ALAMEDA -- As a predominantly power-blocking team last season, the Raiders were the No. 7-ranked rushing team in the NFL, averaging 131.9 yards per game on the ground.Through four games of the 2012 season utilizing the zone-blocking scheme, the Raiders are 32nd in the 32-team NFL -- last -- in averaging 60.8 rushing yards per game.Still think the switch should have been seamless, and that the ZBS is similar to what the Raiders ran last year?"It's very different in the run game," center Stefen Wisniewski told CSNCalifornia.com following the Raiders' final pre-bye week practice on Wednesday. "Yeah, it really is."How, exactly?Wisniewski's eyes rolled and he smiled."Well, I mean, I'd get technical on you," he said with a laugh. "Yeah, it's, I mean, the footwork, the aiming points, just everything is. The whole goal's different -- you're trying to get people to run sideways and make a cut, instead of trying to move people, drive them off the ball. So, the whole broad scheme is different and then all the little details are different, with all the footwork and everything and the combinations."But we're getting more comfortable at them and the more reps we get, we're just going to keep getting better and the more reps the (running) backs get, they're going to keep getting better because it's different for them, too. The reads are all very different."Keep in mind, the Raiders' offensive line is still rounding into form, what with Wisniewski making the transition from left guard to center after missing all on-field work this offseason recovering from shoulder surgery before a calf injury sidelined him in the exhibition season. And Willie Smith is replacing the injured Khalif Barnes at right tackle. Plus, it's not like Oakland can practice the cut-blocking in practice against teammates."It's definitely close and we really feel we're continuing to get better at it," Wisniewski said. "You know, it's not an easy thing to pick up right away. It takes time, it takes practice and it takes game practice, too. It's a different look than practice (when) you can't really cut guys. It's a whole different deal."It's a things that's going to take time and we're definitely moving in the right direction and we're definitely close to where we want to be."And therein lies the frustration."It's tough," Wisniewski said, "and we certainly want to be seeing results right now but coaches have been good and encouraging, encouraging us to be patient, keep working, keep getting better and just trust that it's going to work and we believe it is going to work."
TAMPA, Fla – Raiders fans are a migratory bunch. While the Bay Area remains its largest stronghold, the franchise has supporters across the country and will attract large crowds in opposing cities.
That’s logical in destination cities like New Orleans and Nashville, but they’ve had solid turnouts in less attractive destinations like Baltimore and Jacksonville.
Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter hopes that doesn’t happen Sunday when the Raiders invade Tampa Bay. Both teams sport similar mascots, and he doesn’t want Raider Nation feeling comfortable on the Raymond James Stadium pirate ship.
“Let’s keep those Raiders jerseys out of the lower bowl,” Koetter said after beating San Francisco in Santa Clara last week. “Let’s get some Bucs jerseys in there. Let’s rock that place next week.”
Koetter knows Raiders fans travel well, and imploring season ticket holders to hold onto their seats is a reaction to recent games where visiting fans have turned out in droves.
“Every place you play on the road is different, as far as how hard it is to play there and how hard it is to hear there,” Koetter said. “We’re not fooling anybody that some teams travel a lot better than others. Players notice, coaches notice. That’s the truth. And I’m 1,000-percent aware that the more you win, the better it gets. But with that said, do we have a home-field advantage? That’s our job to create it.”
The Buccaneers haven’t rewarded paying customers recently. They’re 3-15 at home since the start of 2014 and have lost both home games this season. Visiting fans can often get tickets easier without a good product on the field, especially in a market without strong roots.
“When you can’t hear, it’s rough,” Koetter said. “When you have to do everything silent cadence, everything hand signals, you can’t hear yourself think. Compared to if you’ve got to go to silent cadence in your own stadium.”
Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio wouldn’t mind that one bit. Raiders fans have been heard in all four road games thus far. It’s uncertain how big the visiting crowd will be, but Raiders fans have enjoying cheering on a winner in 2016.
“They’re a big presence,” Del Rio said after Friday’s practice. “We really appreciate their support. They do a tremendous job. Our fans travel. Wherever we’ve been thus far, they’ve been there in large numbers and I think it’ll be the same (on Sunday). Come on out, Raider Nation. We’re excited about it.”
TAMPA, Fla. – NFL players are a transient bunch, often switching teams a few times in free agency. That’s why there’s a Raiders homecoming story available almost every week.
Kelechi Olsemele was emotional about playing at Baltimore. Sean Smith faced an old team when the Chiefs came to Oakland. Reggie Nelson played the team that drafted him and later traded him in Jacksonville last game.
Donald Penn’s up this week, though the circumstances are a bit different.
He wanted to remain in Tampa Bay and play out a big contract. The Buccaneers cut him during the 2014 offseason, after eight years of service. He started his last 108 games in Tampa, and went to a Pro Bowl in that span.
Tampa Bay imported free agent Anthony Collins, which made Penn expendable. Tampa Bay made a business move. It was the wrong one.
Collins played one disappointing season and was cut the next year. Donovan Smith has started each game this year and last, but hasn’t been productive.
Penn has meanwhile experienced a career renaissance in Oakland, and is playing quality football at 33 years old. He’s happy being closer to his L.A. home and with a surging Raiders squad. Doing better is the best revenge, but Penn still wants to show well in his return to Tampa Bay. That comes Sunday, when the Raiders complete their Florida road with a contest at Raymond James Stadium.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s very huge,” Penn said Thursday. “You know me, I’m a straight forward guy. That’s definitely in my mind. I mean that’s something I’m never going to forget, when they released me.”
Penn’s playing as well as ever this season. He hasn’t allowed a sack, according to Pro Football Focus statistics, and has given up just one quarterback hit and 12 pressures through seven games. He even slid over to right tackle in a season-opening emergency and fared well in that spot.
“He wants to protect me more than anything,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “He gets mad even if his guy, his finger touches my jersey and the balls out. So, when you got guys that it means that much to them to do their job and it means that much to them that it makes them sick, not only to have a sack but for those guys to even touch you, you know you have the right person protecting you.”
Penn has been protecting Carr since he turned pro in 2014, and has kept the young quarterback largely clean over the pass three years. It’s a luxury some quarterbacks don’t have – just ask Derek’s brother David about the importance of pass protection – and Carr would like to keep it that way.
Carr wants five more years out of Penn, who has said he’d seriously consider retirement when his contract expires after next season.
His level of play may change things. Maybe, maybe not.
“Derek stays in my ear about (playing five more),” said Penn, halfway through his 11th season. “After next year, we’ll sit and see how things go. Thirteen has always has been a number in my head since I was younger. When I was younger, I was thinking 13 NBA years. It switched over to NFL years quick. We’ll have to readdress that, but I have a lot more football in me. I could probably play five or six more years if I want to, but the thing is do I want to?
“When am I going to call it quits? My body has been great. Hopefully it stays great, but I have three kids. I want to make sure I’m still able to do things with them and be able to do stuff and enjoy that. Right now with the way it's going, especially with us winning, it feels good. It feels fine, but you never know. I might still be out here a little longer.”
Penn has learned to be efficient in training, to avoid unnecessary taxation on a body that doesn’t rebound like it used to.
Experience, technical mastery and football smarts have mitigated any agility loss, and Penn’s still going strong despite the fact Tampa Bay let him go.
And, for the first time in 11 tries, Penn has started 5-2. He has only had three winning seasons and one playoff appearance, which makes 2016 more meaningful.
“Especially at this point in my career, I really do appreciate it a lot,” Penn said. “It really means a lot because, like I said, I’m more seasoned. I am going to play, and I want to win now. I’m not trying to win later. The good thing is these young group of kids we have. Some kids come in here and they’re like, ‘Oh, we’re going to get it eventually.’ These young kids on this team, they want it now, and I love that because they’re on the same page as me because I want it now. The effort that we’re putting out on the field, on the practice field, it’s showing. We just have to keep that up.”