. They love dressing up and creating a raucous homefield advantage.

There’s something else going on here that you don’t see in CBS celebration shots or images of scowling intimidators with spiked shoulder pads. This is a community bound by a love of the Raiders valued above all else, far more than its rough-and-tumble reputation. While tourists come and go, most of the members of the Black Hole have been sitting next to each other for years. They come together a few Sundays per year to eat and drink (a lot) and celebrate their team through wins and a whole lot of losses.

But, when the Raiders provide something to cheer, there’s nothing quite like being in the Black Hole.

“The energy here is electric,” DiDomenico said. “Sometimes it takes a while to get everybody going but once that happens, it shakes you inside. The energy comes from inside all the fans in the Black Hole. I’m nuts [when I’m] out here. I’ll try to get everybody yelling early to get things going. When the crowd gets going, it’s just crazy.

"All the people around here are wonderful.”

Bonds are superglue strong now, and it’s tough to imagine the family ripping apart after Sunday’s game.

“It’s sad,” DiDomenico said. “I’ve been a Raiders fan since their inception. I have been coming to all the games since they came back from L.A. and it’s really tough that a lot of us here won’t be making every game out there. I mean, it’s a trip.”

Some Black Hole residents have bought 2020 season tickets for when the Raiders move to Las Vegas. Many have not. Adding a flight and hotel to a full season pass isn’t as economically feasible and will limit the number of games attended by some. Count DiDomenico among them.

Those with seats could try to recongregate in one end zone, but there is no dedicated Black Hole section at Allegiant Stadium. There wasn’t one at Oakland Coliseum when the Raiders came back. The Black Hole grew organically and must do so again to carry on in Las Vegas.

While there’s some confusion among fans I spoke to about additional rules in the new stadium, a Raiders source said the team isn’t putting restrictions on fans wanting to costume up or put on face paint or form communities in the stands.

It’s undeniable that the fan experience in a state-of-the-art Las Vegas venue will be different. It surely will be sanitized somewhat. Some traditions will carry on. Others will cease on Sunday against the Jaguars, when this Oakland chapter of Raiders history comes to a close.

[RELATED: Carr, Raiders know 'nobody cares' about cause of fatal skid]

DiDomenico plans to treat this Sunday like any other. The Gilroy resident will set up his American flag canopy in Oakland Coliseum’s A Lot, next to friends he has tailgated with over the last decade. He’ll make margaritas, lay out a spread and share food with anyone coming through.

Then he’ll don the construction hardhat with an American flag, an eagle and a Raiders shield that he has worn since 9/11, already sporting a similarly designed shirt that reads, “Fear This!” and head into the stadium. He’ll head down to the first row of the Black Hole, next to Gorilla Rilla and his friends for one last stay in a truly unique environment.

“Everybody wants to sit down here. And we don’t sit. We stand,” Didomenico said. “It’s a zoo, but it’s awesome.”

Raiders know changes are 'necessary evil' as awful stretch continues

Raiders know changes are 'necessary evil' as awful stretch continues

ALAMEDA – The Raiders have been blown out in three straight games. The latest rout came Sunday in a 42-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans. The first two happened away from the friendly confines of the Coliseum. This one happened here in the East Bay, the second-to-last time the Raiders will play in Oakland.

That means something to head coach Jon Gruden, who doesn’t want the fire to go out in Oakland without the Raiders making a final stand. The Raiders have one more chance to impress here next week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Gruden vowed to turn over every rock he can to produce a better effort than what the home fans saw this past Sunday.

That’s especially true of a defense that allowed 35 points -- the other seven came on a fumble returned for a touchdown -- and an incredible 552 yards to the Ryan Tannehill-led Titans.

The coverage was poor. The pass rush was bad. Tackling was subpar. Those facts have flown below the radar, with all the ire aimed at quarterback Derek Carr and his decision to throw it away on 4th-and-goal from the 1.

Poor defense is a major problem, though yards allowed have been an issue most of the season. Opportunistic and clutch play got the defense by in victories but has been absent in defeat. Against the Titans, that unit may have reached a new low.

“It’s like getting punched in the stomach. It knocks some wind out of you,” Gruden said. “Anytime a team takes the ball the length of the field that many times, it’s hard to do in this league. We’ve done a pretty good this year offensively of sustaining some long 80-yard drives, but sometimes you got to win the game of field position, you’ve got to force a three-and-out. We weren’t able to do that yesterday from the jump and very, very concerned about it and we’re going to make some changes. We’re going to get it right.”

One problem: there aren’t many changes left to make. It’s hard to imagine any promoted practice-squad players making a quantifiable difference. There’s enough depth to make some changes at linebacker. We’ve seen snaps dwindle from certain defensive linemen. The secondary could get shaken up a little bit. All that, however, might be shuffling deck chairs on a sinking ship.

[RELATED: Gruden says Jacobs, Brown could possibly return to Raiders]

That won’t stop Gruden from trying. He refuses to wave a white flag on the season, even if better options aren’t crystal clear.

“[Recent play] is sickening. [Changes are] tough, but it’s a necessary evil,” Gruden said. “Right now, we’ve got to play better, and we’re going to play better, and there will be changes. There will be changes. What happened yesterday will not happen again. I can’t allow it to happen.”