Gutierrez: Can Raiders' speed translate into wins?


Gutierrez: Can Raiders' speed translate into wins?

Paul Gutierrez
CSNCalifornia.comALAMEDA -- Al Saunders has been around some of the more explosive offensives in the history of professional football.He was a ball boy for the deep-throwing Al Davis-coached Raiders in 1963.RELATED: Boss, Murphy, Mitchell out for Raiders' opener
He had a front row seat for Air Coryell in San Diego in the early 1980s.He was one of the architects of the St. Louis Rams' Greatest Show on Turf at the turn of the century.And yet, when it comes to this current batch of Raiders...

"We didn't have this kind of speed in St. Louis," Saunders said. "We had some great football players that played fast. But pure speed? This is a special group."The Raiders' first-year offensive coordinator is not known for hyperbole. Saunders is a respected straight shooter. So if he says the likes of Raiders speedsters Darren McFadden, Taiwan Jones, Jacoby Ford and Darrius Heyward-Bey could outrun the Super Bowl champion Rams of Marshall Faulk, Az-Zahir Hakim, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, well then, you should listen.But really, what does it all mean? Because at the end of the day, the game is football. Not a sprint heat. It's about scoring points, not braggadocio over 40-times, right?RELATED: Jackson won't reveal Raiders' punt return
Well, the Raiders have put a premium on speed for decades. Cliff Branch, anyone? The aptly-named James Jett?Oakland has drafted the fastest player at the past three Combines in cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke (4.28 in the 40) this April, Ford (4.28) in 2010 and Heyward-Bey (4.30) in 2009.A San Francisco Chronicle survey showed the Raiders boasting eight players on their roster who have run at least a 4.36 40-time, with McFadden (4.33), cornerback Stanford Routt (4.27), running back Taiwan Jones (4.33), safety Tyvon Branch (4.31) and suspended rookie quarterback Terrelle Pryor (4.36) joining Al Davis' Need-for-Speed party.Heyward-Bey said the Raiders could have two 4x100 relay teams, but insisted he run the second-leg, rather than an anchor."I think that's the fastest guy, (the one who) runs the second leg," he said. "I'm a track guy, you know."As such, Heyward-Bey was quick to say he was the fastest on the team. So, too, did McFadden. Safety Michael Huff, meanwhile, said Jones was "probably the fastest man" he'd ever seen. While Ford took the high road."I'd probably say we were all the fastest," he said. But when he heard of the smack talk being run around the locker room, Ford stood up for himself.Of course, the only way to settle it would be in a straight Donovan Bailey vs. Michael Johnson-syle sprint, right?"For giggles," Heyward-Bey said of any race, "it would have to be in the offseason. You don't want nobody to get hurt, pull a hammy or anything like that. So, we'll probably never know."(But) tell Jacoby I said I'm the fastest."Heyward-Bey was barely smiling.Maybe he knew that while speed may equal scoring, it did not necessarily translate into championships. Maybe not.But consider: not one of the teams with the current top four scoring seasons in NFL history -- the 2007 New England Patriots (589 points), the 1998 Minnesota Vikings (556), the 1983 Washington Redskins (541) or the 2000 Rams (540) -- won the Super Bowl in that specific season.And yet, the Raiders were making like Maverick and Goose in one of the most seminal moments of "Top Gun" in that they feel the need, the need for speed."It's like we can have a track meet on the field with the guys we have out there," McFadden said. "(But) it's not just about having speed. Guys have to be able to go out there and make plays. One thing we have to do is focus on making plays."So then just how easy is it harness pure speed and apply it to real-world football skills?"I went to school with Tommie Smith, Lee Evans and John Carlos and Ronnie Ray Smith," Saunders said with a nostalgic grin, reminiscing on his days at San Jose State. "They came out in the spring and they just came back from the '68 Olympics and there were some gold medals in there but they didn't turn out to be football players. Speed and playing the game are two different things. People can run fast in a straight line, but when you have to change directions and there's another 200-pound defender over there trying to re-route you, you have to have the other skill of catching the ball. It is really different."I had a great privilege of coaching a guy for a lot of years, Charlie Joiner, who's in the Hall of Fame. Charlie wasn't a real fast guy, but he played the game as fast as anybody around, like Freddie Biletnikoff did here. The really great ones that can transfer that speed into playing explosion, a guy like Lynn Swann, those guys are special. It takes a while to do that."Just then, Heyward-Bey and Ford walked up behind the reporters interviewing Saunders and listened in like attentive yet playful students."You can teach guys to run faster," Saunders said. "Usain Bolt's working right now to run 100th of a second faster, so there's some techniques and things you can do to make guys play faster. But that innate speed factor, it really gives you an advantage because of the open field. When you get the ball in the open field you can run fast. And the faster you run, the better chance you have of getting into the end zone before somebody else catches you."Or making like Heyward-Bey and Ford and getting to the locker room before a coach's soliloquy on speed is finished. Talk about speed.

Penn still haunted by only sack allowed in 2016; 'That play sticks with me'

Penn still haunted by only sack allowed in 2016; 'That play sticks with me'

Editor's Note: The above video is from Dec. 24, 2016.

Donald Penn was nothing short of awesome last season. The veteran Raiders left tackle proved impenetrable, allowing just one sack and 27 quarterback pressures in 676 pass-blocking snaps.

He ranked high among the NFL’s best left tackles at 33, engulfed a career renaissance that began after joining the Raiders three years ago. Penn made the Pro Bowl. He was a vital piece of a 12-4 team that helped the Raiders reach the playoffs.

He hasn’t reveled much in that. Penn’s driven by opportunities missed, and one mishap that haunts him still.

Penn locked horns with Indianapolis linebacker Trent Cole off the left edge during a Week 16 contest against the Colts, and slipped as he was tracking his man away from the pocket. Penn’s feet got tangled and the big man fell. Cole remained upright, darted in and sacked quarterback Derek Carr.

It was Penn’s only sack allowed all season. And Carr got hurt. He suffered a broken fibula that ended his season and realistic hopes of a Raiders playoff run.

Nearly five months have passed since that fluke play. Carr is healthy and a full participant in the Raiders offseason program. The Raiders offensive line might be better after allowing a league-low 18 sacks last season.

There’s plenty to be excited about as the Raiders enter OTAs and a mandatory minicamp. Penn can’t help but lament that isolated incident when Carr went down.

“You have to be an athlete. You try not to think about it too much,” Penn said Tuesday. “You wish you could go back and get it back. I’ve taken that same set I don’t know how many times, on the same field and never just slipped out of nowhere. I’m not going to put it on myself. I should have been able to do something better. You know me, I’m never going to blame the slip for happening. I should have blocked him and held on to him and taken him down with me. That play sticks with me.”

That isn’t all bad. It fuels Penn to continue growing as a player, even at 34 coming off an excellent Pro Bowl season.

“I’m going to try to do what I can do better and make sure it never happens again,” Penn said. “I’ve never gotten a quarterback hurt in my life since I’ve been playing. That was a first. That’s something I take pride in. I’m going to try my hardest to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Penn wants a different ending to this season. Last year the Raiders lost the AFC West crown and a shot to win the team’s first playoff game. Penn suffered a knee injury the following week that kept him from playing in the postseason.

The goal is to realize vast potential now that the Raiders offense is back healthy again.

“I’m all about karma and stuff like that,” Penn said. “Maybe (God is) trying to tell us that this is our year. We have to put in the work to get it. I know D.C. is happy, I’m dang sure happy to get him back. We’re growing and masterminding this offense trying to make it as explosive as possible.”


Raiders OTA observations: Conley, rookies must earn their stripes

Raiders OTA observations: Conley, rookies must earn their stripes

ALAMEDA – Rookies have been immersed in the Raiders system most of this month, but still have a lot to learn before training camp begins this summer.

There’s significant work ahead this spring during OTAs and mid-June’s mandatory minicamp, and young players will do so from the second and third teams. Even the highly touted ones.

First-round draft pick Gareon Conley played slot cornerback with the second unit and outside cornerback on the third during Tuesday’s OTA open to the media. It’s a position the slick, speedy cover man will vacate posthaste, but the Raiders prefer rookies earn their stripes.

“All of our young guys are going to earn their way,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We have a good football team. We’re going to let them earn their way. We’ll let them compete. We’re early in the competition, so we’ll just go through the offseason and continue to get (Conley) involved and get him reps. These guys will ascend and take their positions as they earn it. We’re really happy with the way he’s started.”

The Raiders didn’t feature a single rookie on their first units Tuesday. Second-round safety Obi Melifonwu, fourth-round offensive tackle David Sharpe and middle linebacker Marquel Lee were featured on the second unit.

Here are some other observations from Tuesday’s OTA sessions.

-- Del Rio said Marshall Newhouse had the inside track to be the team’s starting right tackle. The versatile veteran worked there with the first team, joining a front five otherwise intact from a season ago.

-- Second-year pro Connor Cook, who switched from No. 8 to No. 18 this offseason, ran the second offensive unit. E.J. Manuel worked with the third team.

-- Inside linebacker Ben Heeney worked on a side field with a trainer during Tuesday’s practice, as he continues to rehab from surgery to repair an ankle broken early last season. Jelani Jenkins also did side work after practicing on Monday.

Cory James and Tyrell Adams worked with the first unit at inside linebacker.

-- Veteran running back Marshawn Lynch was limited to individual drills for a second straight day as the Raiders ease him back into football activity.

-- Offensive lineman Austin Howard is working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery, and only practice during individual drills.

-- Cornerback Sean Smith had offseason surgery, but was a full participant in Tuesday’s session.

-- Third-round defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes remains away from the Raiders complex due to an NFL rule preventing players from schools still in session to work with their teams. He won’t re-join the squad until training camp. Undrafted rookie Nicholas Morrow is in a similar spot, but will return next week.

-- Edge rusher Shilique Calhoun played last season at 250 pounds, but looks decidedly bigger now. He told the team website he’s up to 270 pounds.