Del Rio: Raiders 'diehards' should keep homefield advantage in Oakland

Del Rio: Raiders 'diehards' should keep homefield advantage in Oakland

PHOENIX – Jack Del Rio is an East Bay guy. The Castro Valley native and Hayward High product went to Raiders games as a child, and knows too well how loud Oakland Coliseum crowds can be. He helped create that home-field advantage decades ago, and appreciates it now as Raiders head coach.

The Black Hole and surrounding supporters were felt in losing seasons but last year especially, when the Raiders went 12-4 and won several games in dramatic fashion.

While the Raiders are currently sold out of season tickets for 2017, there’s some question about how the fans will react after owners approved relocation to Las Vegas on Monday morning. The Raiders plan to play in Oakland the next two seasons – they have team options on the Oakland Coliseum for 2017 and 2018 -- and would like to play there again in 2019 until a Vegas stadium is completed in 2020.

Will there be a bunch of empty seats? Will there be protests outside the stadium? Or will the opportunity to see a team with championship aspirations keep fans coming?

That remains uncertain, though Del Rio believes Raiders fans will continue supporting their club.

“I can’t answer that definitively, but I would say I doubt it,” Del Rio said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings. “I think we have to play well and earn it. That’s where it starts. I’m banking on us doing well. If we do well enough, people will be excited to watch us."

Raiders owner Mark Davis has offered refunds to fans jilted by the move out of town, though those requests weren’t immediately high. There’s also a waiting list to buy season tickets if they become available.

There will be fans turned off after all this, and Raiders brass doesn't fault them for it.

“There is that element where a certain number where they’re disappointed to the point they won’t support us anymore. That’s understandable,” Del Rio said. “We’ll have to see what that number is. If it’s a lot, we’ll adjust that line of thinking. But I would be surprised if that’s the case.”

Raiders fans are unique, and have shown a willingness to travel for games regardless of record.

“We have some real diehards,” Del Rio said. “We draw globally. I’m sure there will be some who are angry and can’t get over it; that’s understandable. I think there will be a large contingent who are true Raiders fans, and it really doesn’t matter where they’re playing. They’re there and they’re fired up.”

McKenzie, Del Rio ‘unified since Day 1,’ ushering Raiders into next phase

McKenzie, Del Rio ‘unified since Day 1,’ ushering Raiders into next phase

Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Jack Del Rio have done three pre-draft press conferences now. They’ve got the routine down, knowing when to deflect questions, when to put people off the scent and, more importantly, how to seem unpredictable.

They were in lockstep again Friday, less than a week before the 2017 NFL Draft.

During their first, McKenzie offered one criticism of his head coach.

“Can you guys get Jack out of my office?” McKenzie said in 2015, with tongue firmly in cheek.

The rhetorical question was answered with a laugh. McKenzie was acknowledging how much Del Rio and staff wanted to support the scouting process. McKenzie ultimately pulls the trigger on draft day, but Del Rio has a loud voice in the room as he looks for players who fit his locker room and his schemes.

McKenzie has open ears, taking advice from the entire coaching staff while arranging his draft board. This time of year especially, coaches and scouts are working together.

“It’s been unified since Day 1,” Del Rio said. “Reggie and I are very unified and much on the same mission and that is to bring a world championship home to this organization. Everything we’re doing is attacking that, adding these impact players where we can.”

The pair was focused on improving a lackluster roster that featured Derek Carr and Khalil Mack but finished 3-13 the year before. Now their partnership is entering Phase II.

They must decide which players to add, and decide which previously drafted players to keep. There are some obvious extensions in the works, with Carr, Mack and Gabe Jackson. They had to let some homegrown talent go in free agency as they attempt to upgrade depth and build a championship roster that can build on last year’s success.

“There’s a whole different phase that we’re about to go through as an organization as you begin to mature, some of those players have to be re-signed or not. Those are decisions you have to make in all of this. This is year three for us working together and I feel like the relationship with the scouts and the coaches and the sharing of information is excellent. We want to continue to work that way.”

Locals among cornerbacks who can help Raiders early in NFL Draft

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AP

Locals among cornerbacks who can help Raiders early in NFL Draft

The Raiders have an opening in their secondary.

Finding a slot cornerback is a top priority with DJ Hayden now in Detroit. TJ Carrie is an option there, but the Raiders could add a young, versatile talent capable of taking a more prominent role down the line.

That’s true despite the fact Sean Smith signed a free-agent deal through 2019 last year and David Amerson received a contract extension through the 2020 season. Those contracts, however, become pay-as-you-go deals after this season.

The dead money goes away, freeing the Raiders to look for long-term upgrades if they see fit.

Head coach Jack Del Rio loves creating competition and depth, especially at such an important position in today’s NFL. The Raiders like larger, physical cornerbacks with ball skills, and there are plenty in this year’s draft.

Many analysts have the Raiders taking a cornerback at No. 24 overall, and that’s a realistic possibility. They could certainly look to help last year’s No. 24-ranked secondary in the early rounds.

Let’s take a look at some top options available in this week’s draft:

Good fits:There are quite a few quality cornerbacks who could be available at No. 24 overall, even if there’s an early run on the position.

Oakland native and Washington alum Kevin King visited the Raiders during the pre-draft process, and certainly fits what the Raiders like in a cornerback. He’s confident and aggressive, unafraid to use great physical traits to make plays on the ball. He’s tall and long and isn’t afraid to tackle.

USC’s Adoree Jackson has the quality ball skills the Raiders like, and is adept high-pointing the ball. Analysts say he can play several coverage techniques and has the agility to make up for mistakes. He can work in the slot, but at 5-foot-10 isn’t as tall as the Raiders like. They’d have to take him in the first round. He may not last beyond that.

San Jose native and Colorado product Chidobe Awuzie is another interesting local defensive back ready to turn pro. He can play outside or in the slot, and analysts say he has excellent one-on-one coverage skills but needs tackling work. He was a solid slot blitzer at Colorado, and could fill an immediate need crucial against so many three and four receiver sets.

Louisiana State’s Tre’Davious White has experience playing the slot, and could help right away there before transferring outside if asked. He can cover extremely well, though analysts say he isn’t much of a tackler. He might be a tweener as far as the Raiders are concerned, not worthy of the No. 24 pick but long gone before the Raiders pick in the second round.

Central Florida’s Shaquill Griffin visited the Raiders this spring, and rightfully so. A willing run defender with good ball skills and tackling ability who could be available in the third round should intrigue them.