Raiders

Snap count: Raiders' Melifonwu experiment at cornerback backfires

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USATSI

Snap count: Raiders' Melifonwu experiment at cornerback backfires

The Raiders are razor thin at cornerback, without many bodies or talent they can trust. They were down to three healthy career cornerbacks heading into Sunday’s game against New England, with TJ Carrie, Sean Smith and Dexter McDonald available.

Head coach Jack Del Rio added a new name to the mix. He started second-round safety Obi Melifonwu at cornerback against the high-flying Patriots, an experiment that didn’t work out well.

Melifonwu played 26 snaps at cornerback, where he had been working some in practice since becoming eligible to return off injured reserve. He spent the early season on IR after having arthroscopic knee surgery.

Melifonwu was put in a tough spot, and struggled as a result. He allowed two receptions for 69 yards on four targets, including a 64-yard touchdown to Brandin Cooks where he had his eyes in the backfield when the Patriots speedster blew right by.

This position switch came in Melifonwu’s second NFL game, with just seven defensive snaps under his belt. 

Head coach Jack Del Rio admitted it was a move made out of desperation.

“Yeah, a little bit,” Del Rio said after Sunday’s 33-8 loss to New England at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. “We need more production (at cornerback). We're willing to try just about anything and we talked about being lean there and needing more production from that spot.

“(Melifonwu’s) a talented kid and it was probably asking a little too much, but we are going to roll those guys, we rolled our guys in the secondary tonight, and we're going to do that. We have got to do that until somebody starts playing well enough to stay in there full-time.”

The Raiders are in a bind at cornerback with Gareon Conley on injured reserve and David Amerson out three straight games with a foot injury. Demetrius McCray and Antonio Hamilton are also on season-ending injured reserve.

Carrie was a mainstay on Sunday, playing all 60 defensive snaps. Smith took over early, when the Melifonwu experiment wasn’t working out. He played 43 snaps, allowing three catches for 34 yards on five targets. McDonald played just eight snaps.

The Raiders are hoping someone can improve and settle into a full-time spot. The secondary has been thin for some time, but the personnel department has declined to sign anyone new off the street for depth.

That means Del Rio’s staff is still searching for answers at that position from a small pool.

“We're not playing really well on the back end and we have to find a way,” Del Rio said. “And we're going to make it competitive and let guys challenge for it and challenge for time and the guys that play the best are going to play the most.”

OFFENSE
Quarterback – Derek Carr 74
Running back – DeAndre Washington 24, Marshawn Lynch 21, Jamize Olawale 14, Jalen Richard 11,
Wide receiver – Amari Cooper 67, Seth Roberts 59, Michael Crabtree 58, Cordarelle Patterson 25, Johnny Holton 13
Tight end – Jared Cook 54, Clive Walford 14, Lee Smith 10
Offensive line – Kelechi Osemele 74, Rodney Hudson 74, Donald Penn 74, Gabe Jackson 74, Vadal Alexander 74

DEFENSE
Defensive line –
Khalil Mack 53, Mario Edwards 44, Justin Ellis 38, Eddie Vanderdoes 34, Denico Autry 31, Treyvon Hester 24, James Cowser 14
Linebacker – NaVorro Bowman 51, Bruce Irvin 46, Cory James 44, Nicholas Morrow 15, Marquel Lee 9
Cornerback – TJ Carrie 60, Sean Smith 43, Obi Melifonwu 26, Dexter McDonald 8
Safety – Reggie Nelson 60, Karl Joseph 51, Shalom Luani 9

SPECIAL TEAMS
Nicholas Morrow 18, James Cowser 18, Marquel Lee 15, Erik Harris 15, Xavier Woodson-Luster 15, Keith McGill 15, Jamize Olawale 15, Cordarrelle Patterson 13, Dexter McDonald 12, DeAndre Washington 11, Jalen Richard 9, Shalom Luani 9, Lee Smith 7, Khalil Mack 7, Mario Edwards 7, Eddie Vanderdoes 7, Denico Autry 7, Treyvon Hester 7, Jon Feliciano 7, Johnny Holton 6, TJ Carrie 6, Jon Condo 4, Marquette King 4, Karl Joseph 2, Cory James 2, Obi Melifonwu 2, Giorgio Tavecchio 2

DID NOT PLAY
QB EJ Manuel, OT David Sharpe

INACTIVE
QB Connor Cook, OT Jylan Ware, DL Jihad Ward, CB David Amerson, LB Shilique Calhoun, RT Marshall Newhouse, DT Darius Latham

Michigan coach calls star pupil perfect for Raiders, 'a disruptive, attacking force inside'

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AP

Michigan coach calls star pupil perfect for Raiders, 'a disruptive, attacking force inside'

The University of Michigan football team is in a quiet period between spring practice and fall camp, but Greg Mattison is hot on the recruiting trail. The University of Michigan’s defensive line coach is crisscrossing the country trying to secure quality Wolverines, without much time for anything else.

Squeezing in an interview request during a brief stretch home in Ann Arbor, Mich., wasn’t easy. Mattison, I was told, would get to it during a free moment over a few days.

The respected defensive coach called within the hour.

“I am pretty busy these days, but after I saw (the interview request), I wanted be sure and talk to you,” Mattison said. “Anything for Mo.”

‘Mo’ is defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, Mattison’s star pupil and a Raiders fifth-round pick. The bond is strong between player and position coach. Mattison recruited Hurst out of Xaverian Brothers High in Westwood, Mass., and spent five subsequent years developing him into an NFL-caliber player.

Mattison gave a glowing review of his time working with Hurst during an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area, as you’d expect from a college coach talking about a former player.

College coaches don’t publicly criticize their guys. But, if they don’t have anything nice to say, they don’t say anything at all.

Mattison called back in a snap.

“I recruited him and coached him for five years, so I probably know Mo Hurst as well as anybody around,” said Mattison, a longtime college coach who was Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator from 2009-10. “He comes from a tremendous family, and his mother is as good a person as you’ll meet and did a tremendous job raising him. Mo has all the work habits and character you want in a player. He’s one of those guys, where I’ve never seen him do something that wasn’t the right thing to do.”

Mattison has great affection for Hurst, which is why the NFL Draft was so tough to watch. Hurst is a first-round talent, arguably the draft’s best interior pass rusher, yet fell to the fifth due to concerns about an irregular EKG.

The University of Michigan cleared him to play despite a heart condition. The Raiders didn’t have a problem with it either, and drafted Hurst with the No. 140 overall selection. The draft slide was a disappointment for all involved.

“He has a lot of pride,” Mattison said. “You watch the draft and so many times I said, ‘Mo’s way better that the kid they just took.’ You know why it was happening, because of this test or whatever. The thing we all knew was that he was fine. It was the same thing when he came to Michigan. He was fine.”

The Raiders believe he is fine to play in 2018, and will have annual checkups to ensure that remains the case each season. Head coach Jon Gruden wants Hurst to be judged on the field -- he won’t discuss Hurst’s health any farther – and the Wolverine has a real chance to make an immediate impact as a three-technique in Paul Guenther’s defensive system.

“He fits perfectly in a scheme like that,” Mattison said. “The Raiders got the greatest steal in the world. He’s a perfect fit, and to get Mo when they did is quite something. What you always want in that type of defense is a disruptive, attacking force inside. I’ll put Mo up against anybody in his ability to do that.”

Hurst is an excellent pass rusher and solid run defender, perfectly capable of being a three-down standout. A lot of that is due to an explosive first step that’s as fast and impactful as any.

“He’s born with that,” Mattison said. “We certainly tried to improve it, but he has always had that great first step. Him doing that and playing low and strong, that’s what makes him special.”

Mattison also lauded Hurst’s football IQ and his willingness to study offensive tendencies, saying “he was really good identifying things on the field and using them to his advantage.”

Mattison believes the five years spent at Michigan gave him the maturity and toughness to excel at the NFL level. It allowed Hurst to earn his bachelor’s degree and start work on his master’s degree. Seeing Hurst move on after accomplishing so much gives Mattison a great sense of gratification.

“That’s why you coach, and that’s why I left the NFL to come back to college football,” Mattison said. “The pride you take in getting a young man to come to your school and watching him develop is immense. I have two goals with my guys. I want them to get a degree, and to play in the NFL. If they do that, then I’ve done my job and I’m the happiest guy in the world. Mo’s a perfect example of that.”

Raiders lock up first-round draft pick

Raiders lock up first-round draft pick

The NFL rookie wage scale makes signing draft picks much easier. Long gone are days of protracted holdouts, especially among first-round selections. Each pick is paid within a tight range based on his draft slot, leaving little room to haggle.

That’s why there was no shock seeing Kolton Miller put pen to paper on Friday morning, when the No. 15 overall selection signed his rookie deal. The Raiders formally announced the four-year deal, which includes a fifth-year team option included in all deals with first-round picks.

Sports salary site spotrac.com estimates that Miller’s deal will be worth $13.583 million over four years, with an $8.074 million signing bonus and a $2.498 million 2018 salary cap hit.

If the Raiders choose to exercise Miller’s fifth-year option for the 2022 season, his base salary will be based on the average of the No. 3-25 highest salaries at his position.

Miller played both left tackle and right tackle at UCLA, but the Raiders see him as a long-term solution on the blind side. He’s training there during the offseason program – that could change – and working with respected offensive line coach Tom Cable, who had say in his draft selection.

“We think he’s a prototype left tackle,” Raiders head coach Jon Grduen said earlier this month. “He can bend, he’s got the length that you’re looking for and he’s a sharp kid. He’s still young though.”

Miller is a quality athlete at 6-foot-9, 309 pounds, someone who needs seasoning but could prove a quality NFL lineman. The Roseville native was the first of two offensive tackles taken in this draft. Brandon Parker was a third-round selection and could play right tackle right away.

Miller becomes the sixth member of the 2018 Raiders draft class to sign his rookie contract.