Raiders

Expect dynamic Raiders tight ends to make greater impact

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AP

Expect dynamic Raiders tight ends to make greater impact

NAPA – Raiders tight ends weren’t good enough last year. That position group was inexperienced, inconsistent and worn down by injury, making two things crystal clear.

The Raiders missed Lee Smith. They needed someone like Jared Cook.

Smith broke an ankle in Week 4 that ended his season and left the Raiders without an in-line blocking tight end vital to their power-rushing scheme. Clive Walford and Mychal Rivera didn’t strike fear in the pattern.

Cook certainly does. That’s why quarterback Derek Carr recruited him so hard this offseason. Carr’s vision and a respectable contract offer brought Cook to Oakland.

There’s little doubt the Raiders are deeper and better at tight end. Health and new blood saw to that. Upgrades should get that position group more involved.

“We haven’t really gotten our tight end position going as much as I’d like,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “I think we’ve really addressed that. I think you’re going to see a team that can utilize the tight end position more in their offensive plan and attack.”

Cook’s speed and track record should change the way opponents cover Carr’s Raiders, drawing attention toward their new weapon.

“It should,” Carr said. “But, if it doesn’t, he should catch a lot of footballs.”

Smith will catch a few, but adds toughness and versatility to the Raiders offense. He was a top-10 pass protecting tight end and an excellent run blocker in 2015, his last fully healthy season.

“He’s a great blocker,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “He works hard at everything that we ask him to do. He actually has really good hands. He’s more than just a blocking tight end.”

Walford remains a project. He’s a versatile talent with great potential, but the 2015 third-round pick has struggled with injury and consistency. Cook’s arrival puts him in a backup role, though he could be a weapon in two-tight end sets on passing downs. Gabe Holmes could well make the team as injury protection and a special teams contributor.

The Raiders don’t have a true superstar in the group, but have assembled a well-rounded group with complimentary talents. They have a guy for every situation, which should make tight ends a real weapon in 2017.

“This is the tight end group I’ve ever been a part of, probably the most talented,” Cook said. “Guys know their role and play it well. All of them are good guys. Lee, Clive and (tight end coach Bobby Johnson) really made it easy for me in my transition to a new team. Lee’s been a great spearhead and leader of the group. I’m really excited about what we’ll be able to do (this) year.”

Injury report: CB Sean Smith questionable; Washington TE Reed's status uncertain

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Injury report: CB Sean Smith questionable; Washington TE Reed's status uncertain

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Raiders are remarkably healthy heading into Sunday night’s game against the Washington football club.

The entire 53-man roster practiced fully on Friday, before heading to the nation’s capital.

That includes veteran cornerback Sean Smith, who missed the previous game with a neck injury. A shoulder ailment cropped up during the week, which prompted the Raiders to label him questionable heading into Week 3. Smith’s the only Raider on the injury report, and even he’s in decent shape.

“I mean we put it on there because there’s still a little bit of a question,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “You don’t have probable’s anymore. Given the choices, I just left him that way.”

That means the Raiders are going to have some healthy scratches a week after Smith was the only injured player sitting out.

Washington has some impact players on the mend. That included tight end Jordan Reed, who is questionable with a rib/sternum injury. He stands 6-foot-2, 246 pounds and is the type of receiving tight end that gives the Raiders fits. He has 1,638 yards 17 touchdowns the last two seasons, using good hands and a large frame to create mismatches in the secondary.

It’ll be key for the Raiders to defend him well if he’s active, with Nicholas Morrow as a primary coverage option.

“We’re prepared to face him,” Del Rio said. “We think he’s a good player. We’ll approach it that way and adjust if he doesn’t go.”

Washington also lists starting inside linebacker Mason Foster and running back Rob Kelley as questionable.

Raiders Injury Report
Questionable
CB Sean Smith (neck/shoulder)

Washington Injury Report
Questionable

TE Jordan Reed (rib/sternum), LB Mason Foster (shoulder), RB Rob Kelley (rib), S Monate Nicholson (shoulder), CB Josh Norman (shoulder)

Karl Joseph living up to first-round billing with early impact for Raiders

Karl Joseph living up to first-round billing with early impact for Raiders

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Raiders safety Karl Joseph notched his first career forced fumble in Week 2’s blowout victory over the New York Jets. It came on his first sack, where he bent around a tackle into the pocket and devoured his pray.

Joseph recovered the ball, and the Raiders quickly scored a touchdown. The second-year pro enjoyed that moment, but left the game with regrets.

"I should have definitely had more sacks than I did,” Joseph said. “I feel like I should have had three.”

Joseph had quarterback Josh McCown in the crosshairs three times, and feels like he should’ve finished each one. The game plan provided opportunity. Joseph blitzed six times – fellow safety Reggie Nelson attacked thrice – and pressured the quarterback four times.

It was a relatively new responsibility, considering he blitzed nine times all last year. Joseph will be first to say he was a different player then. He was less explosive, more tentative and a smidge less confident, lingering effects from an ACL tear during his final college season. Joseph was cleared to play as a rookie but wasn’t all the way back, doubly hampered by missing an offseason program where rookies grow quick.

"I wasn’t completely myself,” Joseph said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports California. “I feel a lot more like myself this year. I obviously feel better physically, and the year of experience in the system has definitely helped. So has adjusting to the NFL life. That’s been an easier transition for me.”

Joseph is playing more like his highlight reel from West Virginia, where he proved a heavy hitter and a solid cover man worthy of last year’s No. 14 overall draft pick. The Jets game isn’t the only evidence of that.

Joseph had an excellent training camp, flashing an aggressive style and solid timing making plays in practice. That translated to the regular-season opener at Tennessee, when he saved a touchdown on consecutive plays. The first came on an open-field tackle. The second was a leaping pass breakup in the end zone, proof positive that Joseph was ready to make a big impact.

"He’s really good close to the line of scrimmage,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. "He’s a really good tackler in the open field. He also plays well on the back end. I think his development is right on time right now.”

The Raiders recognize that, and are using him like a queen on the chessboard. He can move back or forward, as an attacker or the last line of defense. He’s a rover at times, with an ability to create havoc at all levels of the defense.

Joseph is an excellent fit for the defensive scheme, bring a tone-setting physicality to the secondary. He is learning, as part of his development, that the nuclear option isn’t always best. There are times when it is, and Joseph enters those scenarios without fear.

"You can’t play worried about getting hurt. That’s not the way I play,” Joseph said. “It’s about being smart. I had to adjust my game coming into the NFL. Every hit can’t be a big hit. Sometimes you have to be smart and just wrap people up, but you can’t ever play scared.”

He isn’t afraid to take risks or attack when asked, and is already making a major impact on this year’s defense. That isn’t a surprise. It’s expected of first-round picks.

"That’s what he’s supposed to do. He’s supposed to make plays,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s a guy we selected because we thought he’d be a guy that could come in and impact on our defense. In the first two games of this year he’s played well. There are still things, like I tell you all the time, that have cleaning up to do, work to do, things to improve on, but he’s off to a good start and obviously it follows up from a good offseason. Healthy, a lot of good work and confidence that he’s gaining as we go.”