Raiders relying on 340-pound rookie TE in productive jumbo package

Raiders relying on 340-pound rookie TE in productive jumbo package

ALAMEDA – Lee Smith was a key cog in this Raiders offense. The hulking tight end is a decent receiver but considers himself an honorary offensive lineman, an important piece of the team’s protection.

Losing him to a season-ending ankle injury was a significant blow, one that caused the Raiders to adjust on the fly. They weren’t going to put unqualified options on the field just because it says tight end on their football card. Mychal Rivera and Clive Walford can block, but are primarily receiving options.

The Raiders got creative, and added another offensive lineman to their jumbo package. Vadal Alexander filled that role initially, though undrafted rookie Denver Kirkland has made it his own. He’s technically an eligible receiver and a tight end, but blocks like a tackle for the run and pass.

The package worked extremely well against Denver, with an extra offensive lineman helping block for the run or double team or bracket star Broncos edge rusher Von Miller. Kirkland played 42 snaps against the Broncos, 48 percent of all offensive snaps as the Raiders rushed 43 times for 218 yards and three touchdowns.

They used a straight forward rushing attack, often with a fullback in the game, to ensure speedy ball carriers reached the second level.

The Raiders have used extra offensive linemen before, but it’s become a more regular occurrence without Smith available.

“We’re trying to fill in for Lee, you know?” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “A big guy that gives us the ability to run the ball, that can pass block and can occasionally sneak out and be a part of a route. You know, he’s not going to be a big part of the route tree, but we do have plays designed, those guys get out and catch the ball and run over a little guy. So, they love that part. They love that and what they’re really good at is the blocking part and being physical. So, I think it just makes us physical.”

That’s a desired element among within a Raiders offense hoping to establish a stout running game. Del Rio wants to run well even when the opposition knows what’s coming, making solid protection a must from the five standard linemen all the way out to the receivers.

Kirkland is the new key cog in the protection effort.

“Denver is been a big, physical guy, tough guy,” Del Rio said. “We were drawn to him in camp, thought there were some things that were with developing and that development, obviously, has been accelerated a little bit with him being on the field as much as he is now.”

Kirkland was an early entrant into the NFL Draft who wasn’t taken. The Arkansas alum was still a popular commodity, with the Raiders pitching to sign him as an undrafted player before the selection process ended.

“They were calling during the draft, and I was up for it,” Kirkland said. “Other teams were calling me, but I have made my mind up. I talked to my mom for a quick 30 minutes, and we knew then that we were going to the Raiders.”

It was the smart choice. Coaches were clearly taken by Kirkland during the preseason, where he was versatile enough to play multiple spots. He ended up on the practice squad, mostly due to the talented depth on the Raiders offensive line.

He was promoted before Week 4 due to injuries at right tackle, but didn’t play until he was asked to step up with Smith out. Now, Kirkland appears a fixture as an extra blocker playing tight end.

Whether he leaks out as a pass-catcher or not remains a mystery. Donald Penn has caught a touchdown pass this year and Kirkland says he would be a reliable receiver if called upon.

“Oh, yeah. I’ve got great hands,” Kirkland said with a smile. “That would be a great moment for me.”

Derek Carr would make same decision on game-changing interception vs. Dolphins


Derek Carr would make same decision on game-changing interception vs. Dolphins

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Derek Carr had the Raiders charging downfield late in the fourth quarter, seemingly primed to score a go-ahead touchdown and buck an early-season trend of struggling in the fourth quarter.

They travelled 77 yards with ease before facing a first down at the Miami 13-yard line. Carr found a favorable matchup he wanted to exploit, with Martavis Bryant locked in single coverage against Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard.

Carr lofted a ball skyward, though it was a bit short. Howard blocked Bryant out toward the baseline, leaped up and snagged it.

The Dolphins maintained the lead and then expanded it two plays later on a shovel pass Albert Wilson took 74 yards to the house. Game, Dolphins.

That interception started the downhill slide that sent the Raiders to 0-3 following a loss to the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.

“He just saw man-to-man coverage,” head coach Jon Gruden said. “He decided to take a shot and unfortunately it didn't work out.”

It’s a shot Carr says he would continue to take, even after the unwelome result.

"If we have a one-on-one, we can go to certain looks [and] those kind of things,” Carr said. “I just saw one-on-one with Martavis [Bryant]. Obviously he was hot and he was doing some good things. I just gave him a chance, just like I have a hundred other times in my life. They ended up making a good play.

“It sucks, right? The outcome sucks, but, I think, going back through in my head, getting one-on-one with that guy I'd probably have to do it again.”

It’s a play that will be second-guessed, like any mistake made by a true franchise quarterback. Carr obviously wishes for a better result there, maybe a bit better throw that only Bryant could've reached.

Carr gave Amari Cooper a chance to make a play down the field late in the first quarter. He heaved it high and deep, but Cooper saw the ball take flight, and stopped running his route while in heavy coverage.

“I had [Cameron Wake] coming up the field, so I stopped, got back inside, and Coop had him beat,” Carr said. “I let it go, but he never saw me. He never saw the ball, so he stopped. Again, that's something, like, obviously you don't want it to happen because we could’ve had a big touchdown [scored]; but he didn't see me. He didn't see the ball thrown.

“I can't get mad at him for that. It's not like he just ran the wrong route or something or blatantly did it. I promise you, he wishes he had that one back. We had the look, we had a good look for the play, so I wish we would have hit that one. That would have been fun.”

Marshawn Lynch speaks, says 0-3 Raiders 'just a play away' from being good

Marshawn Lynch speaks, says 0-3 Raiders 'just a play away' from being good

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Marshawn Lynch rarely talks to the press. In fact, he hadn’t said a word to reporters since Sept. 17, 2017, following a blowout victory over the New York Jets where he got hyphy.

Lynch didn’t feel like dancing during or after a 28-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium, but he wanted to convey a clear message.

The Raiders aren’t going to fold after an 0-3 start. And they’re very close to being very good.

“To be honest with you big dog, we are just a play away, a check away from being probably the most explosive offense in the league,” Lynch said. “That will come in time, with preparation. I don’t think we’re going to stop working. Any given moment, it can click.”

The Raiders' run game was clicking against the Dolphins, totaling 109 yards on 32 carries. Lynch averaged just 3.4 yards per carry, but he seemed to get better as the game progressed.

The Silver and Black moved the ball well but couldn’t score often enough. They couldn’t keep the chains moving long enough in the fourth quarter and ultimately let another late lead slip.

Lynch believes the Raiders' locker room remains optimistic despite a disappointing string of results.

“That should tell you how we really feel,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “Even as critical as you guys need to be of us, you all see it too, right? We’re moving the ball against some good defenses. …We stay close and we’ll be right there, and then we screw it up. If we get it together, once you get rolling, it doesn’t stop.

“We have a group of guys who believe that. If Marshawn talked to you, he really believes it. The fact he came out and said something shows you how we really feel.”

Lynch is a popular figure in the locker room and among the fan base, even though he doesn’t talk to the media much. He made a point to speak after this loss -- though he was promoting a movie as well -- to add emphasis to his point and what’s he’s surely saying behind closed doors.

"What’s going to be most important is that we rally behind each other more than anything,” Lynch said. “From the outside looking in, it may look terrible, but we know what we have in this locker room. If we get behind each other, I think we’ll be able to turn this (thing) around.”