Raiders

Donald Penn: Raiders players trust McKenzie will add right pieces

Donald Penn: Raiders players trust McKenzie will add right pieces

The Raiders were pretty darn good last season. A 12-4 record proved that point. There was plenty of talent on a team with a penchant for high-wire acts in victory that masked the fact there were holes on the roster.

They need to be filled for the Raiders to improve in 2017, and new players will be imported through free agency and the draft.

Left tackle Donald Penn is excited to see who gets added, but said there’s no doubt talent is coming to Oakland. He speaks for Raiders players, who have faith that general manager Reggie McKenzie will make the right moves.

“Things that Reggie has done in past drafts have been great, and we’re looking forward to seeing what he brings back towards us,” Penn said recently during an in-studio appearance on NFL Network. “We can’t wait to get back out there healthy. We’re ready to hit the football world with a storm.”

While new guys are coming, a few might head out. The Raiders have several unrestricted free agents. Penn wants to keep his guys around – he mentioned running back Latavius Murray by name -- though he has some ideas for McKenzie’s checklist.

The Raiders don’t need much with most key players under contract – the Raiders should be less active in free agency over past offseasons – but a few key components could put this team over the top.

“If we stick to Reggie’s plan, we’ll be great,” Penn said. “I know he’s going to have a great draft, add a couple little pieces here and there – maybe somebody in the secondary to help out a little bit.

"On offense, you could always use a weapon. Maybe we get another receiver to take (pressure off Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper), but we have a good nucleus right now.”

Looking for better interior pass rush, Del Rio gives vote of confidence

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AP

Looking for better interior pass rush, Del Rio gives vote of confidence

ALAMEDA – A large chip rests on Jihad Ward’s shoulder. That’s common for athletes, always on the hunt for motivation. Critics, detractors, those of little faith are easy and obvious targets.

The Raiders defensive lineman had options during a rookie season where he was thrust into full-time duty. Mario Edwards Jr. got hurt and never truly recovered, leaving last year’s second-round pick to play significant snaps. The heavy workload came earlier than the Raiders had planned, before Ward was ready. When Edwards Jr. returned late in the year, Ward was essentially shut down.

The Illinois product took some flak for it. He listened, absorbed and was fueled. He’s comfortable with that process, and the motivation that comes with it.

“They’re just trying to hate (on) people trying to do what they have to do,” Ward said Tuesday. “Keep on pushing. That’s all. …There will be critics everywhere.”

Head coach Jack Del Rio openly criticized Ward’s position group. He said after last season that the Raiders had to upgrade their inside pass rush, that they need more quarterback pressure from guys not named Mack or Irvin. He was right. The Raiders had a league-low 25 sacks despite 18 coming from their star edge rushers.

Edwards Jr. got healthy and Eddie Vanderdoes came in the NFL draft’s third-round, adding power and speed to that group. Ward, Denico Autry, Treyvon Hester, Justin Ellis and Darius Latham all have a part to play inside, and Del Rio believes that unit will be more impactful this season.

“It definitely is a much deeper group than we’ve had. More athletic group than we’ve had,” Del Rio said. “I’m very encouraged by the early signs that I’ve seen in pads, throughout camps against a very good offensive line that we have. Another great test this week to evaluate these guys because we’re playing one of the better lines in the league.”

The Raiders play Dallas on Saturday at AT&T Stadium, where starters will play extensive snaps against the vaunted Cowboys offensive line.

“It’s a great opportunity to evaluate, develop, continue to push, but we feel like we’ve strengthened ourselves there,” Del Rio said. “It’s probably the strength of the defense right now.”

That’s a vote of confidence for a group that should be more effective if healthy. Edwards Jr. and Vanderdoes should front the effort, though Ward could be an impact player if he builds off a strong offseason program. Del Rio says Ward was “more decisive,” this spring, a product of being comfortable playing in this system and this league.

Then Ward suffered a setback. He felt a tweak in his foot during OTAs, one that proved serious and required surgery to repair. He spent training camp on the PUP list, and was finally cleared to practice on Monday. Ward doesn’t think the layoff killed offseason momentum. The comfort and confidence hasn’t left.

“Your first year coming here, you’re thinking too much,” Ward said. “Now it’s like ‘okay, I get it now.’ That’s how it is for all rookies. They just have to learn what’s going on, so I feel it. Everything is easier now, it’s my second years now. It’s regular.”

Donald Penn yet to report as Raiders return home

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AP

Donald Penn yet to report as Raiders return home

ALAMEDA – Raiders left tackle Donald Penn missed training camp holding out for a new, more lucrative contract. He missed Tuesday’s practice, the first back at the team’s training facility.

His protest began 26 days ago. The regular season is 19 days away.

Penn has worked out with top trainers and private offensive line coaches while away from the team, but still needs time to get back in the flow.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Monday that Penn is expected back this week. He wasn’t there for the first of three sessions when the Raiders will focus on the third preseason game at Dallas. It’s the last meaningful exhibition, with players down on the depth chart expected to populate the preseason finale versus Seattle.

Penn doesn’t necessarily need to play in a preseason game to prep for the Sept. 10 regular-season opener at Tennessee, but it could help.

Head coach Jack Del Rio wouldn’t address Penn’s status, or whether there’s a deadline for him to report and be ready for the regular season.

The Raiders have managed with Marshall Newhouse on the left and Vadal Alexander on the right. The pair has fared well, though the line will be significantly stronger with Penn back and a Newhouse/Alexander competition on the right.

Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie made it clear weeks ago that the Raiders wouldn’t talk contract until a player reports. Penn preferred a contract get done before showing up. Weeks were lost to that impasse.

Quarterback Derek Carr hopes it will end soon, and that Penn will come back to the team.

“It would obviously mean a lot, if that’s what he chooses to do,” Carr said. “He’s our teammate. We want all our teammates here. We want to work hard together. We want to be together and joke together. It’s more than just football. We want to be there in his life, with him.

"It would mean a lot. Obviously, I would love it.”