Gutierrez: Li'l Wiz at center of Raiders rookie corps


Gutierrez: Li'l Wiz at center of Raiders rookie corps

Paul Gutierrez
CSNCalifornia.comNAPA -- He has the bloodline. The nasty disposition. The skill set to succeed in the league. And, as of Thursday morning, a signed contract to officially become an Oakland Raider.But keep in mind, Stefen Wisniewski is still a rookie."I've had it described to me as like this is a Big-10 All-Star team," the Penn State product said, when describing the talent level of the NFL. "You take the best players from the Big 10 teams and put them on one and play an All-Star team every week."Yeah, well, the talent he'll see every Sunday is probably a little better than that. But his point is understood.

Besides, a lot is expected of Li'l Wiz, who was the Raiders' first draft choice, taken No. 48 overall in the second round and nephew of Raiders great Steve Wisniewski, who just so happens to be the team's new assistant offensive line coach. And for good reason.From the moment he was drafted -- though there have been rumblings from deep within Silver and Blackdom the Raiders were also keen on Miami tackle Orlando Franklin, taken two picks before Li'l Wiz by Denver -- Oakland crowned him the new center.Even if he still had to win the job and with so much labor turmoil ahead. So without as much as a rookie mini-camp or an OTA or even a conversation about football with his uncle -- lockout rules forbade it -- here he was on the first practice of his first professional training camp, lined up at the brain of the offensive line. As a rookie."He's got to earn it, there's no question, but we drafted him for a reason: to play center," rookie head coach Hue Jackson said of Wisniewski. "We're going to give him every opportunity until something shows that he can't. But he showed that he can, and we're going to keep pushing him, but he's got a ways to go, we've got a ways to go, but I was impressed with his first day getting out there and competing."You've got Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly on the other side growling at you; that can be at tough battle. He handled it well for the first day."But before the first snap, he sat at his locker and marveled at his helmet. The same colors he stared at growing up in Pennsylvania while worshipping his uncle and, yes, rooting for the Raiders.Then he tugged it down over his ears and it fit just right. Like it was meant to be."It was really cool," he said. "I got my helmet; the helmet is great. It's going to be even better when I get a jersey and some pads on."To be honest, I was just sitting around smiling today. I'm actually a Raider. It kind of feels real for the first time today. Getting drafted and then being on my own (during the lockout), it kind of wasn't real yet. But wearing a helmet and practicing and getting at it, it feels great."According to the National Football Post, Wisniewski signed a 4.135-million contract with Oakland and a 1.507 million bonus.I asked him how steep the learning curve would be, what with so much valuable learning time missed this offseason."It is steep," he said. "This was Day 1, and normally that would have been two months ago and I would be a lot further along here at the start of training camp. All that being said, it's just going to take more of a commitment from me. We have 40 days until the first game. That's enough."He smiled. More of a smirk, really. But cocky? Not at all. It's actually closer to a swelling confidence. Plus, he knows exactly what he has to work on. And if he forgets, his uncle will be in his ear hole.Not that it was even a factor on Thursday.Rather, Li'l Wiz spoke about what he needs to do to improve. And it's the most basic of responsibilities for a center."I gotta be a little quicker with the snap," he said. "I am thinking about eight million things with who I'm blocking and what not, and snapping the ball really fast gets pushed to the wayside a little bit. That's something I have to work on."I am really excited about the strategy. We're moving around a lot, we got motions, we got shifts, we're going to mess with defenses, we've got all kinds of speed everywhere. The offensive line just has to hold up the defense a little bit and give those guys some running room."Besides, he'll learn on the job in practice, going up against the likes of a six-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro in Seymour and the blossoming Kelly."I am excited about the challenge," Wisniewski said. "They are going to kick my butt some time, but that's fine. It's going to make me better. To be honest, you want to be practicing against the best because when you get in the games it's like, 'Oh, these guys are good, too but they're no Richard Seymour.'"And they're no Big-10 All-Star team, either.

McKenzie: Marshawn Lynch 'already entrenched' in Raiders locker room

McKenzie: Marshawn Lynch 'already entrenched' in Raiders locker room

Marshawn Lynch took some time to agree on contract terms with the Raiders. The Oakland native formally joined the Silver and Black a day before the NFL Draft, which served as a soft deadline for his commitment to unretire and join his hometown team.

The Raiders have been pleasantly surprised by Lynch since acquiring his rights from Seattle on April 26, starting with unbridled enthusiasm upon signing his new contract.

He reported to the Raiders offseason program in tremendous shape despite being out of football in 2016, and has been a full participant in workouts he was apathetic towards in Seattle. Lynch has also fit right in to the Raiders locker room culture since joining the club.

“He has been great,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said Thursday in an interview with 95.7-The Game. “He has been great in meetings. He has been great on the field. He’s going well in terms of his physical progress. He’s doing quite nicely and we think he’s going to be a great help on the field.

“Off the field, he has meshed very well with the team and is already entrenched as one of the guys. It’s going well with him.”

While it took some time to navigate a complex acquisition process, McKenzie said it went relatively smooth.

“Prior to getting him, I had no setbacks thinking he was not going to be able to get here,” McKenzie said. “My communication with Seattle and Marshawn’s people was great. Everyone indicated that he wanted to play. That’s all we needed to know. The fact he wanted to be a Raider was icing on the cake. We went through the process and got it done. He’s excited, and so are we.”

The Raiders now have a deep running back group. Lynch’s physical rushing style is the focal point of an attack that also features smaller, elusive rushers Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington. Those guys will run behind a productive offensive line considered among the NFL’s best.

Board unanimously approves conditional lease for Raiders stadium in Vegas

Board unanimously approves conditional lease for Raiders stadium in Vegas

LAS VEGAS -- The public board that oversees the proposed stadium where the Raiders want to start playing in 2020 on Thursday unanimously approved a conditional lease agreement for the facility after months of negotiations that were affected by the sudden exit of an instrumental financial backer of the $1.9 billion project.

The Las Vegas Stadium Authority board was running up against a deadline to approve the lease to avoid delaying the team’s relocation by a year, as NFL owners gathering next week in Chicago plan to take up the document. It addresses various aspects related to the 65,000-seat stadium, including insurance, repairs, maintenance, naming rights and a rent-free provision.

“We got to the finish line in time, but we didn’t start real well, and obviously, that kind of set off some events,” board chairman Steve Hill said after the meeting. “We lost six weeks in the process, but we made up for it, the Raiders made up for it, and we are here today where we need to be.”

The six weeks were lost after casino mogul Sheldon Adelson withdrew his multimillion-dollar pledge from the project just days after the first draft of the lease agreement, which included a $1 annual rent, was unveiled in January. The billionaire’s move sent the team searching for $650 million to fill the financial gap he created.

The team ended up securing a loan from Bank of America. Guests of hotels and other lodging facilities in the Las Vegas area are contributing $750 million through a room tax increase, while the Raiders and the NFL all along have been expected to contribute $500 million.

The document approved Thursday to the cheers of workers in the Laborers Union and others is conditional upon other agreements being reached between the team, the board and other entities. The team would not pay rent under the 30-year agreement, but it would have to contribute to a fund that would cover capital expenses that come up as the facility ages.

The agreement also gives the team the right to name the stadium and prohibits any type of gambling in the premises.

Next on the board’s priority list is an agreement that would allow the football team of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to use the facility. The team also has to figure out parking options for the stadium that will be built near the Las Vegas Strip, west of the Mandalay Bay casino-resort. The land they recently purchased is not big enough to accommodate the one-spot-per-four-seats county requirement.

Raiders President Marc Badain said the design for the stadium has been finalized, but renderings will not be unveiled immediately.

“It’s going to be spectacular,” he said after the lease was approved. He added that the team has heard from entities interested in the stadium’s naming rights.