ALAMEDA – The Raiders receiving corps was the unquestioned team strength heading toward the regular season. That crew was talented and deep, with players of varied skills sets capable of doing almost anything in the pattern.
The position group got a lot weaker on Saturday, when the Raiders released Antonio Brown following a drama-filled week that included an altercation with Mike Mayock that led to a huge fine and voided guarantees. Brown celebrated his release, threw shade at some Raiders on social media and then agreed to a one-year contract with the New England Patriots.
The Antonio Brown circus has left town, which might be good for the locker room. But it’s a real blow for the receivers, who were taken aback by Saturday’s developments.
“We feel how everyone else feels,” Tyrell Williams said. “It has been wild, crazy and unexpected, but we’re going to go out there and play regardless. It sucks that he’s not here, but he made that decision. We’re going to go out there and play hard and play well.”
This will be a big moment for Williams. His father is Oakland born and raised, and he often spent part of his summers in the East Bay. Now he’ll play in front of 20 close friends and family as the Raiders No. 1 receiver.
“I feel very confident in myself to fill in that role,” Williams said. “I’m excited to go out there and prove it. I can’t wait for that.”
Williams has been the primary target only once, when he led the injury-plagued Chargers through 2016 with 69 catches for 1,059 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Raiders would gladly take that from Williams this season, knowing they’ll spread the wealth a little bit between him slot man Hunter Renfrow, running back Josh Jacobs and tight end Darren Waller.
Having Brown in the pattern would’ve made life easier on those guys, who must now function well with heavy attention paid to them.
“It’s possible, but we’re going to ready for whatever [Denver’s] coaches throw at us,” Waller said. “We’ll see some different looks out there. It will obviously be different without 84, but we’re prepared for whatever comes our way. We’re going to perform and perform well. I’m extremely confident in that.”
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Pass catchers have been around Brown as much as anyone on the team, and will miss him. Waller sat next to Brown every day since the offseason program, and always enjoyed his company.
“I don’t have anything against him. I love the guy,” Waller said. “He sat right next to me here in the locker room. He’s a positive dude, but he’s not here anymore. We don’t hate him. We just have to handle our business. It’s as simple as that.”