Chiefs playing with heavy hearts


Chiefs playing with heavy hearts

ALAMEDA -- The Kansas City Chiefs are coming into Oakland for the Raiders' home finale riding a wave of emotion.

It was on Dec. 1 when Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins, who was also the mother of their infant child, before driving to the team's practice facility and turning the gun on himself. Belcher killed himself in front of Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel.

A day after the murder-suicide, the Chiefs played a home game and defeated Carolina, 27-21, for just their second victory of the season, before losing at Cleveland, 30-7, last weekend.

Crennel spoke with Bay Area reporters on a conference call Wednesday and was asked how the team recovers from such an event.

"I think you just have to understand that reality is reality and you cannot undue what's been done and you have to try to move on as best you can," Crennel said. "I think in the business we're in, moving on is our hours on the football field, because we have to focus on football at that time and not focus on all those other problems that life presents. I think that has been good therapy for the team, for the coaches and even for the organization. That's what we've been trying to focus on, moving forward, because we have to."

Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry agreed.

"We’ve just been trying to stay focused on what we’ve got to do," he said, "but I ain’t going to lie, it’s been tough. Everybody’s trying to stay focused on what we’ve got to take care of, but at the end of the day we are human, and we’ve got emotions and feelings and stuff like that.

"Getting away from that situation, playing ball, just trying to stay busy for the most part (helps), but it’s always going to be in the back of your minds. It’s somebody you’re with every day…then he’s gone the next day. It’s something you’ve got to deal with but it’s nothing that won’t be forgotten."

Last weekend, Dallas endured a death when practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown was killed in a car accident in which the driver, Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent, was charged with intoxicated manslaughter as he was driving in the single-car accident.

It makes one wonder if two deadly incidents in as many weeks can serve as a teaching tool for the NFL or if the players will remain convinced of their invincibility.

"I think the biggest thing about players is they are young," Crennel said. "When you're young you think you're going to be able to last forever and you don't think about what may happen and things like that. So I think it's the youngness that gets these guys, gets young people in general to make some of the choices being made. After they mature and get more responsibilities then they look at things differently.

"I think it's the age and not so much how they look at life. They're young and they think life if going to be great for a long time and they don't understand how the choices they make impact their life."

Bortles, Carr still carry quarterback bond since NFL Draft

Bortles, Carr still carry quarterback bond since NFL Draft

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Derek Carr found a friend in Blake Bortles during the taxing, often invasive pre-NFL draft process. The pair were considered among 2014’s top college quarterbacks, with stats, size, smarts and arm strength to warrant a top selection.

The pair ended up visiting several of the same quarterback-needy teams leading up to the draft and national events like the NFL scouting combine.

They actually crossed paths in Jacksonville as both players were in to visit a Jaguars team in desperate need of a quarterback.

“We were in Jacksonville together, and then we were somewhere else together, I believe,” Bortles said. “I remember Jacksonville vividly because we went and got dinner together the night before.”

They exchanged numbers and texted each other during that spring. It started a friendship that continued on.

“We talk every now and then – I still have his number, still text him here and there,” Bortles said. “We’ll talk in the offseason and throughout the year, but he’s an unbelievable guy. He’s a guy that I definitely check and see how he’s doing throughout the year after every game and rooting for, and look forward to seeing him Sunday.”

Their paths cross again Sunday in Jacksonville, when the Raiders and Jaguars meet in a Week 7 clash important to both clubs. The 4-2 Raiders hope to surge ahead and erase a terrible home loss to Kansas City. The Jaguars want to expand on a two-game win streak.

These upstart clubs are dependent on big offense and steady play from quarterbacks selected two-plus years ago.

Jacksonville picked third, and had first crack at a 2014 quarterback class headlined by Teddy Bridgewater, Carr, Bortles and Johnny Manziel.

They took Bortles, with all his size, arm strength and Ben Roethlisberger comparisons. Cleveland made a colossal mistake and took Manziel, who flamed out after two hard-partying seasons with the Browns. Minnesota traded back into the first round and nabbed Bridgewater, a competent signal caller who suffered a major knee injury that stole his 2016 season at least.

The Raiders were patient, held on to their pick and still got their guy. They selected Carr No. 36 overall, paired him with No. 5 pick Khalil Mack and put the franchise on the right track.

Through two-plus seasons, Carr’s been the best of the bunch, and Bortles is solidly in second place. Carr’s been more productive, earned more wins and taken better care of the football. Both guys can be gunslingers, but Carr is a bit more measured.

Bortles exemplifies the term. He’s willing to take risks for great reward, a style the Raiders defense wants to exploit in this crucial meeting.

Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olson knows Carr and Bortles extremely well. He was the Raiders offensive coordinator during Carr’s rookie year, and the quarterback credits Olson for getting his NFL career off on the right foot.

He has worked with Bortles over the last two years and has played a major part in his development.

Olson sees similarities between these two passing talents and their development from rookie starters into their third professional seasons.

“Both guys are great competitors,” Olson told reporters in Jacksonville. “They are individuals who were thrown into the league and had to play early as rookies. Both guys have gone through changes in coordinators, but they are tremendous competitors and the both prepare extremely well. They’re both intelligent guys.”

Raiders prepped for two-game road trip, extended stay in Sunshine State

Raiders prepped for two-game road trip, extended stay in Sunshine State

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Charter buses and cargo trucks lined the back parking lot at the Raiders facility on Friday, ready to load up for a long time gone.

They were prepped to transport players, personnel and a week’s worth of supplies to an airplane set to cross the country.

The Raiders weren’t headed for a quick trip to play Jacksonville on Sunday. They’re staying in central Florida between Sunday’s game against the host Jaguars and a game at Tampa Bay to avoid travelling coast to coast in consecutive weeks.

They’ll be tucked away at a swanky Sarasota, Fla., resort devising a way to beat the Buccaneers, while practicing 20 miles north at the IMG Academy in Bradenton.

Head coach Jack Del Rio doesn’t want his team thinking about the 10-day trip as a whole quite yet. He wants it compartmentalized, with complete focus on beating the Jaguars above all else.

“The biggest thing for us is to kind of take it as it comes,” Del Rio said. “And, the first order of business is traveling well Friday, for our game Sunday. And then, what changes then is that rather than flying back, then we transition into instead of going back and forth, what we’re going to do down there.

“Right now, the focus is really just on Jacksonville, the talent they have, the things they like. We’re really dialing in our preparation that way. Then, once we get to Sunday and the game’s over, then we’ll transition into the following week.”

The Raiders players and football personnel – some business officials will head back home -- will take a short flight from Jacksonville to Sarasota on Sunday night to start the next game’s prep.

It keeps the Raiders on the road but takes away most of the travel, streamlining a process the Raiders have down pat. They’ve been excellent on the road this season, with three wins in as many trips.

The Raiders have done well in hostile environments because everything they do, from eating to sleeping to actual prep on the road is done with victory in mind. Players come in confident and typically leave with a win. They have a 7-4 road record under Del Rio, a mark they’d like to improve during this Florida two-step.

“We’ve been able to travel well and play well and we look forward to the next opportunity,” Del Rio said. “Regardless of where we’re playing, we expect to play well.”

Being away so long may have its advantages, creating an in-season summit for players and coaches. Proceedings will have a training camp feel, with guys together most of the week focused on football. That could provide growth in all aspects, especially with a defense that has not played well together.

“I think it’s going to be a really good thing,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “Just to be out somewhere different with everybody. Obviously, some peoples’ families will be there and those kind of things which is a must. You have to have your family. My family will be there, we’ll be together. But when you get those times at the hotel to be around each other to eat every meal together, do those things, I think it’s nothing but good things. Whenever you can spend as much time around each other as possible, I think it’s really good.”

Some families will make the trip. The Raiders also have several players from the Florida and neighboring with friends and family coming in for these important games. During the week, however, the focus will be on football. 

Playing consecutive games against teams from the Sunshine State is no fluke. The Raiders requested this sequence in order to alleviate some travel burden on a West Coast team forced to play at least two time zones away seven times this season.

It’s a relatively trendy concept a few teams have used over the years. The Baltimore Ravens stayed in the Bay Area last year and practiced at San Jose State between games against Denver and the Raiders. The Atlanta Falcons did so this season, staying out west between games against Denver and Seattle.

The Raiders could’ve done so twice – consecutive games at Tennessee and Baltimore provided another option – but didn’t want to put strain on young families.

They’ll try and keep things close to a typical game week, so the players feel comfortable in new elements. The football operations staff, lead by coordinator Tom Jones, is bringing the technology required for meetings and film study. The equipment staff, led by manager Bob Romanski, in particular must load up for a long haul and get ready for two games and four other days of practice.

It’s no easy task taking this show on the road, but the Raiders believe it’ll help in the middle of an arduous season and travel slate.

"There’s a lot of work behind the scenes,” Del Rio said. “…For us as players and coaches, it’s going to be very seamless. Basically football preparation as we know it, just doing it in a different environment.”