Raiders

Raiders working on creative ways to involve Darren Waller in offense

Raiders working on creative ways to involve Darren Waller in offense

ALAMEDA – Darren Waller is a tight end by trade. That’s his formal job title, but he does so much more than that.

Sure, he’s an in-line tight end who runs routes from that spot and occasionally blocks for the run. He’s also a slot receiver. At other times, he’s a traditional wideout.

Waller has speed and size that frustrates the opposition, especially when his offensive coaches find favorable matchups. He’s too big for cornerbacks, too fast for linebackers, and his combination of skills are hard on safeties, especially when pulled from their regular assignment.

That makes it fun for head coach Jon Gruden and offensive coordinator Greg Olson to design plays for a guy like that.

“I think Waller is growing into something here,” Gruden said. “He’s a guy that we detached (on Sunday against Kansas City). We lined him up in the slot, we lined him up conventionally as a tight end and he’s smart. He’s had some receiving production and obviously more and more we are going to use him.”

Waller has 13 catches for 133 yards on 15 targets through two games heading into Sunday’s game at Minnesota, proving a dynamic option for any spot.

The converted receiver plays plenty of them.

Waller has played 114 snaps through two games, with 68 as an in-line tight end, 20 from the slot and 26 out wide.

Coaches are trying to create new and inventive ways to get the ball to someone they consider a top-level talent.

“You’re always trying to develop those players at every position,” Olson said. “We have what we believe will be an elite player at that position, and it helps. Now you’re looking for one at every skill position, who can show that type of productivity and that type of development.”

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Blocking is an important part of keeping things unpredictable. While Waller doesn’t block much, he has improved significantly in that area and is a threat to stay home and help the run game on any given play. Defenses can’t assume Waller’s only a receiver, and have to respect all aspects of his game.

“He has improved at all levels, from receiving to route running to end blocking,” Olson said. “He’s a willing blocker, and that’s what his position coaches would tell you. That’s half the battle for a lot of these tight ends these days. He has shown that, and the strength to do so. That breeds confidence in the player. We feel like he can get better, but he’s a much better product now than when he came here.”

Raiders' Paul Guenther calls Vontaze Burfict suspension 'witch hunt'

Raiders' Paul Guenther calls Vontaze Burfict suspension 'witch hunt'

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders were seething over Vontaze Burfict’s season-long suspension over his illegal hit on Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle, yet confident the unprecedented punishment for an on-field act would lessen upon appeal.

Jon Gruden and Derek Carr spoke on Burfict’s behalf. The middle linebacker himself pleaded for leniency on a suspension that was more about past acts and a dirty reputation than the hit itself. Such logic fell on deaf ears, and independent arbitrator Derrick Brooks upheld the original suspension.

Gruden bit his tongue when asked about on Wednesday, only saying he was upset over the decision.

Paul Guenther did not take the same tact.

The Raiders defensive coordinator, who has known and worked with Burfict for years in Cincinnati and helped the linebacker establish himself in the NFL, voiced his displeasure in no uncertain terms.

“It was a witch hunt from the beginning, quite honestly. Somebody from the league didn’t want him playing, and they got what they wanted. The Raiders are going to keep a close eye, and make sure everyone is being held to the same standard that Vontaze was. We had no idea that this guy – does it make any sense to sign a guy where, after one infraction, he’s going to get thrown out of the league for the year? No, it doesn’t.

“I think it’s unfair. I think it’s unfair to our team. It’s unfair to Vontaze. But we have resilient guys, and they’re going to fill in for him and they’re going to play for him.”

Guenther said the Raiders did not know another infraction for an illegal hit would end Burfict’s season. They never would’ve made him such a vital part of their defense had that been the case. At the very least, they would’ve added a durable safety net underneath him.

“Nobody knew that the next time he dropped the helmet a little bit and hit a guy that he was going to be done for the year. Absolutely not,” Guenther said. “To sign a guy like that and know that was going to happen makes no sense.”

Guenther took umbrage with the fact that, unlike penalties for violating policies on personal conduct, performance-enhancing drugs or substances of abuse, there’s no clear line of punishment laid out in writing for all to see and follow. That’s another reason why the Raiders feel Burfict’s suspension was excessive and clearly targeted at one specific individual.

“There’s no standard. That’s the issue I have,” Guenther said. “There’s no [protocol] that says, the next time you do this, you’re done for the year and maybe your career. I think it’s unfair. You can warn a guy, but you should put in writing that the next time this happens, you’re done. That’s where I have a problem. It’s unfair to the kid. It’s unfair to all the players around the league to not know what will happen. You give this guy a whole year suspension? I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t think that’s fair at all.

“Now they’ve opened up a whole can of worms for the next guy that does this. We have to make sure that if we’re going to do this to this one guy for going 38 mph in a 35-mph zone with the cop looking for one guy doing it, that all the players are held to the same standard. To me, that’s where I have the issue.”

[RELATED: Gruden still not happy with Burfict's suspension]

Guenther is close to Burfict and was asked how the veteran linebacker is dealing with this massive setback and prolonged suspension without pay. In short: not well.

“How would you do deal with it if you basically got your career taken away like that, and not really know that was going to happen?” Guenther said. “He may never play football again. That’s a tough thing. He’s 28 years old, and all of a sudden, it’s done. Now that they know with the next infraction you’re done for the year, that’s a tough pill to swallow without knowing that was going to be the consequence. To me, that’s not right.”

Raiders fullback Alec Ingold excited for Green Bay homecoming vs. Packers

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Raiders fullback Alec Ingold excited for Green Bay homecoming vs. Packers

ALAMEDA -- Alec Ingold grew up in the shadow of Lambeau Field, a high school quarterback in Green Bay, Wisc., with the slow drip of Packers fever coursing through his veins.

He grew up, like every boy in the area, idolizing first Brett Favre and then Aaron Rodgers. He felt the elation of the Pack's 2010 Super Bowl run, a championship jaunt that felt long overdue for one of the best quarterbacks to ever grip the pigskin.

Fast forward to 2019 and that Bay Port High School signal-caller traded in his No. 9 for a No. 45, and swapped his love of the green and yellow to bleed silver and black as the Raiders rookie fullback.

Ingold joined the Silver and Black as an undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin this season and made the roster with his performance in rookie minicamp, OTAs and training camp. Early on, Ingold has become a valuable part of the Raiders' revamped run game, helping clear holes for fellow rookie Josh Jacobs.

"We loved Ingold at the Senior Bowl," Gruden said Wednesday after practice. "We stamped a bunch of Raiders stickers on his helmet. He was really ticked off he didn't get drafted. And if I've done anything right since I've been here coaching the Raiders, it was the recruiting call I made to Ingold. I'm really happy about getting him here.

"He played quarterback in high school in Green Bay. This is a big game for him. I'm trying to get some video of him throwing the ball but all I have is him handing off."

Ingold and the Raiders will head north in Week 7 to face a Packers team reenergized behind new head coach Matt LaFleur. His friends, family, neighbors and probably some former high school rivals will be in attendance to watch Rodgers and the NFC North-leading Pack take on the 3-2 Raiders, who have found new life behind a power running game made stronger by a Green Bay high school legend.

"I think the big deal for me is playing in front of the community that helped me grow up and love football," Ingold said of his return to Green Bay. "The Packers -- it's cool, but I think the people in the stands and the people I grew up with that are going to be able to watch and NFL game and see me go out there, it's going to be a thankful moment for me to thank them and show them how we play football out here in Oakland."

There will be a number of people cheering on the former Bay Port High star Sunday at Lambeau Field, hoping the Wisconsin high school legend throws a couple thunderous blocks to spring Jacobs and perhaps even gets a carry himself.

Of course, Packer football is a way of life up north, so the love for Ingold might slowly die down if the Silver and Black get into a fistfight with Green Bay's favorite sons. The Packer pride running through the veins of his former neighbors is something Ingold understands. That deep-seated love for the Packers is what first made him pick up a football and set him on his path to Oakland, a journey that's next step comes on the hallowed grounds his heroes made famous.

"I think everyone growing up [in Green Bay] loves football and loves the Packers," Ingold said. "It's pretty cool to have a community that rallies around something so unified. It's a big thing for kids to grow up and see these Packers in the grocery store and you stop and stare and it's really cool. To be able to have that go full circle is huge for me, just knowing that's where I came from and just to be able to bring it full circle is going to mean a lot."

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As a junior and senior in high school, Ingold led Bay Port to a 21-3 record before becoming a Badger and helping Wisconsin accumulate a 42-12 record during his four years in Madison.

He'll return home looking to do his part in getting the Raiders to 4-2 before the final leg of their five-game road trip, a feat that seemed like a fairytale four weeks ago.

So, what did Gruden say to convince the quarterback-turned-fullback from Wisconsin to head to the Bay Area and don silver and black?

"He didn't really have to say much," Ingold said. "He brought back the connection we had at the Senior Bowl and, you know, growing up, I knew him from his coaching days in Green Bay and I was taught all the things he did for that program So, it didn't take much for him to get me here."

And what about the game film of him throwing the ball for Bay Port?

"I'll have to pull it up sometime, we'll see," Ingold said with a chuckle.