ALAMEDA – Raiders coach Jon Gruden joked he might’ve gotten kicked out of the airplane home from Seattle if he decided to cut wide receiver Keon Hatcher after scoring three touchdowns in a preseason game against the Seahawks.
He didn’t do it right away, but it didn’t take long for Hatcher to get the axe. It formlly swung on Sept. 12 -- Hatcher was notified the night before -- when the Raiders brought back Martavis Bryant.
The Arkansas alum bounced around some after that, and spent the last six weeks on the Green Bay Packers' practice squad.
The Raiders signed him off of it Monday morning, and put him right back on their active roster. The move was required with Brandon LaFell officially placed on injured reserve.
Hatcher’s familiarity with this offense will help him integrate quickly. He’s expected to hit the ground running, and play next week against the Baltimore Ravens.
“I know the playbook inside out,” Hatcher said. “I know every [receiver] position. I think I’ll be out there pretty quick.”
Hatcher had a strong preseason, but was a surprise member of the 53-man roster. There are several reasons to like his game: Namely, he has great speed and is a smooth route-runner with solid hands.
The 24-year-old is coming in to help after LaFell tore his Achilles in the third quarter of Sunday’s 23-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. LaFell is a pro’s pro, and signed early this season as a reserve before moving into a larger role following the Amari Cooper trade.
He was on a one-year deal and faces a long recovery, so it’s likely he has played his last down as a Raider.
“He was a good player,” Gruden said. “He beat [top-flight Cardinals cornerback] Patrick Peterson on a touchdown pass yesterday. Went up and got a huge third-down conversion. Touchdown against the Colts. He did a lot of things for us. He played multiple positions. We’re going to miss him. He’s going to be a hard guy to replace.”
Ellis on the way back
The Raiders plan to designate defensive tackle Justin Ellis to return from injured reserve this week. Ellis is expected to practice starting Wednesday, and he would be eligible to play Baltimore if he’s physically ready to go.
That determination will be made later in the week, though the Raiders have an open roster spot should they want to add him. One was created when the team waived Saeed Blacknall Monday afternoon. It’s possible Blacknall will return to the Raiders' practice squad if he clears waivers.
The Raiders could use some help against the run, where they have struggled mightily. Ellis is a nose tackle in the base defense, primarily where Johnathan Hankins has played. Hankins hasn’t been bad, but adding another big body in the middle will be a plus the rest of the season.
Jordy Nelson nearing return
Gruden said there was a chance receiver Jordy Nelson could start practicing this week, after he missed Sunday's game with a bone bruise centered on his knee.
“I visited with Jordy a little bit last night on the airplane,” Gruden said. “I thought he ran pretty good this morning. He’s got a chance. It’s important to him, I think he wants to come back and play no doubt, and he’s getting close to doing that.”
It’s somewhat unusual for players ruled out during the week to make road trips, but Nelson came to Arizona ro aid a young group of wideouts playing much larger roles.
“I asked Jordy if he wanted to stay in Oakland and get extra treatment,” Gruden said. “He said, ‘heck no, I want to come to the game.’ It’s just that kind of attitude we need right now on this team. A veteran presence, being with the receivers, being with Derek on the sideline. It’s a good group of guys, and he is at the head of the list. He’s really a special person to give himself to the team like he has.”