Raiders key matchup No. 2: Heyward-Bey vs. DeCoud

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Raiders key matchup No. 2: Heyward-Bey vs. DeCoud

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second part in a series that spotlights three Raiders-Falcons matchups to watch Sunday, 10 a.m. (CBS), at the Georgia Dome.
Matchup No. 3: Tyvon Branch vs. Tony Gonzalez

Matchup No. 2: Raiders WR Darrius Heyward-Bey vs. Falcons FS Thomas DeCoudTale of the tape
Heyward-Bey (85): 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, fourth season, Maryland
DeCoud (28): 6-foot, 193 pounds, fifth season, CaliforniaATLANTA -- It was a safety in Pittsburgh's Ryan Mundy who knocked Darrius Heyward-Bey out the last time the Raiders' receiver played in a game. Heyward-Bey was concussed, strapped down to a gurney, carted off the field, spent the night in the hospital and missed the following game.So yeah, you might want to forgive him if he hears footsteps the next time a safety, like Thomas DeCoud, comes bearing down on him on the Georgia Dome's unforgiving artificial turf. Except, Heyward-Bey insists he's actually kind of looking forward to getting that first hit out of the way."I'm not really worried," Heyward-Bey told reporters Friday. "Everybody who plays football wants to get that first hit in, and you go from there. When it happens, it happens, and you move on to the next play."Heyward-Bey, who was injured on a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit in the end zone that cost Mundy a 21,000 fine, has caught nine passes for 98 yards and a touchdown in three games. And while he may not come across the path of DeCoud in the Falcons' deep split-safety secondary all that often, DeCoud is more ballhawk than thumper so Heyward-Bey has to be mindful of that as well.RELATED: Raiders injury report
DeCoud's four interceptions are tied for the NFL lead with Chicago cornerback Tim Jennings."Even though (DeCoud) is a young guy biologically, he has got a lot of games under his belt," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said of the 27-year-old DeCoud."And he has really done a nice job playing the ball this season and I think it is evident by the way he is taking the ball away."From the Raiders' perspective, they are just happy that Heyward-Bey is healthy. His being on the field and healthy at the same time with a healthy Denarius Moore for really the first time this season is the bonus."It's always great to have an extra weapon there in the huddle with you," Moore said. "Just him on the other side of the field being able to stretch the field and then put him anywhere, along with the rest of the wide receivers."It's just a feeling that you have, just to see your best friend right there beside you, knowing that he's there to help you."And Heyward-Bey's presence should help the running game."We need a receiver that can get out there and stretch the field for us, just get some of the guys out of the box," said running back Darren McFadden. "He's a great contributor."RELATED: Raiders lacking in explosive plays
Said offensive coordinator Greg Knapp: "Their defense plays a lot of zone down (in the red zone) and we're trying to find some seams and have to break a tackle. And (Heyward-Bey's) size provides that for us after he gets the ball in the seams."

Reports: Former Raiders QB expected to join Cal's coaching staff

Reports: Former Raiders QB expected to join Cal's coaching staff

It looks as though Marques Tuiasosopo is heading back to the Pac-12, again. The former Rose Bowl MVP and Washington quarterback has reportedly been added to the coaching staff at Cal under new head coach Justin Wilcox.

The news was first reported by Bruin Sports Online and later followed up by Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports, via Twitter.

Tuiasosopo is no stranger to coaching in the Pac-12. After spending 12 seasons in the NFL, Tuiasosopo returned to his alma mater to take on a role as assistant strength coach for the Washington Huskies in 2009.

After two years in that role, he joined the UCLA coaching staff as a graduate assistant in 2011 and took on a role as tight ends coach in 2012 under Jim Mora. The following year, in 2013, Tuiasosopo returned to Washington to be the quarterback coach to work for Steve Sarkisian. 

READ MORE AT CollegeFootballTalk.com

McKenzie: Osemele gave Raiders OL teeth, Nelson eased Woodson's loss

McKenzie: Osemele gave Raiders OL teeth, Nelson eased Woodson's loss

Raiders general manager built a foundation of talent heading into the 2016 offseason, but needed more to get his team over the hump. Draft picks were essential, and expected. He had significant salary cap space, where he could find some immediate impact players on the open market.

McKenzie signed six unrestricted free agents, a few of them at a hefty price. Most veteran imports worked out well, though some thrived more than others.

It was a solid group that, in addition to the 2017 draft class and some key undrafted pickups, helped McKenzie win the Pro Football Writers of America’s executive of the year award.

He singled out two members of the 2016 free-agent class that helped set the tone for a 12-4 regular season and the team’s first playoff berth since 2002.

Left guard Kelechi Osemele was the first. The former Baltimore Raven signed a record contract for interior linemen but was worth the price, adding attitude to the offensive line during an All-Pro season.

“I think Kelechi solidified our offensive line, from the standpoint of what we wanted from our run game, from a physicality standpoint, what we had always talked about from Day 1,” McKenzie said Thursday in a conference call. “He added to that and he put some teeth into the whole offensive mentality. I felt like that was an impact. I was happy to see him get his first Pro Bowl. That was good to see.”

McKenzie also highlighted free safety Reggie Nelson’s efforts. He signed late in the offseason for relatively cheap, but was voted a team captain after his first preseason as a Raider and helped the secondary function with confidence. That was required after losing the eminent Charles Woodson to retirement.

Nelson also had five interceptions and two fumble recoveries, including three takeaways that secured victory.

I thought Reggie [Nelson] made some plays and was a true leader back there. When we lost Charles Woodson, from the leadership standpoint, communication standpoint, I felt Reggie came in and did a solid job to help ease that transition. You can never replace a Charles Woodson, but he was able to help ease that transition, especially when we had a young rookie back there (in Karl Joseph).”

Let’s take a look at the Raiders unrestricted free agent class and how they fared:

LG Kelechi Osemele
Contract: 5 years, $58.5 million ($25.4 million guaranteed)
Impact:Osemele ranks among the league’s elite left guards, and brought a nastiness to the Raiders offensive line. He helped immensely in the run game, and didn’t allow a quarterback sack all season. He was a Pro Bowler and a first-team All Pro, the results McKenzie hoped for after offering Osemele a massive contract.

LB Bruce Irvin
Contract: 4 years, $37 million ($14.5 million guaranteed)
Impact: Irvin started slow but rounded into a dominant player and an excellent compliment to star edge rusher Khalil Mack. Irvin had seven sacks and an NFL-high six forced fumbles, showing enough versatility to play well in coverage and against the run.

CB Sean Smith
Contract: 4 years, $38 million ($15 million guaranteed)
Impact: Smith was benched in his first game, and struggled against Julio Jones in his second, but played better after than and largely well the rest of the year. His quarterback rating against was 114.0 and he allowed too many big plays. More is expected from a No. 1 cornerback. Smith had shoulder surgery after the season and vowed to be better in 2017.

FS Reggie Nelson
Contract: 2 years, $8.5 million ($4 million guaranteed)
Impact:Nelson wasn’t perfect in his first year as a Raider, but made some big plays during a Pro Bowl year. He had seven takeaways, including five interceptions, and some big hits in the clutch. He was a solid leader in the back who should be better with a year’s experience in a new system to his credit.

S Bryden Trawick
Contract: 1 year,  $675,000
Impact: Trawick was brought in to be a solid special teams player, and he thrived in that role. He was strong in kick and punt coverage, with a team-high 14 special teams tackles. He showed some defensive prowess late when forced into action, and the safety made some nice plays over the last two games.

LB Daren Bates
Contract: 1 year, $850,000
Impact: Bates is a special teams player first and, along with Trawick, helped anchor the coverage units. He had seven special teams tackles over the year.