OAKLAND – The Raiders considered Shilique Calhoun worthy of a third-round pick. That was in 2016. Roughly 16 months later, they considered him unworthy of a roster spot.
The Michigan State product was included in last preseason’s roster cut, left off the initial 53-man roster. The three-time All-Big Ten performer wasn’t impactful as a rookie, and wasn’t effective playing the strong-side linebacker/edge rushing combo role in Ken Norton Jr.’s defense.
Lackluster production didn’t just get Calhoun cut. It sent him through waivers unclaimed. He re-signed with the Raiders, however, on their practice squad.
He was brought back to the active roster on Oct. 14 last year, but primarily worked on special teams and seemed to be a long shot to make this year’s roster.
Fast forward to Saturday night. Calhoun’s now firmly in the mix to make this team.
While head coach Jon Gruden has shown no allegiance to recent draft picks – Clive Walford, Jihad Ward and Obi Melifonwu have all been jettisoned – the staff and has invested time in developing others. Calhoun is one.
A strong training camp has been supported by preseason performance, where he has eight tackles, two sacks and five quarterback hits.
Calhoun’s confidence is back after a rough NFL start, but he remains focused on improvement over a quest for a roster spot.
“The key is understanding myself as a player, I understand the good I can do,” Calhoun said after Friday’s 13-6 preseason victory over Green Bay. “But I have to minimize the bad so that, at the end of the day, they realize I can contribute to the defense at a high level and be accountable at the same time."
Calhoun takes responsibility for previous shortcomings. He also acknowledges this new coaching staff has given him second life and expedited his development. Calhoun was moved to an edge rushing spot that better fits his skill set and what he was asked to at Michigan State.
“I think the style of defense they run really fits me as a player,” Calhoun said. "It allows me to be aggressive, allows me to be the person that I was before I got here. It lets me be the person I was in high school, the person I was in college. It allows me to be aggressive and make plays."
Calhoun hopes to make plays in the regular season, but that remains uncertain. Edge rusher is a highly competitive spot, with Khalil Mack (when he shows up), Bruce Irvin and Arden Key as primary options. Fadol Brown as also fared well this offseason, and Frostee Rucker provides a veteran presence up front.
Gruden explains Obi exit
Gruden sent 2017 second-round safety Obi Melifonwu packing on Friday, waiving him with an injury designation after just one season in silver and black. He cleared waivers and was placed on injured reserve, but it’s virtually certain he never plays for the Raiders again.
He barely played due to hip and knee injuries last year, and a “lower-body injury” took him out halfway through training camp. That was it, and Gruden made his a corresponding move upon signing Dominique Rodger-Cromartie.
“The No. 1 ability is availability, and he was unavailable,” Gruden said. “Look, it’s probably best for him and best for us to get someone in here who can help us on the field.”
Gruden also discussed why he added Rodgers-Cromartie to help the secondary.
“We have had a number of corners go down and we need somebody to come in here and make a play that hasn’t,” Gruden said. “With the history in this league he has a lot of clout. A lot of people know who he is. We are hoping we can rejuvenate him, get him accumulated into our defense and potentially utilize his skills. He has been improving for a long time. He can play.”
Piñeiro remains out
Rookie kicker Eddy Piñeiro missed his second straight game with a groin injury suffered near training camp’s end. Gruden said it’s uncertain when he’ll be able to return to work when asked if his health issues might linger close to the regular season.
Gruden said veteran Mike Nugent has done well kicking for Piñeiro. He is 3-for-4 on field goal attempts the last two weeks, with just three touchbacks in eight kickoffs.
In other injury news, receiver Griff Whalen was seen leaving the Coliseum in a walking boot.
Keep an eye on Harris
The Raiders coaching staff has become enamored with safety Erik Harris. Primarily a special teams player last year, he has worked his way into the defensive mix with a solid offseason program and training camp.
Gruden keeps saying Harris is in the mix to start, and backed that up with action on Friday night. Harris was announced with the defensive starters and ran with the first unit early in the third preseason game. Karl Joseph's starting job isn't as secure as it once was, with Harris vying for time with Marcus Gilchrist, Joseph, and Reggie Nelson.
"Erik has been consistent," Gruden said. "He is a good communicator on the back end and has made some plays on the ball. He also shows leadership and has been very consistent. I think he did some good things tonight.”