Raiders surviving with skeleton crew at cornerback


Raiders surviving with skeleton crew at cornerback

BRADENTON, Fla. – Raiders are woefully thin at cornerback. Have been for some time.

David Amerson has been concussed, worked through a shoulder issue and will now miss a second straight game with a foot problem. First-rounder Gareon Conley has been shut down indefinitely, maybe for good. Demetrius McCray was signed for reinforcement, and even he’s down for the count.

None of those guys will play Sunday night in Miami.

That leaves TJ Carrie, Dexter McDonald and Sean Smith to cover well. That’s it. There aren’t any career cornerbacks in reserve.

Obi Melifonwu will come off injured reserve Saturday and could play there in a pinch. Safety Keith McGill started his professional career at corner.

The secondary as a whole is unsettled, with impact strong safety Karl Joseph questionable with a groin injury that sidelined him in Buffalo.

That’s a difficult spot for a No. 26-ranked Raiders pass defense that has played eight games without an interception.

“I mean I think they’ve done a good job working,” head coach Jack Del Rio said after Friday’s practice at IMG Academy. “A lot of it is communication, working with each other and understanding the leveraging that you need to take on different guys and playing. I think the guys are doing a solid job of getting through that. We’d love to have arguably our two top guys there that we don’t have right now.”

Del Rio’s referring to Amerson and Conley. Amerson’s the No. 1 cornerback. Conley’s has the most talent.

Smith has fallen off this year, giving too many explosive plays. McDonald is new to the rotation, but generally in good position to flash ball skills.

Carrie has been the rock. He entered the spring as the team’s fourth cornerback, leap-frogged Smith in training camp and is now the most reliable cover man. He has given up a 69.6 completion percentage when targeted, but receivers are averaging just 9.3 yards per reception and precious few yards after the catch.

“I like the pressure, of having so many rely on you,” Carrie said. “I pride myself on being dependable, even in big moments. That’s why you play, to be there for your team. I know I have to be consistent, and I have to be physical and tough. I have to be a guy you can count on. That, as much as anything else, drives me every day.”

The Raiders secondary remains in a tough spot, light years from what they’d hoped after signing Amerson and Smith to big-money deals last offseason and drafting Conley and Melifonwu a few months back.

Depth has been key to sustaining decent play in the back, but Carrie, McDonald and Smith must be better. Solid coverage isn’t good enough on a 3-5 team that must go on a big run to save the season. They have to make big plays, create turnovers and spark the team with players previously down on the depth chart. Carr believes healthy corners are up to the task.

“We’re a close group, and we do everything possible to prep for game,” Carrie said. “We work hard and we’ve done a good job staying together despite so many injuries at the position. I think all of our DBs can cover well and make plays. We’re confident in whoever we put out there on the field.”

Watching Geno Atkins has Maurice Hurst excited to earn role in Guenther's defense


Watching Geno Atkins has Maurice Hurst excited to earn role in Guenther's defense

ALAMEDA – Maurice Hurst is familiar with Paul Guenther’s defensive scheme and his role in it. That knowledge didn’t originate from the Raiders offseason program, or sleepless post-draft nights studying the playbook.

Hurst studied it first at the University of Michigan, focusing on one of planet Earth’s best at his position.

“I’ve been watching Geno Atkins since I was in college,” Hurst said Wednesday. “He’s always someone I’ve had my eye on.”

The veteran Cincinnati Bengal is an elite defensive tackle both stopping the run and pressuring quarterbacks as a three technique, working a scheme Guenther coordinated the last four seasons. Hurst shares similar size, traits and explosiveness off the ball, making Atkins a proper athletic role model. He's a good one, with 61 sacks and six Pro Bowls to his credit.

Time watching Hurst was extremely well spent. The Raiders drafted Hurst in the fifth round – a health issue torpedoed this first-round talent’s draft stock – and paired him with Guenther, who came to Alameda this offseason to coordinate Jon Gruden’s defense.

The Raiders certainly hope Hurst can be like Geno in time, because a dominant interior pass rusher is vital to Guenther’s scheme.

“(Atkins is) strong and he’s fast,” Hurst said. “Those traits translate well in the NFL. He’s able to be very disruptive and get after the quarterback. The three technique is the penetrator of our defense. You have to have someone like Geno to make the defense go. That’s a major part of Coach Guenther's scheme, and why he brought in me and (second-round defensive tackle) P.J. Hall. We have Mario (Edwards). We have a good group of guys who can do what he expects us to do.”

Hurst has immersed himself in Guenther’s scheme since joining the Silver and Black. The Michigan man prides himself on scheme study and proper application in practice, but his head start may have helped. Having an inside man didn’t hurt. Fellow Wolverines defensive lineman Ryan Glasgow was drafted by Cincinnati last season and watched film with Hurst during the offseason.

“I had a pretty good idea of what the defense was like and what coach was expecting,” Hurst said, “from watching film with Ryan and talking to him on FaceTime.”

Hurst likes Guenther’s scheme, and his possible role playing three technique – lining up off the guard’s outside shoulder – for the Raiders.

“It definitely gets me amped up,” Hurst said. “The Bengals, their best player was their three technique. That’s the focal point of their defense, and that’s what Coach Guenther is used to getting, and what he has got his whole time in the NFL (with Atkins). He drafted Geno, and it says something for him drafting me and P.J. I think he expects a lot from us and expects us to fill that role he had with the Bengals.”

Hurst and Hall join Edwards as interior linemen with pass-rush ability. It’s unfair to heap expectations on a rookie and the Raiders won’t, but there’s optimism Hurst will make an instant impact.

He can’t make one right now – he hasn’t put pads on as a Raider – but believes he made a solid first impression during the now concluded offseason program.

“I handle those situations pretty well,” Hurst said. “I try to keep my knowledge of the game up, and I’m always on top of my plays. I’m making sure I always stay true to myself and stay true to the game by working hard and putting in a lot of effort. That’s what can set you apart, being reliable.”

Raiders offer rookies help adjusting to NFL life


Raiders offer rookies help adjusting to NFL life

ALAMEDA – Most Raiders are on summer vacation. Last week’s mandatory minicamp capped the offseason program, giving veteran players freedom to rest, relax or go find a white-sand beach.

Raiders rookies haven’t left Alameda yet. They spent the last few months learning about new coaches, teammates and schemes. This is week is all about everything else involved with being an NFL player.

The Raiders Rookie Academy started Monday and continues through the week, giving players a foundation of knowledge about everything from to financial planning to social media strategy.

Raiders player engagement director LaMonte Winston and manager Annelie Schmittel run a show designed to ease the transition from college life to real-world responsibilities that come with this unique, highly paid profession.

The league used to run these seminars as part of a rookie symposium available only to draft picks. Teams assumed responsibility a few years back, offering vital education to draft picks and pros who never heard their name called.

“I think the most efficient and effective way for every single club is to do it at your place, because you can design and tailor a program specific to your market,” Winston said Wednesday afternoon, following a seminar on dealing with media. “We can get more in depth about the Raiders history and where we live. We can also build camaraderie as a group. They’re all going through the same thing right now, and they can get through it more efficiently this way. You can focus more on your specific working environment, and that helps (players) absorb it much faster.”

This week is all encompassing. They spent Monday focused on Raiders life and tradition, with Derek Carr, Greg Townsend, Darren McFadden and Lincoln Kennedy, among others, as guest speakers. Tuesday focused on league policy. The NFLPA also stopped by. Wednesday was about financial planning and media strategies. Thursday will focus on positive habits, substances of abuse and mental health. Friday will include more financial discussion, leadership training and a trip to Facebook.

“It helps us understand what’s going on behind the scenes,” fifth-round defensive tackle Maurice Hurst said. “We’ve never had freedom like this, and we know there are responsibilities you have to take care of. You never had to worry about balancing a checkbook or anything like that. Having these meetings, and hearing from people who have done it before, helps you figure out what your future’s going to look like in the NFL.”

The Raiders added a new wrinkle to this year’s rookie training. They brought parents into the mix. The team flew 35 family members to Alameda for a bootcamp style seminar, offering a glimpse of NFL schedules and meetings, what is involved with life in the league and the outside pressures that come with it.

“We’re trying to help players transition to the NFL and this business as well as possible. You’re not coming into this league alone. Your family is a part of it. Your significant other is a part of it. Your friends are part of it.

“Players don’t relay all the messages to those close to them, and this is a way to include them in what’s happening with a player in the NFL.”

This week’s crash course is the beginning of the player engagement department’s involvement with rookies learning how to handle all that comes with being an NFL player.

“It is a holistic approach to life outside football,” Winston said. “It’s no different that working with new coaches and new systems. We have to lay it out for them, and then it’s extended into the season, when it becomes the Raiders Rookie Success program. … This is our preseason, so to speak. When everything cranks up (with training camp later this summer), it goes live. The education part of it is critical, and Reggie McKenzie and Jon Gruden really value it, or they wouldn’t support it.”