Lechler no mere punter for Raiders

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Lechler no mere punter for Raiders

ALAMEDA -- A punter? Addressing the locker room after a big victory? And talking about grinding out the rest of the season because of what's at stake?There would be no stranger scene in all of the NFL. Unless that locker room belonged to the Raiders, and that punter was Shane Lechler."It's a good deal to be 7-4," Lechler told his excited teammates following Sunday's victory over Chicago in an iconic video captured by Raiders.com and published by NFL.com. "Everybody's happy, but guess what -- we've got a lot of football to play, men. We've got a whole lot of football to play. Some tough games coming up. Let's keep on the grind. I'm telling you, we've got to keep on the grind. If you want to keep this feeling, keep grinding."

Three days later, Lechler's sentiments were still being felt not only in the halls of the Raiders' facility, but throughout the streets of Silver and Blackdom. And not in spite of Lechler being a punter, but, probably because he is a punter. The best punter of his generation, if not of all time.That carries weight. As does the job he did against the Bears, limiting Devin Hester to a combined seven punt-return yards on two returns and booming one punt a franchise-record 80 yards."I think guys listen to guys who get it done," said defensive tackle Richard Seymour, who played with a similarly-respected specialist in New England in placekicker Adam Vinatieri."And (Shane is) a combination of both, where he's a veteran leader and also, he's a great player."Consider: Lechler entered this season with the highest career punting average in NFL history at 47.29 yards. Currently, Lechler's 51.5 yards-per-punt average for the season not only leads the league, but would break Sammy Baugh's single-season record of 51.40 yards, set in 1940 for Washington.And Lechler's 38.8-yards net average over his career ranks third in league history, but his 43.85 net average in 2009 is the single-season mark.Yeah, he's got a resume that would make any player stop and take E.F. Hutton-like notice."No one's going to listen to someone that's not getting it done," said safety Mike Mitchell. "We respect Shane because he's a guy that's getting it done. Sometimes I'll make jokes like, Shane still is a kicker, but at the end of the day, man, that dude, he's not getting paid like a kicker, he's doesn't play like your average kicker."When something needs to be said, he's going to be one of the guys to say it, and we're all going to listen."Lechler, drafted out of Texas A&M in the fifth-round of the 2000 draft, said he had addressed the locker room following a game "maybe" once before."I try to be accepted as a football player," Lechler said. "I hang out with the guys on and off the field as much as possible, although it's kind of getting harder to relate to these guys when you're my age."Lechler, 35, laughed."I hang out with all the guys all the time," he added, "and hopefully I'm not looked at as just a punter."He was looked at as a disgruntled punter in the wake of Tom Cable's dismissal in January. Lechler famously blasted Al Davis' decision to part ways with Cable and many wondered if that would affect his relationship with first-year coach Hue Jackson.Instead, Jackson insists he leans on Lechler as a team captain to maintain the pulse of the team. And Lechler has accepted such a role."I think (Hue) knew it wasn't personal," Lechler said. "I back my coach, and I'll back Hue the same way. I'm a big believer in stability and that's why I said what I said. I thought I made it clear there was nothing against Hue in the whole situation. It was the fact that I felt we were on our way."Like I said, anything with Hue, I'll back him 100 percent now, too. Like I have most of my head coaches."Lechler smiled when he said "most."But there are no similar semantics when it comes to discussing Lechler, who has seen the highs of a Super Bowl appearance following the 2002 season, the lows of seven straight seasons with at least 11 losses and the seeming resurgence of the Raiders this season."That's exactly how I addressed the team after the game," Lechler said. "This feels awesome, being 7-4, but guess what, a season goes 16 games and we can't even say we're .500 yet. Seven and four feels great, but we've got some tough, tough games."We've never played well in Miami. We lost to them there in our Super Bowl year, then we've got to turn around and go play at probably the best team in the NFL the following week (in Green Bay). With three out of our last five on the road, we've got a lot of football yet."And perhaps, a victorious postgame speech or two from Lechler.

Aldon Smith shows off athleticism, strength in workout videos

Aldon Smith shows off athleticism, strength in workout videos

Raiders linebacker Aldon Smith is awaiting word from the league regarding his possible reinstatement.

In the meantime, the 2012 First-Team All-Pro is preparing his body for the physical grind that is playing in the NFL.

Personal trainer Steven Fotion posted multiple videos to social media of Smith's recent workouts:

https://twitter.com/fotion_steven/status/804330227191181312
 

GM McKenzie: Raiders can sustain success, ‘we’ve built this thing to last’

GM McKenzie: Raiders can sustain success, ‘we’ve built this thing to last’

ALAMEDA – Reggie McKenzie doesn’t talk to the media often, maybe a handful of times per year. That’s been the case since he became Raiders general manager in early 2012 and, throughout that time, those interactions come with a common line of questioning.

Everyone wanted to know about his grand plan to return the Raiders to greatness, or a progress report on it. It was a tall order, and McKenzie never said it was going to happen fast.

He had to get right with the salary cap and completely overhaul the roster, actions nearly impossible to do in tandem. He radically deconstructed, then reconstructed in a method that would set the team up for long-term success.

This was not a steady ascent. Poor play was expected early on, though mistakes intensified tough times and muddled his vision to the short sighted.

McKenzie never wavered, trusted his internal compass and steered this pirate ship through a storm. The skies have finally cleared. His Raiders are 9-2 heading into Sunday’s game against Buffalo, armed with a franchise quarterback, elite pass rusher and a respected head coach.

There’s a hulking offensive line, a pair of top receivers and quality cornerbacks secured for the long term.

Those old questions aren't valid anymore. 

Deconstruction is long done. Reconstruction is clearly complete. Now it’s on to the next phase: Sustaining success.

“The key is that your drafted players become your core,” McKenzie said on Thursday in a meeting with local press. “As far as (what's next), you need to know you can sign them and keep them and continue that process.

“That’s where we are right now, and we feel good about where we are. We think we’ve built this thing to last.”

McKenzie has done so with a three-pronged attack.

1. He has drafted extremely well, over the last three years especially, building a young core headlined by Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper, Gabe Jackson and Karl Joseph.

2. McKenzie found a respected head coach in Jack Del Rio guys want to play for, with a staff focused on development.

3. McKenzie has supplemented well in free agency – importing Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson Michael Crabtree and Donald Penn, to name a few -- generally without saddling himself with burdensome contracts.

The Raiders were so flush with cap space a few years ago they were able to fork out huge amounts up front on contracts that become pay-as-you-go deals without dead money later on.

They often use roster bonuses over signing bonuses -- roster bonuses hit the cap all at once; salary bonuses impact the cap over the life of the contract – to help mitigate long-term impact. In short, that gives the Raiders financial flexibility and cap space to play with each year. 

They’ll need it soon. Raiders premier players have come cheap, but the taxman is coming. Carr and Mack are still on rookie deals, but big contract extensions are a fait accompli. The same goes for Cooper when the time comes.

“The premier players will get paid, and we’ll try and keep everything intact as much as we can,” McKenzie said. “But what happens when your talented players play well? Contracts come up at times where they can benefit from it.”

Some teams -- New Orleans, for example -- suffer with a few players consuming significant cap space. Other teams, like New England and Seattle, keep on trucking with a good quarterback, defensive cornerstones and cheaper replacements through the draft or free agency.

“You have to continue to function with some young players,” McKenzie said, “and you have to find some mid-tier veterans who can step in and play well.”

The Raiders have been good mining undrafted free agents – McKenzie takes particular pride in those – to help keep the cupboard stocked.

While the Raiders rise may seem concentrated, from 3-13 in 2014 to 9-2 nearly two completed seasons later, it wasn’t quite so quick. McKenzie’s first two seasons were extremely lean while disposing of bad contracts, with a few hiccups that led many to question his vision.

Owner Mark Davis wasn't one of them. He stuck with McKenzie, a decision that looks pretty darn smart. His GM is certainly thankful for that.

“We were in constant communication the four years leading up to this year,” McKenzie said. “Nobody’s excited about losing seasons, but he did see the promise, and he believed in me. That was enough said. I told him my process, and he knew it wasn’t going to be a quick fix. We could try, but that wasn’t my style. That says a lot, because he was probably getting it from a whole lot of people to hurry up.”