Derrick Johnson

Raiders release veteran MLB Derrick Johnson, promote LB from practice squad

Raiders release veteran MLB Derrick Johnson, promote LB from practice squad

ALAMEDA – The Raiders signed veteran middle linebacker Derrick Johnson in May, extending an illustrious career previously spent with the Kansas City Chiefs.

He was brought in to help younger players and compete for a three-down position in the Raiders lineup. That shrunk to the sub packages this summer, and dwindled further and the regular season wore along.

Second-year pro Marquel Lee ate into his workload, and left Johnson with scraps on a struggling team. He played less than 20 in each of the last two weeks, as a marginalized talent in the Raiders scheme.

Those were his last representing the Silver and Black. Johnson was released, head coach Jon Gruden announced on Tuesday.

Linebacker Jason Cabinda was signed off the practice squad in a corresponding move.

Things didn’t end as player and team hoped, leading to an early release.

Johnson made $1.5 million for his efforts. He wanted to prove he could still play after the Kansas City Chiefs released him. Andy Reid offered him a coaching job, but Johnson wanted to make another push to play.

It ultimately didn’t work out here in the East Bay.

“He delivered on some of the things we wanted helping young linebackers like Marquel Lee, Nick Morrow and Jason Cabinda in particular,” Gruden said. “We had a lot of young teams zeroing in on Cabinda. We didn’t want to lose him. It was a tough decision, but we wanted to improve our run defense. We’re going to give Cabinda a shot.”

Johnson finished the season with 17 tackles in six games, with one start. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro in 13 seasons with Kansas City. 

Raiders captain Derrick Johnson ready to lead, prove doubters wrong

Raiders captain Derrick Johnson ready to lead, prove doubters wrong

ALAMEDA – Derrick Johnson was named team captain just before the start of this regular season. The rank is nothing new.

He regularly earned that it in Kansas City – Andy Reid changed captains each week during the regular season -- where he spent 13 seasons as Chiefs middle linebacker. It was an honor then, but it really means something now that he’s on another team.

Johnson has only been a Raider four months now, yet his teammates wanted a “C” stitched on his jersey.

“It’s an honor because it comes from your peers, your teammates,” Johnson said. “That’s especially true with it being my first year here. It comes with responsibility but, at the same time, there are a lot of veterans in this locker room. There are a lot of good leaders in this locker room. We have a lot of people pitching in to make the boat sail.”

A captain’s patch wasn’t the only addition to his uniform. A green dot’s sitting atop his helmet, meaning he’ll call plays and coordinate the defense as he did for so many years in Kansas City.

Those are signs that Johnson’s leadership style has been well received by the Raiders. Johnson is well liked on the field and in the locker room, and quickly learned a new defensive scheme to help younger players understand it.

His leadership and football IQ is unquestioned. That’s mostly what Johnson has been asked about since signing with the Raiders on May 4. Now he’s out to prove he can still play.

Some have wondered whether four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro can still play at a high level. That comes with being a 35-year old linebacker.

Johnson believes football acumen will make up for any losses in athleticism, but knows full well he has to prove it during the regular season. Monday night’s game against the L.A. Rams provides the first opportunity to do so.

“Questions about my play have taken a backseat (to talk about leadership),” Johnson said. “But when I’m on the field, when I’m back shooting gaps and covering well and making plays, then my performance will be front and center.”

Not on every snap. Not necessarily.

Johnson is expected, though several roles remain uncertain as we head into the opener, to play in the nickel and sub packages. Marquel Lee should play in the base defense.

“I put pressure on myself to play at a high level, regardless of my role,” Johnson said. “It’s not 100 percent of the snaps anymore, but it’s a good amount where I have to know my stuff because my name is going to be called a lot. This is a game where the nickel defense and is going to be out there a lot. I’m like a kid in a candy store right now. You get an extra boost of energy being on a new team.

“You always have things to prove. I have confidence in myself, even working within a new system. I know that production is big. If you perform well, you’ll be out there more. If not, they’ll put you back.”

Count Johnson among several veteran players head coach Jon Gruden wants to see play against the Rams and throughout the season. He convinced Johnson to sign here and bring stability to a middle linebacker spot in flux recently, and believes Johnson can still succeed in this system, at this point in his career.

“We are confident, that he can not only lead us, but he can make plays,” Gruden said. “He’s a very good pass defender. He’s got a real good recognition for where the football is and he’s had a history of making a lot of tackles. Hopefully he can prove that again with us.”

Raiders still adjusting to new NFL helmet rule, 'gray area' that comes with it

Raiders still adjusting to new NFL helmet rule, 'gray area' that comes with it

OAKLAND -- Detroit Lions running back Ameer Abdullah took a handoff up the middle, skipped by two Raiders defenders and entered Karl Joseph territory.

The Raiders safety raced up to Abdullah, who stumbled on the Oakland Coliseum’s infield dirt as he pushed for extra yards. Joseph angled down to make the stop, dropping his entire body to tackle the opponent. His helmet was to the side to Abdullah’s head, but his helmet did drop naturally.

Joseph thought he made a clean play. Three yellow flags told him otherwise.

Officials believed he violated the NFL’s new helmet rule, designed to prevent players from lowering their helmet and using it to make a hit. A 15-yard penalty comes with the infraction, with a possible ejection depending on severity of the infraction.

It has been a point of confusion and contention this preseason, with an exorbitant volume of infractions levied this preseason. A total of 51 penalties have been called this preseason to enforce the new helmet rule, designed to increase safety and take the head out of the game as much as possible.

Few people disagree with the spirit of the rule. Many have questioned how it is being policed.

The NFL competition committee slightly altered the rule Wednesday, saying inadvertent use of the helmet to make a hit is not a foul. Now the officials have to judge intent within the context of the rule.

There’s no telling if that subtle change wouldn’t impacted the Joseph penalty. He thought it was a clean hit. So did Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.

“I actually asked the official right after the play was over,” Guenther said in a Tuesday press conference. “I think sometimes when you hear the collision, it’s just the natural tendency to throw the flag. When you go back and look at the film, you can clearly see his head was to the side and it wasn’t helmet-to-helmet or anything like that. I think someone told me there was 52 of them called in 33 preseason games. So, I understand that you’re trying to make the game safer, and we’re all trying to do that, but at some point, it is football.”

Contact is going to happen. Coaches are preaching to see what you hit, to keep your eyes and therefore the helmet up when making a tackle. There have been plenty of examples, including the Joseph hit, of players being penalized for seemingly clean plays. That has led to concern about what is a penalty.

“I don’t think anyone knows how that’s going to go,” Raiders middle linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “That’s a gray area. All you can do is play by the rules, but it’s going to be hard for the defensive player especially. If you see what you hit, you may be in good favor with the rule. It’s going to be gray, but hopefully it won’t be called so much during the regular season.

That has led many to criticize the rule and its potential impact on games. The penalties hurt. So can the fear of being flagged, if players are worried about form instead of playing instinctual football.

“When you can find the right position so the crown of your helmet won’t be down, you’ll try and do that,” Johnson said. “But you can’t slow down your play. That’s how you get hurt. You have to play fast at all times.”

The new rule doesn’t only impact defenders. Offensive players can be penalized as well, which has led to questions from ball carriers, especially running backs looking to power for extra yards.

“I view myself as a hard-nosed, tough runner,” Raiders running back Doug Martin said. “It’s something that you don’t really think about while you’re playing. If they call it, then you just have to be mindful of it. We’ll see what happens, because there’s a lot of new rules and we’ll see how it goes.”

Raiders coaches have emphasized proper technique this preseason to avoid infractions. They bought a practice equipment designed to aid that process, but things are difficult to avoid when playing at full speed.

“We just try to teach those players to keep the head out, don’t duck the head,” Guenther said. “All you can do as a coach is keep re-going over those things and reassuring these guys to understand what the rules are. But, it’s going to be hard … so, we just have to keep educating the players the best we can.”