Derrick Johnson

Five new Raiders with something to prove in 2018 season

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USATSI

Five new Raiders with something to prove in 2018 season

The Raiders are taking some time off during the dead period of the NFL offseason. Even early bird Jon Gruden is slapping the snooze button these days, spending some quality time with family before training camp cranks up later this month.

Coaches and players are still finding time for work, sometimes while they’re on vacation. The Raiders want to hit the ground running this preseason, with many motivated to show well in silver and black. That’s especially true for a large class of new Raiders, many of whom hope to silence detractors.

Here are five newcomers with plenty to prove in 2018:

5. CB Rashaan Melvin

Lists like this are normally reserved for guys coming off injuries or down years. Melvin doesn’t fit that mold. The 28-year old had his best year in 2017, often shutting down top receivers as Indy’s top cornerback. He allowed a paltry 60.3 passer rating when targeted, with three picks, 10 passes defensed and just two touchdowns allowed.

Those stats didn’t produce a robust free-agent market. Melvin ended up signing a one-year, $5.5 million deal with Oakland, and is now working to show he’s not a one-year wonder and can stay healthy for 16 games. An ovation-worthy encore would surely earn a long-term, bigger-money deal.

Melvin made his motivation clear on Twitter a few weeks back.

4. WR Jordy Nelson

Nelson had a down year in 2017. It started well, with six touchdowns in the first four games he played. Then all-world Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down, and things hit the skids. He averaged just 9.1 yards per reception, and didn’t score after that early flurry.

That led some to say Nelson lost a step at age 32 he would not recover. The Packers asked him to take a massive pay cut, and ended up releasing him in March. The Raiders swooped in quickly with a two-year deal and plenty of guaranteed money.

Nelson has been praised for his attention to detail and position-group leadership, and will fit into the starting lineup with Amari Cooper and Martavis Bryant. He had four straight 1,000-yard seasons prior to last year. His worth won’t be defined by a monster statistical year. Reliability, leadership and red-zone performance will show if Nelson’s still got it.

3. RB Doug Martin

The veteran rusher has had an uneven career. Excellent production has come in spurts, with dominance in 2012 and 2015. The last 1,400-plus yard season was followed by two seasons of 2.9 yards per carry, which led Tampa Bay to cut his this winter.

He met Gruden for lunch at a Florida golf course, and the exchange convinced Gruden the 29-year old was ready to work and prove he had plenty left in the tank. His work was praised during the offseason program, though practice in pads and preseason play will offer stronger evidence of 2018 effectiveness. Showing well in camp could lead to an increased role behind starter Marshawn Lynch. Gruden likes using multiple backs in his offense, and could make steady contributions in the run game.

2. MLB Derrick Johnson

The longtime Kansas City Chief was let go by the team that drafted him in 2005, but it was not the end of his NFL journey. Some thought he’d call it a career at age 35, especially after suffering an Achilles’ tendon tear in Dec. 2016, but he found a new home in Oakland and a strong bond with Gruden. The Raiders need stability in the middle, and Johnson will provide on-field leadership. There’s no doubt about that.

Johnson must prove capable of being a three-down linebacker effective against the run and pass. Marquel Lee is available should the Raiders require a platoon, but Johnson doesn’t want that. The Raiders need his expertise inside at all times.

1. Head coach Jon Gruden

Gruden isn’t a newcomer, but it’s been nearly two decades since he roamed the silver and black sidelines. He hasn’t coached since 2008, but returned to the Raiders in January after nine years in the broadcast booth.

Gruden has said several times he has something to prove to his critics. That might be a self-motivational tool. There aren’t many in the East Bay, where the fan base as rallied behind him and players have loved the intensity and passion he brings to practice and meetings.

Some assume his old school tendencies and his “bringing it back to 1998” comment this offseason implies he is resistant to change or offensive innovation. That’s not the case, not by a long shot. We’ll see lots modern offense Gruden studied as an ESPN broadcaster and in his downtime at his Tampa offices, with new wrinkles unveiled as game plans dictate.

Gruden has made a solid impression in his return to coaching but, as it always is in his line of work, effectiveness will be determined by wins and losses. He won’t be graded off one-year alone, especially without solid roster depth, but Gruden wants to start fast and re-establish Raiders winning ways.

Derrick Johnson feeling ‘positive pressure’ to master, lead Raiders defense

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RAIDERS.COM

Derrick Johnson feeling ‘positive pressure’ to master, lead Raiders defense

ALAMEDA – Derrick Johnson joined the Raiders relatively late. Teammates had a head start learning new schematics when the veteran middle linebacker signed with silver and black, creating a viable excuse why Johnson would be behind this spring.

The four-time Pro Bowler didn’t want to use it. Not his style.

Johnson also understood the Raiders brought him here to lead this defense on the field. His resume with the Kansas City Chiefs gave Johnson street cred. Becoming quickly versed in the Raiders defense would validate it.

That’s why Johnson didn’t celebrate after signing with the Raiders. He immersed himself in Paul Guenther’s scheme.

“My abilities come out when I know what’s going on; for me to know what’s going on I have to gear down,” Johnson said after Tuesday’s OTA session. “You don’t want to rush it, but really, thoroughly get it down and make sure I have Paul Guenther’s defense really down, so I can start moving some pieces here and there. Start helping some guys out if they’re iffy on some things and telling certain guys what to do at sometimes.

“That’s not a bad pressure (to master the scheme quickly), that’s a positive pressure for me. That’s one of those things where this is what I’ve been doing for a long time in KC. I’m used to telling different guys what to do.”

The input is welcome. The Raiders have lacked stability at middle linebacker, save midseason respite from Perry Riley Jr. and NaVorro Bowman, respectively, the last two years.

Johnson made his presence felt quickly in OTAs, and has earned rave reviews from his coaching staff. He demands accountability in practice, and is active in meetings. Such command is only allowed, however, with the scheme down.

“He has picked it up real quick,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “He’s able to get us in and out of defenses. When you’re at that point, the guy has been here for what, two to three weeks now and he’s able to really understand what we’re trying to get to. To have a veteran piece that can kind of control the show out there is a big, important part for me.”

Learning new terminology is the toughest part, but Johnson believes he has consistently improved during this spring in Alameda.

That has allowed Johnson to quickly assume a leadership role.

“This Raider team really respects me; really respects me,” Johnson said. “Once I say something, they kind of get it. My style isn’t too aggressive. It’s not that guy that’s in their face. I’m a big guy of lead by example, of course. But at times you have to speak up. You have to let them know what you’re thinking. You have to demand some things at times. Everybody is different, with different personalities. You can’t talk to everybody the same. I have to talk to (second-year pro) Nick Morrow different than (veteran) Bruce Irvin. It’s just a different type of deal.”

Johnson has gravitated toward veterans that litter the roster, especially fellow first-team linebackers Tahir Whitehead and Emmanuel Lamur. He has also taken Morrow under wing, helping the coverage linebacker find his way after a promising rookie year.

Johnson feels comfortable with his new team after 13 seasons in Kansas City. He fits in well with the coaching staff and a scheme that heaps responsibility on its middle linebacker.

“Man, Paul Guenther’s defense, it’s very aggressive,” Johnson said. “There are so many different looks. The onus is really on the linebackers to learn a lot of stuff. That’s good for myself because I know a lot. It’s putting a lot of pressure on me to learn it quickly. Learn it well enough where I can put my own flavor in making plays on this defense.

“I’m having fun with it now. The last couple of days have been my best days, running around. I was telling the young guys this, once you get the system down… you’ll look a lot faster out there on the field. We all can run fast and jump high, but mentally, once you got it down, all your abilities, your talents can show out there on the field. That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there.”

Jon Gruden: 'We love stealing from the Chiefs'

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AP

Jon Gruden: 'We love stealing from the Chiefs'

Jon Gruden is back to coaching the Raiders this season -- the beginning of a 10-year contract -- for the first time since 2001. And he's already ramping up the Raiders' rivalry with the Chiefs. 

"Last time I was here at Oakland we stole Rich Gannon from Kansas City, we took Andre Rison from the Chiefs, we took Albert Lewis from the Chiefs," Gruden said Wednesday night to season-ticket holders. "We love stealing from the Chiefs. So now we got Derrick Johnson and I'm on my way to the Raiders store to pick up a Derrick Johnson Raiders jersey. I'm gonna wear it home tonight."

The Raiders signed the 35-year-old Johnson this offseason after the Chiefs released him. Johnson is a former All-Pro linebacker, has been named to four Pro Bowl teams and has spent 13-year career with the Chiefs as the franchise's all-time leading tackler. 

"We feel like we have solidified the middle of our defense big time," Gruden said to the season-ticket holders. "We added Derrick Johnson, the all-time leading tackler in Kansas City Chiefs history. He started every game for them last year. They were the division champions."

With Gruden back in Oakland, the AFC West should certainly be entertaining this season.