Season review -- Raiders WRs


Season review -- Raiders WRs

The purported strength of the Raiders receiving corps was that there was no clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver. And as such, no divas living in their ranks.

But something happened when quarterback Jason Campbell went down with a broken right clavicle on Oct. 16 and Carson Palmer was acquired two days later. Heyward-Bey emerged as the top target and Jacoby Ford and Louis Murphy, both of whom are standing up in Campbell's wedding next month, became afterthoughts.

Yes, injury had a lot to do with it, but their close off-field relationship with Campbell, at whose house they crashed during the lockout for workouts, might have been a positive for the team before Campbell's injury, a hindrance after it.

And now that it appears fairly certain Campbell will be leaving as a free agent, it will be interesting to see how the young receiving group responds with a full offseason with Palmer as their quarterback.

And despite any rift, real or imagined, the Raiders receivers helped Oakland finish with the No. 11-ranked passing attack in the NFL.

Grade: CWIDE RECEIVERSDarrius Heyward-Bey -- Raise your hand if you predicted before the season began that Heyward-Bey would not only lead the Raiders in receiving but would be within a mere 25 yards of hitting that 1,000-receiving yards threshold? Now give yourself a Barry Horowitz-style slap on the back.
Not bad for a guy that entered his third season on the fast track to Bustville, right? Well, his maturation as a pass catcher has been a sight to behold -- a week after being carried off the field on a stretcher at Minnesota he started against Chicago -- even if he is more of an intermediate route runner than the deep threat Al Davis envisioned when he took him with the No. 7 overall pick in 2009.
He still has his fair share of drops, though no receiver on the Raiders roster works harder off the field to improve. And his work ethic has paid off as quarterbacks have begun to trust him with aplomb -- he was targeted a team-high 115 times, including 17 targets in the season finale -- and his 64 receptions were 27 more than Oakland's second-leading pass catcher, running back Michael Bush.
He had four touchdowns but no reception was as impressive, or important, as the 53-yard long bomb from Carson Palmer on the first play of overtime at Kansas City on Dec. 24 that put the Raiders in field-goal position.Denarius Moore -- The fifth-round rookie revelation turned heads in training camp with ridiculous plays seemingly every day. "I'm not a playmaker," Moore said in ah-shucks fashion. "I just make plays."
That he did, especially at Buffalo (five catches for 146 yards and a TD), at San Diego (five for 123 and two TDs) at Kansas City (four for 94 and a TD) and in the season finale against the Chargers (three for 101).
His five touchdown receptions led the team, even as he missed three games with an injured right foot and ankle suffered at Minnesota on Nov. 10.
Moore's 18.7-yards per catch average on 33 receptions, for 618 yards, led the team.
Yet as explosive as he could be, he would also sometimes disappear. He had a total of five catches in games against Denver, Houston, Cleveland, Kansas City, Minnesota and Detroit.
With experience and more reps, he only figures to get more consistent. "Denarius Moore," coach Hue Jackson said, "I give him an A." He's also considered the Raiders' best pure route runner.Chaz Schilens -- The oft-injured possession receiver stayed relatively healthy in 2011, missing only one game after missing a combined 19 games the previous two seasons.
Schilens tied a career-high with two touchdown catches and his 23 receptions for 271 yards were both second-best in his four-year career. No, Schilens did not have the impact expected of him when the Raiders trumpeted him in a famous (infamous?) press release a few years back.
But that's the issue with proclaiming receivers as game-changers -- they can only do so much when the ball is thrown their way and can do nothing when the ball is not thrown their way.Jacoby Ford -- A broken hand suffered in training camp was followed by a lost fumble the first time he touched the ball in the season opener, ensued by a strained hamstring, and bookended by a sprained foot.
The icing was the, ahem, icy glare Ford received from Palmer when Ford purportedly "slipped" in the season finale and Palmer's throw to the diminutive receiver was picked off.
Not exactly a season to write home about for Ford, who did, however, return another kickoff for a touchdown, in Week 6.
In all, Ford missed half of the season and caught 19 passes for 279 yards and a TD. Not quite the playmaker he was as a rookie in 2010, when he had 25 receptions for 470 yards and two scores while returning three kicks for touchdowns.
He seemed to take especially hard the loss of Campbell and how the arrival of Palmer was handled.Louis Murphy -- An offseason Viagra-related arrest preceded sports hernia surgery and Murphy was not the same player he had been the previous two seasons, when he led the receiving corps in catches and averaged 38 receptions, 565 yards and three TDs in nine starts.
In 2011, Murphy started one of the 11 games in which he played and caught 15 passes for 241 yards and did not have a touchdown catch.
Like Ford, he too seemed to struggle with the transition from Campbell to Palmer and some might say the most interesting nugget we learned about Murphy this season was that he prepares his chicken without washing his hands, courtesy of CSN California's "Raiders Unplugged."T.J. Houshmandzadeh -- The 11-year veteran's mere arrival on Nov. 1 as a free agent raised some hackles in that he was seen as Palmer's personal receiver, what with their prior relationship in Cincinnati.
After all, Houshmandzadeh caught an NFL-high 112 passes in 2007 with Palmer as his QB. Really, though, the 34-year-old Houshmandzadeh was used more as a third-down safety valve.
In eight games, he ended up catching 11 passes for 146 yards and his 13.3-yards per catch average was actually the second-highest of his career. Small sample size, yes, but it was also the same average he had the previous year in Baltimore, when he had 30 catches.Derrick Jones -- An undrafted free-agent rookie who blew out his Achilles' tendon in training camp and spent the season on Injured Reserve.

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.”