Raiders

Where does Raiders defense need most improvement? 'Maybe it's a tie...'

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AP

Where does Raiders defense need most improvement? 'Maybe it's a tie...'

ALAMEDA – The Raiders defense has a magic number entering every game. If the opponent hits or falls below the mark, the Raiders should win.

“Our goal is always 17 points,” cornerback TJ Carrie said. “If we hold them to or under, then we feel our offense can do enough to pull out a victory.”

That’s sound logic. It hasn’t produced results. The defense has held an opponent to 17 or less three times. The Raiders are 1-2.

The Raiders have also given up 24 or more in three straight games. They’re 2-1 in those.

At some point, the Raiders must start playing consistently complimentary football. They got some of it in Sunday’s 27-24 victory over Miami. They’re going to need a lot more should the Raiders go on the run required to legitimately get back in the playoff hunt.

The offense must find consistency down the stretch. The defense must improve to get point totals back down.

They’ll try and do so during this bye week and in work leading towards a Nov. 18 showdown with New England.

Del Rio believes his Raiders must do better at the basics.

“When we start (tackling better), and then getting off on third down more regularly, I think you take a big jump,” Del Rio said on Monday. “To me, what it comes down to is the tackling on the back end that has really been poor. You can’t play great defense without being great tacklers. That’s probably the biggest area for us.

“Maybe it’s a tie between the tackling and the turnovers, being able to catch the ball and being able to leverage and tackle better. Those are kind of the two keys in helping us take a big step forward defensively.”

The Raiders were so good creating game-changing plays last year. They had 30 turnovers forced in 16 games. Now they’re also dead last with six total takeaways. They don’t have an interception through nine games. But you know all that.

Defensive backs do, too. They’ve come close to interceptions, without locking one down.

It isn’t maddening, yet. But that unit would like to start squashing drives early, or saving them late.

That would help unfavorable numbers.

The Raiders rank No. 26 in total defense with 361.1 yards allowed per game. They’re No. 22 against the pass, No. 21 against the run and No. 21 with 23.8 points allowed per game.

Turnovers are one way to change games. Sacks are another. They aren’t the only way to impact the passer. Pressures and hits can also caused game-changing plays.

Sacks can be drive killers.

The Raiders had an NFL low 25 sacks last year despite Khalil Mack rushing off one edge. The NFL’s defensive player of the year had 11. Bruce Irvin had seven off the other flank. Nobody else had three.

A robust interior pass rush was supposed to increase pressure on the quarterback.

This year’s pass rush is more diverse, but it isn’t more productive. The Raiders have 13 sacks through nine games. Only Tampa Bay has less.

Mack has 4.5. Mario Edwards Jr. has 3.5. Irvin has 2.5. That isn’t enough from the Silver and Black’s heavy hitters.

“I am a little surprised we haven’t been a little more effective with it,” Del Rio said. “We’ve got good pass rushers, we need to have a little tighter coverage so that the quarterback has to hold the ball. If he’s able to get it out on time and comfortably, throw it in front of us and then make guys miss and get big plays, then why would they hold onto it to look down the field? That’s where I say leverage and tackling is huge for our defense.”

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

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AP

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

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Raiders

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.”