Raiders notes: Shilique Calhoun credits scheme and staff for improvement


Raiders notes: Shilique Calhoun credits scheme and staff for improvement

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.”

Raiders waive D.J. Swearinger, two others in flurry of roster moves


Raiders waive D.J. Swearinger, two others in flurry of roster moves

Raiders coach Jon Gruden promised to make some changes following three straight blowout losses.

He wasn’t bluffing.

The Raiders waived three players Tuesday, parting ways with safety D.J. Swearninger, linebacker Preston Brown and defensive tackle Terrell McClain as part of a series of roster moves.

Swearinger's the biggest name in the group. The veteran was the primary strong safety, working extensively in the base package and obvious running downs. He had 20 tackles and a pass defensed in four games' work. Brown was here a few weeks but played his first Raiders game Sunday, working 14 snaps. McClain was a rotational interior defensive lineman who had been a Raider since Week 6.

All three were in-season signings working on contracts that weren't guaranteed and, ultimately, didn't work out. 

Tight end Foster Moreau was also placed on injured reserve with a knee injury that will require surgery.

The team also signed running back Rod Smith for positional depth, a possible sign that Josh Jacobs might not be ready to return with a shoulder injury. Time will tell on that front.

The Raiders roster currently sits at 50, meaning there’s another flurry coming soon if the team plans to reach the 53-man maximum. Practice-squad promotions could be coming next, considering a new signing would take time to get up to speed. Players previously lower on the depth chart could get a shot as Gruden tries to shake things up heading down the stretch.

[RELATED: Sunday marks end of an era for longtime Black Hole residents]

He was clearly frustrated by three straight games of terrible play, where the Raiders were outscored 116-33. The Tennessee Titans beat them 42-21 at home, with the defense giving up one long drive after another and 552 yards total offense.

“We’ve got to play better, and we’re going to play better, and there will be changes,” Gruden said during his Monday press conference. “There will be changes. What happened yesterday will not happen again. I can’t allow it to happen.”

Cornerback Dylan Mabin also was placed on the practice-squad injured reserve list.

Raiders' Oakland finale is end of an era for longtime Black Hole residents

Raiders' Oakland finale is end of an era for longtime Black Hole residents

OAKLAND -- Andrew DiDomenico is a lifelong, diehard Raiders fan. The San Jose native was shattered when his favorite team left for Los Angeles after the 1981 season and so thrilled when the Silver and Black returned to Oakland that he threw down cash for season tickets in the Coliseum’s southern end zone.

That’s all it was back in 1995, just a ground floor seat in a huge stadium with a unique view of the action.

It quickly morphed into something truly unique, a fan section unlike any other.

“I have been down here for 23 years, I think,” DiDomenico said before Sunday’s loss to the Titans at Oakland Coliseum. “I see the same people that I’ve seen for so long now. There are just a few of us who have been around since they came back, when the Black Hole was actually invented.”

The Black Hole was formed by Rob Rivera and some friends back in 1996, who set the tone for a rowdy, at times aggressive group of Raiders loyalists that grew and grew and now dominates sections 104-107 along the southern end zone.

“This place is legendary,” said Rivera, the Black Hole president. “There are so many good times and good memories with good people that it’s hard to pick one, two or even three. …There are probably some that we can’t repeat.”

We won’t chronicle them here, not even the craziest from the 1990s, when the Black Hole was an anarchist’s paradise not to be trifled with. Yes, that includes the experience of one Raider -- Rivera wasn’t naming names, but it was Desmond Howard -- who got his car rocked back and forth after being too happy leaving the Coliseum after a heartbreaking loss.

Those anecdotes are interesting (and often R-rated), but that’s not what this story’s about.

This is about the end of an era.

The Raiders will relocate to Las Vegas in 2020 and bid farewell to Oakland Coliseum after Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a point of devastation that might send tears streaking through silver and black face paint.

“It’s like a second home,” Rivera said. “I feel like I’ve been here all my life. There are so many great memories in this place. It’s just unbelievable. This place should be revered like Green Bay or other legendary venues. Yeah, it’s old and torn down and it’s ugly, but it’s ours. Because of all the great teams and the great games that have taken place in this place, it’s beautiful to us.

“… The Raiders are on their way out of town, and we’re heartbroken.”

While residents of the Black Hole can be rough around the edges, they aren’t quite as scary as some costumes make them seem. Passion and unwavering loyalty pervade down there, as they always have. Troublemaking no longer is a defining Black Hole characteristic.

That’s especially true of those closest to the field, who enter the stadium early and line the rails before the game and stand and scream from kickoff to final whistle. They welcome players vaulting into the stands after a score. They revel in moments when coach Jon Gruden visits after a win. They love dressing up and creating a raucous homefield advantage.

There’s something else going on here that you don’t see in CBS celebration shots or images of scowling intimidators with spiked shoulder pads. This is a community bound by a love of the Raiders valued above all else, far more than its rough-and-tumble reputation. While tourists come and go, most of the members of the Black Hole have been sitting next to each other for years. They come together a few Sundays per year to eat and drink (a lot) and celebrate their team through wins and a whole lot of losses.

But, when the Raiders provide something to cheer, there’s nothing quite like being in the Black Hole.

“The energy here is electric,” DiDomenico said. “Sometimes it takes a while to get everybody going but once that happens, it shakes you inside. The energy comes from inside all the fans in the Black Hole. I’m nuts [when I’m] out here. I’ll try to get everybody yelling early to get things going. When the crowd gets going, it’s just crazy.

"All the people around here are wonderful.”

Bonds are superglue strong now, and it’s tough to imagine the family ripping apart after Sunday’s game.

“It’s sad,” DiDomenico said. “I’ve been a Raiders fan since their inception. I have been coming to all the games since they came back from L.A. and it’s really tough that a lot of us here won’t be making every game out there. I mean, it’s a trip.”

Some Black Hole residents have bought 2020 season tickets for when the Raiders move to Las Vegas. Many have not. Adding a flight and hotel to a full season pass isn’t as economically feasible and will limit the number of games attended by some. Count DiDomenico among them.

Those with seats could try to recongregate in one end zone, but there is no dedicated Black Hole section at Allegiant Stadium. There wasn’t one at Oakland Coliseum when the Raiders came back. The Black Hole grew organically and must do so again to carry on in Las Vegas.

While there’s some confusion among fans I spoke to about additional rules in the new stadium, a Raiders source said the team isn’t putting restrictions on fans wanting to costume up or put on face paint or form communities in the stands.

It’s undeniable that the fan experience in a state-of-the-art Las Vegas venue will be different. It surely will be sanitized somewhat. Some traditions will carry on. Others will cease on Sunday against the Jaguars, when this Oakland chapter of Raiders history comes to a close.

[RELATED: Carr, Raiders know 'nobody cares' about cause of fatal skid]

DiDomenico plans to treat this Sunday like any other. The Gilroy resident will set up his American flag canopy in Oakland Coliseum’s A Lot, next to friends he has tailgated with over the last decade. He’ll make margaritas, lay out a spread and share food with anyone coming through.

Then he’ll don the construction hardhat with an American flag, an eagle and a Raiders shield that he has worn since 9/11, already sporting a similarly designed shirt that reads, “Fear This!” and head into the stadium. He’ll head down to the first row of the Black Hole, next to Gorilla Rilla and his friends for one last stay in a truly unique environment.

“Everybody wants to sit down here. And we don’t sit. We stand,” Didomenico said. “It’s a zoo, but it’s awesome.”