Raiders

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

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USATSI

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 rookie Brandon Parker earned respect of Raiders vets right away

How rookie Brandon Parker earned respect of Raiders vets right away

ALAMEDA – The Raiders have high hopes for Brandon Parker. They used a third-round pick thinking the athletic tackle can be a long-term solution on the offensive line.

The North Carolina product wasn’t thinking about the future this spring. Parker was focused on learning a new system, working with new position coach Tom Cable and endearing himself to new teammates.

That last goal isn’t always easy, especially on the offensive line. Rookies are tested and pushed early regardless of position. Offensive linemen want to see you stand up for yourself and protect your own. That is, after all, their primary job description.

Parker did that on the first day of last week’s minicamp, pushed back against defensive lineman Fadol Brown in an exchange that evolved into a post-rep scuffle.

Coaches didn’t love it. It distracted from practice and a two-minute drill. Brown was penalized and ejected from practice for fighting. The offense got some extra yards by penalty and kicking a field goal.

The linemen, however, were pleased to see Parker refusing to back down.

"Brandon stood up for himself,” left guard Kelechi Osemele said. “That was really cool to see. You always want to see that, you worry about a guy’s toughness. He’s a tough kid. He’s been playing well. He’s really intelligent. Really smart.”

Veterans test newbies. Parker made a good impression there.

“That’s a positive impression you want to leave,” Parker said. “You want to show the veterans that you’re not afraid of anything, and they you’ll go to battle with them like they’ll go to battle with you. It’s more a matter of gaining respect than proving you’re the toughest guy out there.”

Scuffles don’t improve your standing with coaches. Studying hard, executing well and flashing athleticism certainly does, especially before the pads come on. That was Parker’s primary objective during the offseason program.

“I think I presented well,” Parker said. “I do a good job retaining information. I didn’t really have a whole lot of mistakes. The first couple days are a whirlwind and a faster pace, but after I got used to it and got my feet wet and started to show the veterans what I can really do, they kind of warmed up to me. It has been a smooth adjustment ever since.”

Parker has had hiccups along the way, including a mistake early in the offseason program. He expected Cable to come up and correct what went wrong. Somebody different came his way quickly.

“I looked back and Donald Penn was there and was one of the first to address me,” Parker said. “Having his experience and (veteran Breno Giacomini) on the team and around to give us technical pointers is great.”

Parker and first-round offensive tackle Kolton Miller received significant work during the offseason program, and were praised for their intelligence and athleticism. There’s plenty of development remaining, but the rookies seem to be off to a good start.

“They’re smart kids. They listen,” center Rodney Hudson said. “They’re learning and working and asking questions, which I think is always important for young guys. To ask questions about where they can do better, and both of those guys do that.”

Watching Geno Atkins has Maurice Hurst excited to earn role in Guenther's defense

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AP

Watching Geno Atkins has Maurice Hurst excited to earn role in Guenther's defense

ALAMEDA – Maurice Hurst is familiar with Paul Guenther’s defensive scheme and his role in it. That knowledge didn’t originate from the Raiders offseason program, or sleepless post-draft nights studying the playbook.

Hurst studied it first at the University of Michigan, focusing on one of planet Earth’s best at his position.

“I’ve been watching Geno Atkins since I was in college,” Hurst said Wednesday. “He’s always someone I’ve had my eye on.”

The veteran Cincinnati Bengal is an elite defensive tackle both stopping the run and pressuring quarterbacks as a three technique, working a scheme Guenther coordinated the last four seasons. Hurst shares similar size, traits and explosiveness off the ball, making Atkins a proper athletic role model. He's a good one, with 61 sacks and six Pro Bowls to his credit.

Time watching Hurst was extremely well spent. The Raiders drafted Hurst in the fifth round – a health issue torpedoed this first-round talent’s draft stock – and paired him with Guenther, who came to Alameda this offseason to coordinate Jon Gruden’s defense.

The Raiders certainly hope Hurst can be like Geno in time, because a dominant interior pass rusher is vital to Guenther’s scheme.

“(Atkins is) strong and he’s fast,” Hurst said. “Those traits translate well in the NFL. He’s able to be very disruptive and get after the quarterback. The three technique is the penetrator of our defense. You have to have someone like Geno to make the defense go. That’s a major part of Coach Guenther's scheme, and why he brought in me and (second-round defensive tackle) P.J. Hall. We have Mario (Edwards). We have a good group of guys who can do what he expects us to do.”

Hurst has immersed himself in Guenther’s scheme since joining the Silver and Black. The Michigan man prides himself on scheme study and proper application in practice, but his head start may have helped. Having an inside man didn’t hurt. Fellow Wolverines defensive lineman Ryan Glasgow was drafted by Cincinnati last season and watched film with Hurst during the offseason.

“I had a pretty good idea of what the defense was like and what coach was expecting,” Hurst said, “from watching film with Ryan and talking to him on FaceTime.”

Hurst likes Guenther’s scheme, and his possible role playing three technique – lining up off the guard’s outside shoulder – for the Raiders.

“It definitely gets me amped up,” Hurst said. “The Bengals, their best player was their three technique. That’s the focal point of their defense, and that’s what Coach Guenther is used to getting, and what he has got his whole time in the NFL (with Atkins). He drafted Geno, and it says something for him drafting me and P.J. I think he expects a lot from us and expects us to fill that role he had with the Bengals.”

Hurst and Hall join Edwards as interior linemen with pass-rush ability. It’s unfair to heap expectations on a rookie and the Raiders won’t, but there’s optimism Hurst will make an instant impact.

He can’t make one right now – he hasn’t put pads on as a Raider – but believes he made a solid first impression during the now concluded offseason program.

“I handle those situations pretty well,” Hurst said. “I try to keep my knowledge of the game up, and I’m always on top of my plays. I’m making sure I always stay true to myself and stay true to the game by working hard and putting in a lot of effort. That’s what can set you apart, being reliable.”