Raiders

Why Karl Joseph remains undeterred in quest to be 'Raider for life'

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USATSI

Why Karl Joseph remains undeterred in quest to be 'Raider for life'

ALAMEDA – The Raiders had an option to secure Karl Joseph’s services for the 2020 season at a relatively reasonable rate. They didn’t take it.

Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden declined the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, one all teams have on all first-round picks.

That news came shortly after the Raiders drafted a fellow hard-hitting safety in the first round.

That 1-2 punch might have fazed Joseph some, but it didn’t knock him down. The 2016 first-round pick remains as aggressive and confident as ever in a quest to be a Raider long-term.

“Obviously I want to be here, I’ve expressed that already with Coach Gruden and Mr. Mayock,” Joseph said. “I want to be a Raider for life, but at the end of the day, I have to take care of my business on the field. I’m not focused on the contract. That stuff will take care of itself.”

The glass-half-full approach to these circumstances is the prospect of reaching unrestricted free agency sooner, and possibly parlay a breakout year into a big payday here, as preferred, or somewhere else.

“I think he’s responded to the situation great,” Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “He knows this will be a good year for him to go out and play good and make us give him a contract. That’s the way the NFL is. That’s the way it is for me. It’s the way it is for a lot of the other guys. If you don’t perform, you’re probably looking for somewhere else to go and if you do perform, you’re going to get rewarded.”

Joseph’s motivation is obviously sky high, hoping to reach vast potential and build off a later 2018 stretch where he was playing his best in a wild-card role roaming all over the field.

A major role remains in play for Joseph, despite adding Johnathan Abram with the No. 27 overall pick. The pair share a skill set, as physical, aggressive enforcers who can play the run and pass.

At first glance, it would seem the Raiders must pick one or the other, but safeties can be interchangeable in this system and Joseph and Abram have been the first-unit safeties in later OTAs and in a mandatory minicamp that runs through Thursday.

Lamarcus Joyner has significant experience at free safety -- the L.A. Rams played there the last two seasons -- he has focused primarily on the slot cornerback spot. That leaves two open spots at safety, with Erik Harris as the No. 3 guy there capable and ready to start if called upon.

Joseph wasn’t ready to do that last year. He was the fourth safety option to start the 2018 season, behind Reggie Nelson, Marcus Gilchrist and Harris. He was slower to run Paul Guenther’s defensive system quickly, got hurt in Week 3 and then was on the trade block around midseason.

He responded well from that and played some of his best football down the stretch. He had two sacks, an interception and just a 73.6 passer rating when targeted over a run of eight straight starts.

“I think it was a combination of everything – me being more comfortable in the system towards the end of the season, me being confident in myself,” Joseph said. “…But for me, I don’t think I’ve reached (my full potential), I’m far off. I still feel like I have a long way to go. That’s why I say I keep getting better every single day, every practice, training camp. I’m expecting a lot more out of myself this year.”

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Joseph is not going about his business selfishly, though that might be understandable with his fifth-year option laid fallow and a big contract as his primary motivation.

Instead, he has committed to getting his next contract with the Raiders, developed a brotherly bond with Abram and started becoming a leader in the secondary entering his fourth season.

“I think it’s important,” Joseph said. “I know what it was like being a rookie, so I try to invite those guys over, have a little fun, barbecue and stuff like that. For me, it’s just about getting better every day. Be a leader by the way that I come in every day with my attitude and my work ethic, something they can see like, ‘Okay, he’s working extra hard. He’s doing the little extra stuff.’ I’m trying to lead by example.”

Raiders camp questions: Can Vontaze Burfict provide stability at MLB?

Raiders camp questions: Can Vontaze Burfict provide stability at MLB?

The Raiders have searched long and hard for stability at middle linebacker. They haven’t had much luck recently, no matter who has been picking players.

Let’s call it the curse of Rolando McClain, a wasted first-round pick that exemplifies the team’s issues filling an important position. Only Perry Riley and NaVorro Bowman offered partial-season respites during this middle linebacker drought, and neither player re-signed with the club.

Nick Roach, Curtis Lofton, Ben Heeney, Miles Burris and Derrick Johnson all have tried and failed to stabilize the position. Still-developing Marquel Lee, a rare linebacker drafted to play the middle, was thrust into a starting role but didn't stick and has been used on the strong side. The Raiders haven’t selected a middle linebacker before the fourth round since McClain, choosing largely to go the veteran route inside.

Vontaze Burfict enters as this year’s attempt to get the middle linebacker spot right. Brandon Marshall also is in town and capable of playing inside and out, as the Raiders hope to establish veteran leadership running Paul Guenther’s defense.

Burfict has spent most of his career as Guenther’s field general, and having him here should open previously closed chapters of an extensive playbook. Burfict was helpful running practice reps and meetings during the offseason program, already proving to be a valuable resource to his new team.

He must remain available and productive to stay that way. Burfict has struggled with injuries in recent seasons, which has hampered his effectiveness. Will he be a three-down player inside? Even two would be helpful, considering Tahir Whitehead’s lineup regularity and comfort with the defense.

Marshall also can fill the middle, proving a solid Plan B if Burfict struggles. Having veteran options playing in front of a developing corps including Jason Cabinda, Lee and Nicholas Morrow should be better than previous seasons, where the Raiders never seemed to have a backup plan.

[RELATED: Five incredibly bold predictions for upcoming Raiders season]

Burfict has been impactful already, but we haven’t seen much of Marshall. The former Bronco missed most offseason practices with an undisclosed injury.

These older veterans have been producers in the league but skepticism is fair until they show old form during the regular season. Can Burfict and/or Marshall succeed where previous players have struggled?

It’s worth keeping a keen eye on the middle linebacker spot and the position group as a whole, which must improve for the Raiders' defense to run well this regular season.

Why Raiders QB Derek Carr should be primed for huge 2019 NFL season

Why Raiders QB Derek Carr should be primed for huge 2019 NFL season

Derek Carr reports Tuesday for his sixth Raiders training camp, his fifth as an unquestioned starter. He snatched the top job as a rookie second-round pick and never let go, weathering an early rebuild that produced an all-too-short-lived competitive renaissance and a lucrative contract.

The Raiders dipped yet again, with Carr drawing ire intensified by a then-record $125 million deal that seems pedestrian by today’s standards. A legitimate MVP candidate back in 2016 is now subject to regular slings and arrows for a downturn that completely isn’t his fault.

Carr’s partly culpable for a 10-22 record since 2016. Stats are nice, but franchise quarterbacks are judged on wins and losses.

He obviously played a role in offensive struggles, but there are mitigating factors here that can’t be ignored. Carr can’t protect himself. He didn’t cycle through offensive play callers, skill players and head coaches. He didn’t trade Khalil Mack or embark on another roster rebuild. He showed up and worked and said the right things and tried to adapt to difficult circumstances.

Mention those points and you’re an apologist.

Hammering well-worn criticisms is easy and more accepted, but saying that he’s at-times skittish, too sensitive, can’t handle head coach/play caller Jon Gruden means you’ve just joined the chorus.

Uneven stat lines foster debate, providing fodder for both sides of the Carr aisle.

Let’s paint a fuller picture here, of a cannon-armed quarterback dealt some crappy hands who has also fallen below lofty, yet realistic expectations in recent seasons.

Carr can make every throw. He’s smart and sneaky fast. The bar is and should be high. After all, that’s where he sets it.

Carr flew under it last season, but was under constant duress last season playing with two rookie offensive tackles. He had no one to throw to last season save Jared Cook. Despite all the tongue-in-cheek rhetoric last summer about Carr knowing Gruden’s system better than its creator, the quarterback was transitioning between systems.

All that and he still set career marks in completion percentage, total yards and -- this won’t fit the popular narrative -- yards per attempt despite being sacked and pressured more than ever.

That’s well and good, but you just can’t throw it away on a last-ditch fourth down to secure defeat, even if the play was never going to work. You can’t throw picks in the end zone, especially late in games. Even 16 career fourth-quarter comebacks won’t excuse that.

Carr’s performance is a polarizing, easily argued topic that depends on perspective and willingness to accept context.

This season should provide a clearer, more objective look at the quarterback.

Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock stacked the skill positions and spent heavily to secure the offensive line.

When Carr thrives well protected and feels safe in the pocket. Having Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams are excellent at creating separation and winning receptions in the air. Having them in the pattern should provide confidence making riskier decisions. Josh Jacobs and the running game should provide balance.

A second straight year with the same play-caller in the same offensive system, a luxury Carr has experienced just once before as a pro, should also provide great benefit.

Carr still can’t play defense, so he can’t completely control outcomes, but he’s in solid position to have an excellent year and find 2016 form, when he ranked among the NFL’s best quarterbacks.

[RELATED: Five bold predictions for upcoming Raiders season]

The football smarts and arm talent remain. The supporting cast is back, possibly better than ever. The situation seems ripe for a monster season and a resurgence that could quiet some critics and noise about Gruden looking harder at alternatives as Carr’s contract becomes easier to escape.

Sailing on the calm would be welcome after a few tumultuous seasons, but that privilege must be earned with on-field excellence.

Entering his sixth season with quality around him, Carr’s in prime position to do exactly that.