Raiders

Will Raiders GM McKenzie break mold and draft inside linebacker early?

Will Raiders GM McKenzie break mold and draft inside linebacker early?

It’s not like the Raiders haven’t been looking for linebacker help. They just haven’t found any entering this week’s NFL draft.

They brought Zach Brown in for a visit, but he didn’t like the team’s offer and left without a contract. They have interest in bringing last year’s starting middle linebacker Perry Riley back, but their valuations don’t match right now and the veteran remains on the open market. They let two-year starter Malcolm Smith join the 49ers in free agency. 

Right now, the position group is a skeleton crew with brittle bones. Free-agent signing Jelani Jenkins is the only interior linebacker with double digit starts, and could man the weak side, or end up a roving backing.

There isn’t much experience or talent or depth there right now, meaning the Raiders might draft an inside linebacker early for the first time in general manager Reggie McKenzie’s tenure.

McKenzie took Miles Burris (fourth round) and Nate Stupar (seventh round) in 2012, and choose Ben Heeney and Neiron Ball (fifth round) in 2015. Sio Moore was a third round pick in 2013 but was a strongside linebacker and edge rusher before switching spots in deference to Khalil Mack, so that one doesn't count. 

None of those picks worked out well.

Neither have free-agent stopgaps Curtis Lofton or Nick Roach -- a quality player who fell victim to concussion issues – or waiver claim Ray-Ray Armstrong.

It’s been an unexpected black hole considering McKenzie, head coach Jack Del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. all played on the inside.

“We want good linebacker play,” McKenzie said. “Both Jack and I know what a good linebacker is supposed to look like. We’re going to get us a couple, I hope, at some point before we play in September. Whether they’re in this draft or post draft or trade, somebody gets released, we’re going to do everything we can to upgrade our team; every position, including linebacker.”

While there are post-draft avenues to acquire inside linebackers, it might be time to go big at that spot.

There are attractive options likely available at No. 24 overall, where the Raiders can find the immediate impact starter they so desperately need. Let’s take a look at some who could be available when the Raiders pick.

Good fits: Raiders fans may shudder at the thought of selecting an Alabama interior linebacker with question marks. That’s expected after the Rolando McClain experience. Ruben Foster (6 feet, 229 pounds) is a top tier talent who could be slipping in this draft. He had a drug sample come back diluted at the NFL scouting combine, where he was sent home for arguing with a hospital employee. He has had shoulder troubles, though re-checks reportedly went well.

Foster is also an excellent player, the type of athletic thumper the Raiders are looking for. It’s still hard to see him sliding all the way to No. 24.

Florida’s Jarrad Davis (6-1, 238), however, seems like a near-perfect fit. He can cover and tackle, with a killer instinct necessary at that spot. He’s also praised as a high-character player and person focused on football. Analysts say he has good vision, closing speed and has physical gifts to help his continued development shoring areas of weakness. Davis has been well hyped recently, and there’s some thought he too could go higher than No. 24.

Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham should be available there, and could ready right away. Analysts says he’s a playmaker with good instincts, technique and play diagnosis. He’s a quality tackler with a nose for the football. He’s durable and fast enough to handle tight ends and running backs in man coverage. Detractors say he isn’t good getting off blocks and struggles with leverage at times, but Cunningham could be a productive three-down NFL linebacker soon.

LSU’s Duke Riley is a quick linebacker who can chase ball carriers down, and finished with a solid senior season. He might be a strong Day 3 pickup should the Raiders target other positions early in this draft.

Note: Temple's Haason Reddick wasn't mentioned here because he isn't expected to be available at No. 24. 

Jon Gruden admits Khalil Mack trade hurting Raiders in 2018

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Jon Gruden admits Khalil Mack trade hurting Raiders in 2018

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders are winless after three games, unable to finish games well enough. A thin defensive depth chart partially is to blame for fourth-quarter collapses.

Coach Jon Gruden plans to rebuild his defense from the ground up, an effort that will take time.

Gruden has a long-term vision, which the Khalil Mack trade will help facilitate. The move didn’t do the 2018 Raiders any favors, a point Gruden conceded unprompted Monday, when asked about finding balance between the big picture and trying to win each and every game.

“It’s hard. I mean, it’s hard to trade one of your best players, one of the best players on a franchise,” Gruden said. “It’s hard. It’s hard on the players. We didn’t get anything for him that’s going to help us out this year. [Injured nose tackle] Justin Ellis hasn’t played. We have a lot of guys on the defensive line that are out. We have had to replace basically the entire secondary, some of the linebackers.

“We’re in the process of putting the pieces back together. That’ll be exciting. But right now we just have to continue to get ready for each game individually. Right now it’s Cleveland. They’re a football team that’s emerging. They’ve drafted a lot of good, young players. It’s starting to show on film. [Baker] Mayfield is the real deal. This young man can play.”

It remains difficult to move on from the Mack trade, which gleaned a compensation package from Chicago that includes two first-round picks.

It doesn’t help that Mack is wrecking shop in the Windy City. He has more sacks (4), forced fumbles (3), fumble recoveries (1) and defensive touchdowns (1) than the entire Raiders defense. Oakland's front has 23 total pressures, per analytics site Pro Football Focus. Mack has 20 on his own.

Those numbers, and all the losing, has made it tougher to forget that Mack is playing elsewhere. It will get easier after Gruden uses draft picks from the trade, and if the Raiders can build positive momentum this season. That hasn’t happened just yet, with another tough test coming up against Cleveland.

Raiders notes: Jon Gruden calls Derek Carr 'too aggressive' on end-zone pick

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Raiders notes: Jon Gruden calls Derek Carr 'too aggressive' on end-zone pick

ALAMEDA -- Raiders quarterback Derek Carr launched a pass toward the end zone’s back left corner, trying to connect with Martavis Bryant on a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Xavien Howard stole possession instead. The Miami cornerback intercepted his second Carr pass of the day, and was an integral as any in the Dolphins’ 28-20 victory over the visiting Raiders.

Carr said Sunday night that it was a decision he would make again based on the matchup and Bryant’s ability to secure passes in the air.

Raiders coach Jon Gruden might not agree, especially with the pass coming on first down and other opportunities had that pass fallen incomplete or been thrown away.

“I thought we were too aggressive,” Gruden said in his Monday press conference. “I think at times he is trying too hard. We will talk about that extensively here in the next couple of hours, but I thought he played really good under some very tough circumstances. I think sometimes he needs to learn a little bit more patience, and I think he will.

“I’m really excited about the way he has played and improved and mastered this offense. We are getting closer. That was a painful turnover. We will address that, and we will make the corrections.”

Gruden believes without doubt that Carr will thrive in his system and find balance between playing it safe and pushing the ball down field.

Carr has completed 76.6 percent of his passes through three games for 936 yards. That’s good. Having five interceptions and just two touchdown passes isn’t ideal at this stage.

“I think we need to clean up the turnover ratio, No. 1,” Gruden said. “I think when you throw for 80 percent basically in three games for almost 1,000 yards, that’s as good as I’ve ever been associated with.”

Turnovers, however, are a problem in general. They sport a minus-4 turnover ratio, with one takeaway to Carr’s five picks.

“We’ve got to get more hats to the football,” Gruden said. “We’ve got to rip it out. That’s winning football, winning the turnover battle. We’re turning it over too many times. We’re not getting it back enough. That’s a big reason, if not the No. 1 reason we’re sitting where we are.”

Raiders working out kickers

Mike Nugent made every Raiders kickoff and hit two field goals, including one from 52 yards, against the Dolphins. He gutted out that game despite suffering a hip injury that could impact his ability to play next week against the Cleveland Browns.

The Raiders have to set up Plan B, and will bring several kickers in for workouts this week.

Penn doing well

Right tackle Donald Penn played just 18 offensive snaps before bowing out over concerns about a concussion. The Raiders feared the veteran had one, though Gruden said Penn was evaluated for concussion-like symptoms.

Gruden believes Penn will be fine and could play against the Browns.

Penn and replacement T.J. Clemmings struggled against Miami, combining to allow two sacks, two quarterback hits and a hurry.

In other injury news, Karl Joseph will miss a game at least with a hamstring strain.