Trevor Davis

Raiders receivers finally finding stability after substantial changes

Raiders receivers finally finding stability after substantial changes

ALAMEDA -- Hunter Renfrow made the Raiders' initial 53-man roster with five other receivers. Only two of them remain.

Tyrell Williams and Dwayne Harris, primarily a return man, have been with the Clemson product this whole season, but have missed a combined six games dealing with injuries.

Renfrow is the only Raiders receiver who has played every game this season, seeing his position group turn over significantly. The primary slot receiver has lined with myriad combinations flanking him as the Raiders have cycled through options.

The Raiders cut Antonio Brown for insubordination, Ryan Grant for ineffectiveness and J.J. Nelson for unavailability. They re-signed Keelan Doss and promoted Marcell Ateman from the practice squad to account for injuries and transactional losses. They then traded for Trevor Davis and Zay Jones in an attempt to remodel the position in-season.

The receivers have found some stability after all that chaos. Williams is healthy again, Davis and Jones are generally up to speed and Renfrow is growing into a reliable target.

“There has been so much turnover, starting with all the AB here and all the stuff that transpired with that,” Renfrow said earlier this week. “We had a whole different receiver room this offseason. For me, it has been cool because I have been able to learn from so many different people. I try to take a little bit from everybody.

“But I’m excited about this group. We may not all be well known, but I think we have a great chance to go prove ourselves and show that we can be steadily productive. I love that type of challenge. I expect us to rise to the occasion.”

Renfrow’s right. The group is unheralded but can be effective with a diversity of talent all looking for something to prove.

Williams is the big body wanting to show he’s a true No. 1. Jones is shifty, wanting to prove efficient and reliable. Davis is the track star trying to show he's worthy of steady play and increased targets. Renfrow’s the possession guy, showing he’s more than just a college-level star.

There’s drive within the group. Time will tell if it’s good enough to complete an offense that is solid up front, with excellent tight ends and a star running back.

At this point, there is competition among the receivers as everyone battles to make an impact. The Raiders were trotting out a skeleton crew during the transition to this group. Now, it’s deep enough where guys must earn their role.

“Every day we’re fighting,” Davis said. “We have a lot of guys here who have played and contributed in games. Every week we’re competing to get those reps and those game-day opportunities. That just makes our team better.”

Receivers coach Edgar Bennett deserves some credit for getting this group back on its feet. While head coach Jon Gruden and offensive coordinator Greg Olson play a role getting new receivers ready, Bennett and quality control coach Nick Holz spent countless hours getting Davis and Jones prepared to play within the Raiders' scheme.

Davis was the first to go through the crash course, regularly showing up in pre-dawn hours for individual tutoring sessions before the team reported for the day’s work.

“He’s keen on details,” Davis said of Bennett. “Right when I got here, he was right there with me before the sun came up, teaching me all the details of this playbook. That’s how he is. If I ever want to come in early, he’ll be there. 6 a.m. or 6 p.m., it doesn’t matter. He has been instrumental to getting us through this period with new guys coming in.”

The Raiders have moved the ball well despite receiver turnover, with Carr often throwing to guys he had barely met or rarely targeted to before a given game. That reached a head last week against the Green Bay Packers when Davis and Renfrow were primary targets and Doss and Ateman were called into the action.

Williams’ return to health and the Jones trade has raised the talent level and brought stability to the group that should remain intact -- the Raiders passed on the chance to claim Josh Gordon off waivers Friday -- as they traverse the season’s second half.

[RELATED: Incognito among Raiders to watch, no matter where he plays]

Being strapped can be viewed as a positive now, with greater experience and depth to weather future storms should they come.

“It was good for us as a team and the receiver group especially,” Renfrow said. “It’s not like we didn’t have enough bodies. We were just running out young, unproven guys. That experience helps with depth so, if somebody goes down later in the year, we’re ready and have no dropoff.”

Raiders need help from new receivers Trevor Davis, Zay Jones vs. Packers

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Raiders need help from new receivers Trevor Davis, Zay Jones vs. Packers

ALAMEDA -- Trevor Davis hasn’t been a Raider long. The fourth-year veteran was traded from Green Bay during Week 3, immediately getting a crash course in Raiders football.

It wasn’t realistic for him to play Minnesota just days after the trade, but he integrated quickly and has played both games since. Honestly, he had no choice. Ryan Grant got cut and J.J. Nelson couldn’t get right enough to play in Week 4 or 5, making the Raiders reliant on the lightning-quick Cal alum right away.

He introduced himself to Raider Nation with a 60-yard touchdown run against Indianapolis, and then caught four passes for 42 yards on as many targets against Chicago in London. He made a major mistake in that one, getting the ball punched out at the goal line in the second half of a tight Bears game.

It was at that moment, oddly enough, his lowest as a Raider, that he truly felt accepted on his new team.

“It’s a tight-knit group. It was clear when I got here, especially when I made a bad play in the Chicago game,” Davis said Friday. “They all rallied around me even though some of the guys barely even know who I am. They backed me up, and that was big for me and my confidence here.”

The Raiders picked him up that day, knowing full well that they’d need him to produce all season long. That’s especially true heading into Sunday’s game against his old team.

Tyrell Williams has been ruled out against the Packers with plantar fasciitis. Nelson’s on the street, leaving Davis as the receiver corps’ primary target. As crazy as it sounds, Hunter Renfrow’s the only receiver to have played every game this season.

Davis is finally comfortable working with quarterback Derek Carr and within Jon Gruden’s offensive system heading into this important showdown at Lambeau Field.

“I have most of the offense down at this point, which is a good place to be after coming to a team during the season,” Davis said. “Your head can spin coming in from a different offense. There are similar concepts with completely different names. You have to have trigger something in your mind to the concept is associated with something different. The transition is hard, but you have to have to delete everything you knew and focus on what you’re learning now.”

Davis certainly empathizes with Jones, who is in the in-season integration process’ early stages. Jones was added in a trade from Buffalo nearly two weeks ago now and admits his head is spinning a bit trying to get everything down. He spent the bye week in the classroom with Gruden and extra time with receivers and offensive coordinator Greg Olson after each practice.

“He’s a very quick study, quick learner,” Olson said. “We had him in last week early in the week. Very intelligent football player and that jumped out at us right away and then we got a chance to see him on the practice field here early in the week running full speed. He’s got tremendous speed and quickness. It’s early right now, but we like what we see.”

Jones obviously doesn’t know the entire offense, and it seems unlikely he even all the plays in Sunday’s game plan down. There will be ways for him to contribute right away and to get the talented young receiver involved quickly.

The Raiders will need Davis and Jones to step up and help diversify a passing game that’s more focused on tight ends and running backs in recent weeks.

“Can’t say enough about the job Trevor [Davis] has done, as our returner, as our flanker,” Gruden said. “And to get Zay for what we feel like we gave up is a risk worth taking and we’ll see if it pays any dividends, but he’s a good young player. He’s got some size and speed and was a very, very productive receiver, so we’re happy to have him.”

Davis was in Green Bay for three-plus seasons and tried to help the defense out with some Packers' offensive tendencies. Grant is a Packer now and is certainly doing the same thing with his Raiders experience.

[RELATED: Raiders must take advantage with Patrick Mahomes out]

Davis knows a return trip to Green Bay will be meaningful, but he’s trying to tone down the emotions and treat this like any other game. While getting traded away from the team that employed him so long is difficult, he appreciates learning from some excellent veterans while there that gave him a step up heading into this new venture.

“I learned a lot there,” Davis said. “Playing with Aaron and with Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, those guys taught me a lot about the game. I’ve learned a lot that I’m able to apply here with the Raiders. It was nice to come in and feel like I knew nuances of the position joining this offense, and that came thanks to the veterans I have played with.”

Derek Carr making best of Raiders' revolving cast of wide receivers

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Derek Carr making best of Raiders' revolving cast of wide receivers

ALAMEDA -- Oh, how things can change in six weeks. 

Prior to the start of the season, many had deemed it a "make-or-break" one for Derek Carr. After years of wide receivers being shuffled in and out of Oakland, Carr finally was expected to have an arsenal of playmakers at his disposal. A group that was expected to be there for years to come. 

The Raiders had gone from Michael Crabtree, Seth Roberts, Jordy Nelson and Cordarrelle Patterson, to Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow and J.J. Nelson, not to mention tight end Darren Waller. 

But six weeks into the season, things look a little different for the Raiders at the receiver position than they expected. 

Brown went AWOL and got released prior to the start of the season. Williams was shuffled from the No. 2 receiver to the No. 1 and has been battling a foot ailment for the past three weeks. Nelson fought injuries before being cut, and Renfrow has faced some normal rookie growing pains. 

Head coach Jon Gruden has brought in Trevor Davis and Zay Jones by way of in-season trades, leaving Carr to develop new chemistry on the fly after a summer spent throwing passes to Brown, Williams, Nelson and Ryan Grant, who also has since been cut loose. 

The revolving door at wide receiver is something Carr got used to early in his career, and something he's trying to make the most of once again. 

"I don't even know what that means," Carr said while laughing after being asked what it would be like to have continuity at wideout. "Yeah, I don't even know what to say to that. You got me. That was a pretty funny one. I think the most stability I've had is when we had [Seth Roberts], [Amari Cooper] and [Michael Crabtree] for, what was it, two years? And that was pretty fun. But it is what it is, man. At the end of the day, no one cares in this league. You have to go out and perform and win football games. That's No. 1. 

"To be honest with you, it's kind of exciting," Carr continued. "I love the challenge. I wish it wasn't the case, but I do like the challenge. Because no one expected us in Indy or against Chicago to be able to throw the ball or do anything and we were able to go out there and play some good football. It is a fun challenge. I think we all do wish there was stability and we had our guys for the next 10 years, and hopefully, we do have them right now. Hopefully, these guys are it. I know they hope so. I know I hope so. 

"It's been a roller coaster of guys that we've had here and then not here and then back here again, so I just go with the flow. I'm just here to control what I can control and do my job."

The Raiders acquired Jones in a trade with the BIlls prior to the bye week, hoping to give Carr a vertical weapon they've been looking for since Brown was jettisoned. While it will take time to get the East Carolina product up to speed, Carr has been impressed with what he's seen so far. 

"Zay is a really good football player," Carr said. "When we traded for him, Lee Smith FaceTimed me and said, 'I can't believe it, man. You are absolutely going to love this guy.' I don't know what happened in Buffalo, to be honest with you, I wasn't paying much attention to other teams and their situations in-house. What I do know is that when he showed up I was like, 'Dang! Who's this guy?'

"All I know is that he's one of the most polite, humble, hard-working guys I've been around," Carr continued. "It means something to him and I'm glad we got him. And for what we gave up for him, you wouldn't think that's what he's worth. So I'm excited about the deal and I'm glad we have him." 

Jones got a crash course in the offense during the bye week and the Raiders hope he can be of some help Sunday when they travel to Green Bay to face the Packers. Carr knows the desired quarterback-receiver chemistry won't happen overnight, though. 

"There's timing with quarterbacks and receivers that you have to have," Carr said. "He's a good enough football player to where we can plug him and he can be productive. That second nature type stuff and second instinct kind of things, that will take a little bit of time, right? Those are just the cards we're dealt right now. But he's the type of guy and he's a super-smart football player where he can come in and play and help us. Which is very exciting."

[RELATED: Raiders preparing for tough task of stopping 'magician' Rodgers]

Despite the overall lack of weapons this season, Carr has played well for the most part. He's thrown for 1,117 yards, six touchdowns and just three interceptions while completing 73.3 percent of his passes. He's also played a key role in directing the Raiders' efficient running attack that helped Oakland secure back-to-back wins over the Colts and Bears before the bye week. 

One day the Raiders' revolving door of receivers will cease. Until then, it's up to Carr to make it work. That's just life in the NFL.