Raiders kicking competition 'nip and tuck' between Tavecchio and Piñeiro


Raiders kicking competition 'nip and tuck' between Tavecchio and Piñeiro

ALAMEDA – Kicker Giorgio Tavecchio is the only incumbent specialist left on the Raiders 2018 offseason roster.

Punter Marquette King got cut. Long snapper Jon Condo was allowed to walk out the front door. So was Sebastian Janikowski, the Raiders' kicker for 17 seasons until Tavecchio became his injury replacement last year.

Tavecchio had a solid 2017, but it didn’t guarantee his job. Undrafted rookie Eddy Piñeiro is charging hard for Tavecchio’s gig, with a real chance to win a kicking competition set to continue through the summer.

The Raiders nearly drafted Piñeiro, a raw, yet powerful talent who missed just one field goal attempt for the University of Florida last year. Instead they paid paid a hefty bonus to woo him as a free agent. Piñeiro seems to be the favorite for those reasons, despite Tavecchio’s incumbent status.

That would seem set to create some awkward moments between these kickers, but both guys called this competition friendly.

“I try to be the best person possible, too,” Tavecchio said. “I think for me, this is obviously a pretty intimate journey, so I don’t keep people out, I don’t try to beat people down. I’m here to serve. That’s my mentality. Directly or indirectly, I think I have transmitted a good amount to Eddy and I hope it’s all been positive.”

Piñeiro says Tavecchio has shared trade secrets and has been helpful to a lifelong soccer player with just two year’s football experience.

“Giorgio is a really good kicker, a really good guy,” Piñeiro said. “Learned a lot from him. It’s a good battle. He has a good leg, so do I. He’s accurate. It’s going to be fun.”

Special teams coach Rich Bisaccia has kickers alternating practice days – there was one exception, and another coming Thursday -- giving reps to one guy each time. That has helped the combatants and rookie punter/holder Johnny Townsend, who must set up attempts for a righty (Piñeiro) and a lefty (Tavecchio).

Townsend is working hard to help both kickers, and avoid perceived favoritism given the fifth-round played with Piñeiro at Florida. His past and present teammate has familiarity Tavecchio doesn’t have, but Townsend is working to make it a level playing field.

“There was no bias there, just being teammates with Eddy in college,” Townsend said. “I know there’s a kicker competition going on so each and every day we go out and compete and work to make each other better. That’s my mindset going through it.”

Coaches and reporters alike are counting makes a misses in each session, a practice that will carry on into training camp and at least some early preseason action.

“I believe we’ll go in through some of the preseason games for sure and give them both an opportunity to kick in game-like situations,” Bisaccia said. “We’ll try to create as many situations in practice as we possibly can and certainly when we get to pads. It’s a process and everything matters. … Right now, they’re nip and tuck.”

How Mike Mayock's experience, relationships can help Raiders draft


How Mike Mayock's experience, relationships can help Raiders draft

MOBILE, Ala. – Mike Mayock was widely considered the preeminent NFL draft analyst during his years working at NFL Network, earning great respect from football folks in the professional and college ranks.

That opened doors closed to most, allowing Mayock to glean information most couldn’t get regarding college prospects and an individual team’s intentions.

Wells of NFL insight, however, has dried up now that he’s working for the competition. The new Raiders general manager isn’t getting those trade secrets but remains immensely popular in all circles here at the Senior Bowl.

He championed this event, which includes a practice week and Saturday’s annual college all-star game when he was at NFL Network. He got the league-owned network to increase its coverage on an important part of the pre-draft process.

“Mike is going to run for office in Mobile,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said early this month, right after Mayock got hired.

He could probably win, even though he’s now solely focused on improving the Raiders while armed with four NFL draft selections in the top 35.

That respect, especially within college football programs, should help his evaluation. He isn’t getting info from pro teams, but has spent significant time with decision makers and knows how they tick.

Jon Gruden believes it could give the Raiders an advantage leading up to the NFL draft.

“He has been able to sit in meetings with coaches and players,” Gruden said. “He has been welcomed by people. He’s respected. He has had access that very few people have had, and he has developed some relationships that very few people have been able to develop. I think it will serve him well in the long run.”

Gruden believes the Raiders are already served well with Mayock on their side. He has hit the ground running since being hired just before the new year, spending most hours evaluating college tape and meeting with coaches about which players fit Raiders' schemes.

Gruden expected that. There have been some surprises along the way.

[RELATED: How Mayock will approach free agency market]

“What I’m most impressed with is how Mike has rallied the coaches and rallied the scouts behind the scenes,” Gruden said. “He’s a terrific leader. His energy is contagious. That’s a big part of the job, I think.”

Brenston Buckner wants to bring old school Raiders mentality to D-line


Brenston Buckner wants to bring old school Raiders mentality to D-line

MOBILE, Ala. – Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther interviewed several candidates to be his next line coach. He wanted a shakeup along the front, which was dead last in quarterback pressures and heavily involved in the No. 30-ranked run defense.

Enter Brenston Buckner, the top choice among quality options. The 47-year old has a solid resume, a clear passion for coaching and energy to spare, making it easy to mesh with a young position group that will stay that way after additions through the NFL draft.

He’ll take over for Mike Trgovac, a respected coach Jon Gruden wants to move into an advisory role.

Buckner’s excited about an opportunity to teach and mold and develop. He’ll start by getting back to basics.

“With a young group, they have to understand that it’s not all about bells and whistles and flash,” Buckner told NBC Sports Bay Area after Tuesday’s Senior Bowl practice. “It’s about effort and engaging in physical violence, wanting to punch someone harder than he wants to punch me. Do you want to do the small things that allow the big things to fall in place? Everything else will be better if I can help them improve on the fundamentals.”

Buckner sees talent in 2018 draft picks Maurice Hurst, P.J. Hall, and Arden Key, and will expect more from them in 2019. Those guys were thrown to the wolves last season, asked to play far more than expected after Khalil Mack got traded, Bruce Irvin got cut and Justin Ellis ended up on injured reserve after the season opener.

The Raiders had just 13 sacks last season, a cellar-dwelling sum 17 less than the next team up. A total of 11 players met or exceeded that total as individuals, showing just how tough things got up front.

Improving that production is mandatory, and daunting task Buckner was ready and willing to assume. He has helped generate pressure in Arizona and Tampa Bay but jumped at the chance to join the Raiders this offseason.

“I’m a 70's kid, and back then the Silver and Black really meant something,” Buckner said. “They were synonymous with greatness, with physical toughness. That was enticing, as was the chance to work with Jon Gruden. He has had great success in this league, and talking to him in these interviews made it clear he has a vision for taking the Raiders back to where they used to be.”

Buckner needs the talent to accomplish that mission. Last year’s draft picks have some. The Raiders need more, especially off the edge.

Buckner knows that and is keeping a keen eye on defensive lineman here at the Senior Bowl, where the Raiders are coaching the North squad. The new guy will have a loud voice in evaluating guys up front, relaying information to Gruden, Guenther and the scouts about how they function leading up to Saturday’s annual college all-star game.

“The good thing about (coaching the Senior Bowl) is being so hands-on with the guys,” Buckner said. “If a player does something out here I can envision him doing in silver and black, an alarm goes off in my head. All these guys have a chance to play in the NFL. I want to see if they have the qualifications to play for the Raiders.”

There aren’t any players at the Senior Bowl worthy of the Raiders’ top pick. They could take some of those guys later in the draft, but No. 4 overall selection will be used on elite college talent, and those guys typically skip games like this.

Buckner will be pulling for Gruden to take a defensive lineman high, and then add to his ranks again later in the draft.

[RELATED: Raiders at Senior Bowl creates unique opportunity]

“I’m going to pitch for every single draft pick to be a defensive lineman. I’m selfish like that,” Buckner said with a laugh. “Seriously though, this is a great draft and I’ll be happy with whomever we get. If we get a defensive lineman, you’ll hear my voice. I’ll be excited.”