Raiders

Raiders' Maxx Crosby has made career out of capitalizing on opportunities

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Raiders' Maxx Crosby has made career out of capitalizing on opportunities

ALAMEDA – Eastern Michigan’s football program certainly was interested in Maxx Crosby. He had a stack of recruiting letters to prove it.

That didn’t immediately result in a scholarship. It came with an invitation to the Eagles’ annual prospects camp. If Crosby wanted his first and only Division I offer, he had to go earn it.

The Crosbys packed up the car and drove the roughly 1,200 miles from Colleyville, Tex. to Michigan, a well-worn path made annually to visit family. This one, however, had big stakes.

“I knew I had to kill it, and I feel like I did,” Crosby said on this week’s Raiders Talk podcast. “They ended up offering me and my best friend right after the camp. It was crazy, and an awesome experience.”

Crosby got his scholarship. Great. Now he had to do something with it. He parlayed his one shot at D-I football into a professional one with the Raiders, who selected Crosby in the fourth round of this year’s NFL draft.

“My goal out of high school was to play D-I, and they were the school to offer me,” Crosby said. “I was going no matter what. I wanted that opportunity and took advantage of it. It’s just like this year. I knew whoever took me, it was going to be the right fit. The Raiders believed in me and are letting me play my game. Now it’s up to me to take full advantage.”

Crosby’s getting good at capitalizing on golden opportunities. He got another one in Week 4 when Benson Mayowa was unavailable. Crosby had four quarterback pressures, two big run stops, two batted passes and a forced fumble in a career-high 44 defensive snaps. That’s worth a high factor grade, which Raiders coaches value nearly above everything else.

That led to more and more snaps and now Crosby’s a full-time, three-down player operating well in all aspects of the game.

“He has a relentless playing style that we like and I talk about factor grades more than sacks,” head coach Jon Gruden said. “A lot of people count sacks out there. Sacks, I put them on a reel: ‘Who’d you sack? When did you sack them? And who’d you beat and how’d you beat them?’ Crosby is batting down passes, he’s getting pressures. I know it doesn’t necessarily show up on the stat sack ledger, but he’s impacting the game and that’s the big thing we want from all of our defenders.”

All that from a kid expected to be a situational pass rusher this year. He shed knocks from his pre-draft profile, that he was a small-school kid who wasn’t strong enough and needs to improve against the run. He was someone NFL.com expected to be a backup or a special teams player.

“I had production the last two years of college, a lot of it,” Crosby said. “When I came to the NFL, I knew that I could get it done. They break down small pieces of your game before the draft, some that don’t even matter, and I just used that as another chip on my shoulder. I’m very confident in my abilities. I really don’t listen to outside noise. I just do what I do, and it has been working.

“I feel like I’ve always been slept on and overlooked, but that’s just more motivation.”

Crosby is impacting games, like he did in last week’s victory over the LA Chargers. He had just a half sack but led the team with seven pressures and forced two errant throws that became Raiders interceptions.

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Fans love sacks, but Crosby simply is interested in making plays everywhere on the field and capitalizing on every chance to make contributions to a team that believed he could be something special.

“Sacks come in bunches. They will be there if I keep playing hard,” Crosby said. “Personally, I can’t worry about sacks and trying to get them If you’re thinking too much and getting sack happy, you’re going to do things the coaches aren’t going to be happy about. Just do your assignment and go 100 mph. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Mark Davis opens up as Raiders' second Oakland era dawns, Vegas awaits

Mark Davis opens up as Raiders' second Oakland era dawns, Vegas awaits

Growing up around the franchise his father, the legendary Al Davis, controlled for a half century, Mark Davis is never far from the memories that come when sifting through history. Which has made this year, the Raiders' last in Oakland, so fraught with emotion.

But not for the obvious reason, the team leaving its ancestral home.

Oh, sure, there is regret about how the Raiders' return to Oakland unfolded, the team coming back in 1995, after 13 years in Los Angeles, hoping but failing to regain the football dominance and local devotion that defined it from the mid-1960s through 1980. Part II never reached the heights of Part I, with Super Bowl victories, and the team and community forming a bond so tight that, to many, their 1982 departure was not unlike losing a family member.

That precise feeling has landed upon Davis this year. He is operating beneath a shroud of sorrow not because the team has all but extinguished its playoff hopes or because the last game in the faded, fabled Oakland Coliseum, scheduled for Sunday afternoon, will signal the end an era.

It’s because the Raiders are family to Davis, and many of his family members have left over the past 12 months.

Josh Atkinson, son of former Raider George Atkinson, passed away last December. His service in January was the beginning. In the months since, the Raiders have lost, to name a few, former running back Clem Daniels (March), former linebacker Dan Connors (April), former assistant coach Gunther Cunningham (May), Hall of Fame semifinalist Cliff Branch (August), former linebacker Neiron Ball (September) and Hall of Fame cornerback Willie Brown (October).

George Atkinson III, twin brother of Josh, died Nov. 29, three days before what would have been his 27th birthday.

“I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” Davis said Friday. “To lose Cliff and Willie, so close together ... Willie was one of my mom’s best friends. And Cliff was my best friend. Those were really tough.

“It started with Josh. That was the early bookend. And now George, two weeks ago, is the other bookend. I hope. We still have another three weeks to go.”

Davis copes with the grief, he says, by compartmentalizing everything. There is an NFL team to run, meetings to attend -- such as two days in Dallas earlier this week -– and decisions to make that could affect the lives of thousands of people.

He understands there will be broken hearts, once more, when the team packs up and heads to Las Vegas. He also hopes fans will continue to support the team that in many ways gave Oakland an identity that spread around the globe.

“There’s no question about it,” Davis said. “The Raiders and Oakland grew up together. We were the stepchild of San Francisco. We were just Oakland. And I believe my dad took special pride in that and in building it up.

“The Raiders were born in Oakland, and Oakland will always be part of our DNA. There’s no doubt about that.”

The magic that made the Raiders special beyond the confines of the NFL was built in the 1960s and 1970s, behind stars such as Ken Stabler, Jack Tatum, Gene Upshaw, Lester Hayes, Jim Plunkett, Brown and Branch. They were high-profile, near-mythic figures, none more than Al Davis, the swaggering brash man at the top, taking no prisoners.

Part II in Oakland mostly was a disaster. The finances pleased no one. The team floundered through its worst of times. When Al Davis died in 2011, the Raiders had not had a winning season in eight years.

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Which is why Mark Davis spent six years, beginning shortly after his father’s death, chasing Jon Gruden, whose culture change in 1998 pushed the team to three consecutive postseasons. Gruden finally relented in January 2018, lured back by a 10-year contract worth $100 million.

“We’re in a better place now,” Davis said. “We’ve got stability for the next 10 years.”

As the team goes to Vegas, the memories, good and bad, remain mostly in Oakland. Still, Davis’ fondest recall of Raiders in Oakland, Part II, is rather surprising inasmuch it did not occur in Gruden’s first term as coach or in any of the four playoff seasons over the past 24 years.

No, it came during the unremarkable two years during which Dennis Allen was the coach.

“The most memorable night, to me, was that Thursday night game against the Chiefs,” Davis said of a game played in 2014. “We were 0-10. It was pouring rain. The place was sold out and crazy. The crowd filled it up. We beat them (24-20) and got our first win of the season.

“That night was a reminder of what the Raider Nation is all about, and how they’ve supported the team and, hopefully, will continue to support the team in the future.”

That future will take place in Las Vegas, where $2 billion, 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium, with a retractable dome, reportedly is 75 percent complete and expected to be ready to open before the 2020 season. It will have grass turf on a field that can be slid into and out of the stadium, as is the case with University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals.

This, Davis insists, is the result of failed negotiations to keep the Raiders in Oakland. After numerous attempts over the past decade to strike a deal that would allow the team to remain in place, it reached a point where it became clear to Davis and his fellow NFL owners that the bargaining would not reach a satisfactory conclusion.

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Vegas was waiting. The desert mecca flashed wads of cash and acres of land, and, well, Davis and his group decided to jump.

“The Oakland Raiders were established in 1960,” Davis said. “The Los Angeles Raiders were established in 1982. And the Las Vegas Raiders are being established in 2020. It’s a new era, and we’ve got a new residence.”

Davis said he’s not particularly nostalgic about Part II in Oakland. He went through all of that back in 1982. It’s about business now, and cherishing memories created by years of football but ultimately populated by people within the Raiders family.

Raiders' Tyrell Williams playing through 'significant' plantar fasciitis

Raiders' Tyrell Williams playing through 'significant' plantar fasciitis

ALAMEDA – Tyrell Williams scored four touchdowns in his first four games as a member of the Raiders, with 216 receiving yards to boot. The veteran receiver seemed to be integrating himself well into a new offense, but he was already battling a nasty bout of plantar fasciitis.

The nagging, extremely painful foot ailment struck in Week 2, but he didn’t bow out of the lineup until Week 4. Williams missed two games before coming back into the fray to help a weakened and floundering Raiders receiver corps.

Williams has had some good moments and some pretty bad ones since his return, with lower efficiency than he’s used to. While Williams won’t excuse lackluster play, Raiders coaches have come to his defense when asked about his health.

Williams’ plantar fasciitis is still bugging him. Pretty bad, as a matter of fact, despite him practicing fully on a consistent basis.

“Yeah, it’s been a real challenge,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said Friday. “We’ve had a lot of foot problems around here this year. He’s been dealing with it really since the second week of the season and he missed a few games. He came back and hasn’t really healed. He’s managed it. We try to manage him on the practice field, but give him credit, he’s playing through pain and we thank him for that.”

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It’s something Williams will continue to fight through as the Raiders head toward the end of the season. Rest is the best medicine, and he won’t be able to do that for a few more weeks.

“It’s a pretty significant injury, but he’s battling through it,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “He’s taking medication before every game trying to manage the pain, but certainly every week that’s something he’s had to deal with.”