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.”

Raiders camp report: Jon Gruden's 'white tiger' returns to practice

Raiders camp report: Jon Gruden's 'white tiger' returns to practice

NAPA – The Raiders got Martavis Bryant back to practice Wednesday after two days away dealing with headaches. The explosive receiver primarily worked with the third unit during team drills as he continues to mesh with Jon Gruden’s system.

The Raiders head coach prefers his receivers learn every position and route in the tree, something that comes with steady reps and scheme study. Gruden also likes his players available and grinding with teammates through the dregs of training camp.

Bryant missed practice with illness last week and two straight sessions to start this one while reportedly dealing with migraines. Those headaches can be debilitating for sure.

Gruden wants his players working out as much as possible, and had a funny way of expressing the point.

“We’re calling Martavis the white tiger,” Gruden said. “I used to go to Busch Gardens in Tampa. We call (receiver Joey) Galloway the white tiger in Tampa. You go to Busch Gardens and they’ve got a white tiger. You go 12 times or 13 times, the white tiger was always in his cage. But the white tiger came out today. Bryant came out.

“I don’t know if you get that analogy, but sometimes he comes out to play and sometimes he doesn’t. It’s good to see him because he’s really special, like the white tiger. It’s late in the day here.”

Three things: 1. Gruden can be pretty funny. 2. He wants Bryant participating more. 3. He knows Bryant is a special talent.

While the draft day acquisition hasn’t wowed in training camp, expect him to having a prominent role in the Raiders offense. His speed is invaluable, and big-play ability rare. Bryant hasn’t spoken to the media since he was traded from Pittsburgh for a third-round pick, but said then he wants to be known as a complete receiver. There’s plenty of time to prove he’s capable of that. Quarterback Derek Carr said there’s a sense of urgency to his preparation, and receivers coach Edgar Bennett is well known as a solid teacher, who can help Bryant along the way. ,

Gruden on Penn trying right tackle

Donald Penn is trying a new position, working at right tackle in two practices since coming off the physically unable to perform list. It’s an experiment at this stage, to see if Penn can move across the line. It also keeps first-round rookie Kolton Miller working on the left, but the Raiders are still tinkering with offensive line arrangement as the preseason wears along.

“We haven’t settled on any starting lineups yet,” Gruden said. “We really didn’t want to disrupt Kolton’s status right now without being sure where Donald exactly was physically. This is an opportunity to get Penn back on the field with us. Not only to test the ankle, test his conditioning, but to get his timing down and get back in the channel of our offense. Then we’ll address this later next week.”

Battle in the slot

Receiver Griff Whalen has been working with the first-unit offense since Friday’s exhibition against Detroit, manning the slot of Ryan Switzer. He’s also heavily involved in return duties, which will be key deciding roster spots on the back end of the receiver depth chart.

“Well it’s very competitive situation,” Gruden said. “(Whalen and Switzer are) neck-and-neck. As you said, special teams will have a big part of that, but also shear production. You have to be able to go in there and make plays. You have to be able to go in there and block linebackers sometimes and big safeties. You have to know a lot of assignments because Derek [Carr] is going to change the play at the last second. It’s neck and neck with those guys.”

Seth Roberts returned to action on Wednesday, and Gruden maintains he’s in the mix working inside as well.

Injury update

Cornerback Daryl Worley returned to work after a Monday collision with Rashaan Melvin, but was limited to individual drills. Seth Roberts and Bryant also returned to practice.

Gruden said didn’t have an update on Obi Melifonwu’s continued absence with a lower body injury – he reportedly saw a specialist on Wednesday – but said an update could come next week when the team returns to Alameda.

Marcus Gilchrist, Breno Giacomini remain out of work. Jon Feliciano joined them after leaving Tuesday’s practice early. Jared Cook was given a veteran rest day.

Eddy Pineiro left practice early on Wednesday for an unknown reason and did not return. Mike Nugent kicked during this practice, which included several hurried (by design) field goal attempts.

This ‘n that

The Raiders claimed defensive tackle Gabe Wright off waivers from Miami. He was released after getting into an altercation with a teammate. He came after Kenyon Drake during practice while the Miami running back wasn’t wearing a helmet. Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin was placed on injured reserve in a corresponding move. … WR Keon Hatcher made an excellent catch, reaching up to grab a deep pass from Connor Cook with Shareece Wright draped all over him. …Gareon Conley had excellent coverage to break up a pass intended for Maratvis Bryant, proving a recent hip injury hasn’t impacted the cornerback’s speed. …Quarterback EJ Manuel has struggled mightily with the quarterback-center exchange. He lost a fumbled snap in last week’s game against Detroit, and has done so several times in camp. He had one Wednesday, right after being inserted with the second team over Cook. … The Raiders conducted a lighter practice without pads, one that remained intense in temp and rep count.

Raiders CB Conley grateful for renewed health, expecting to play vs. Rams


Raiders CB Conley grateful for renewed health, expecting to play vs. Rams

NAPA – Martavis Bryant streaked down the left sideline during Wednesday’s Raiders practice as Derek Carr’s pass went skyward.

Cornerback Gareon Conley matched the speed demon stride for stride, eventually reaching over Bryant’s head to defend the pass. Both guys tumbled to the ground, and got up without a scratch.

That was good news for all Raiders involved, especially for a player on a good (and rare) practice run.

Conley practiced three straight days this week after a hip strain eliminated out the previous two, returning to a secondary that desperately needs him.

“It feels really good to be out there with my teammates,” Conley said. “It had been a long time since I practiced in pads.”

Conley hasn’t done that much as a professional Last year’s first-round pick missed his entire rookie minicamp and most of that season with a shin injury that required surgery.

Then a groin strain cut his 2018 mandatory minicamp short and this hip thing happened on training camp’s first full-squad practice.

“The first day at camp I felt really good after my last injury, so getting another one was really frustrating,” Conley said. “All the coaches and teammates kept me high. That definitely helped.”

The initial prognosis brought him down a bit. He was supposed to miss four weeks but came back in half that. He poured effort into film study, putting himself in a different defensive back’s shoes each day to stay involved.

Outside that, it was all rest, rehab and patience waiting to return. A return to game action should come in Saturday’s preseason game at the L.A. Rams.

“I’m expecting to play,” Conley said. “It’s ultimately up to coaches, but that’s my plan. …I’m definitely looking forward to that, playing against somebody else for the first time in almost a year.”

It has been a while Conley played at Washington on Sept. 24, 2017, and later said he didn’t feel right doing it. Conley’s shin never got right until this spring, even during two cameos last year. He looked good in a Week 2 win over the New York Jets, but didn’t play or run well the following week.

He’ll be able to get some seasoning this preseason, heading towards a 2018 campaign that will essentially be his first. The Raiders have high hopes for Conley playing alongside cornerbacks Rashaan Melvin, Leon Hall and Daryl Worley. He’s excited about a coverage scheme that suits him well.

“Press man: it’s a hard job for cornerbacks but simple on paper,”Conley said. “There isn’t a lot of thinking. You just go out and do your job."

Assuming, of course, he can stay healthy. The key, in Conley’s mind, is not thinking about recent injury woes.

“If you think about it, it’s going to happen,” Conley said. “You have to put it out of your mind. If you don’t, it becomes more mental than physical. Once you think about it, you get hurt again. You can keep going down and down. You’ve got to stay (upbeat).”