Raiders

Raiders want second-round pick Ward to stop playing like a robot

Raiders want second-round pick Ward to stop playing like a robot

SARASOTA, Fla. – The Raiders want defensive lineman Jihad Ward to stop acting like a robot. The rookie second-round pick is a bit too rigid at times, trying too hard to play by the rules.

With his agility and athleticism, coaches want him to riff a little bit and make more plays.

“The message is, don’t be so rigid,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “Yeah, you have the B-gap, but you can whip that guy and go make a play in the A or B or C or somewhere else in the backfield. Sometimes young guys are so conscientious on being exactly where they have to be that they just don’t play football. So, we want our guys to express themselves, want them to let it flow and just trust their instincts to help play football.”

Ward is learning on the fly this season. He’s playing far more that anyone expected, largely because Mario Edwards Jr. is on injured reserve with a hip injury. He’s on the comeback trail, and hopes to join an improved Ward and Denico Autry on the interior defensive line.

“I’m just taking it to the next step,” Ward said. “You have to keep learning and learning and getting better. I have learning to do. I feel a little like a robot, you know what I’m saying? It just takes time. Everything takes time.”

Rookies often worry to much about following the letter of the law, and the Raiders hope Ward realizes how much talent is locked inside.

“He’s an effort-filled guy. I’m waiting for him to kind of recognize how athletic he is,” Del Rio said. “He’s a lot more athletic than some of the linemen he’s allowing to actually get their hands on him. So, as he gains that experience and recognizes that more and more, I think we’ll cut him loose more and more.”

Interior pressure has been missing from the Raiders defense, though Ward provided more of it in a victory over Jacksonville and has shown better in recent weeks. It still isn’t good enough for the Illinois product, who was always as a high-ceiling player who needed some polish.

That has come through experience in a busy rookie year where he’s playing 60 percent of Raiders defensive snaps.

“With me first coming up in the NFL, I’m wondering, ‘Why am I thinking too much?,’” Ward said. “I have it, ain’t no point in thinking. … I just have to keep trusting it, keep trusting it and that’s all I have to say on that one.”

Mike Mayock reveals why he's OK with Raiders' NFL free agency spending

Mike Mayock reveals why he's OK with Raiders' NFL free agency spending

Mike Mayock always will be associated with the NFL draft. So it should come as no surprise that the former NFL Network draft analyst had to be convinced to improve the Raiders through free agency and trades.

NBC Sports' Peter King spoke with the Raiders general manager over the weekend and wrote about what Mayock told him in his Football Morning In America column.

So I’ve known Mayock for some time, and when we spoke Saturday night, he sounded like the same driven prospect-knower I’ve come to rely on in the last few years. “I’ll be honest,” he said. “I never believed in big spending in free agency. For years, that is not where my head was. But Jon Gruden and I spent a long, long time examining our team. We had so many team needs. We figured, we can go out and spend a little money on several positions. Or this year, we can look at three, four, five, six guys who can make a difference on the field and, as importantly, in the locker room. If we can get the guys we want, we should do it. We find a way to get Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, J.J. Nelson at receiver. We get a tackle, Trent Brown, 25 years old, who doesn’t even know how good he can be, who was lock-down, shutout in the playoffs for New England. We got Rodney Hudson at center, with a good young tackle, Kolton Miller, as the other tackle. We can line up and compete right now offensively.”

With the signings of Trent Brown, Williams, Joyner, Jon Feliciano, Josh Mauro and Nelson, the Raiders added just over $40 million to their 2019 salary. When you add the nearly $15 million that Anotnio Brown will make in 2019, Oakland has added $55 million worth of players for the upcoming season.

[RELATED: How AB trade almost didn't happen]

That definitely goes against Mayock's previous mindset. But as he's probably learning, you need veterans on the team in order to compete. And Gruden isn't about to throw away another year playing a bunch of rookies.

Why Raiders won award for Khalil Mack trade at MIT Sloan conference

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USATSI

Why Raiders won award for Khalil Mack trade at MIT Sloan conference

Daryl Morey is rooting for a team from ... Oakland?

The Houston Rockets general manager, whose Warriors obsession does not quite equate to fondness, told The Athletic's Vic Tafur he is "rooting for the Raiders" this season. The reason is even more surprising than the geography.

The Raiders won the Alpha Award at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston for "Best Transaction."

The deal?

Trading Khalil Mack (and a second-round pick) to the Chicago Bears for first-round picks in 2019 and 2020 and a third-round selection in 2020. 

“Everybody else thought it was a terrible trade, but draft picks are very valuable,” Morey told The Athletic over the phone Saturday. “Analytics tends to fly in the face of popular convention pretty often. We don’t care about what people say.”

Morey was a member of the voting panel and co-founded the conference. When he called Raiders president Marc Badain to tell him the Silver and Black took home the award, Badain thought it was a joke. 

"I had to tell him several times that I wasn't kidding," Morey said. "I guess they took a lot of heat for that."

That is an understatement. Mack finished the 2018 season with a half-a-sack fewer (12.5) than the Raiders did as a team (13), and made first-team All-Pro for the third time in the last four years. 

The 28-year-old also led the Bears to their first NFC North title (and a playoff berth) since 2010. That means the first-round selection the Raiders will ultimately receive is No. 24 overall, which is far lower than the team initially envisioned. 

[RELATED: Raiders reportedly hosting multiple veteran linebackers]

Of course, that pick is now one of five first-rounders the Silver and Black will have at its disposal in the next two drafts. That gives the Raiders a sizable opportunity to reshape their roster in the wake of winning just 10 games over the last two seasons.

The Mack trade was responsible for two of those selections, as well as the Raiders' newfound silverware. Morey said he was told the trophy is on Gruden's office desk. 

Whether any other trophies join the collection depends, at least in part, on what the Raiders do with the picks they got for Mack.