Gutierrez: Raiders' top priorities entering camp


Gutierrez: Raiders' top priorities entering camp

July 25, 2011


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Paul Gutierrez

The NFL has announced that the Raiders will begin training camp Wednesday. The Raiders have offered no confirmation, or denials. All they say is when camp gets going, they will again be in Napa, as planned all along. A look then, at five-plus concerns the Raiders must address as doors to the facility become unlocked and players begin to filter through

Five-plus concerns the Raiders must address as they prepare to report to Napa for training camp:

1) The salary cap conundrum
According to numerous reports, the Raiders are already 10 million over the salary cap of 120 million. And that's before Oakland has re-signed any of its 18 remaining free agents (17 unrestricted, one restricted) or any of its drafted rookies. If it sounds like it's time to hit the panic button in Silver and Blackdom, maybe.

But there are always loopholes in the system and Al Davis has been a master at keeping guys he wants and getting others he's lukewarm on to accept paycuts andor restructuring their contracts. It's going to be tight, no doubt. Names sure to pop up as potential cutting material - offensive linemen Cooper Carlisle, who is due to make a reported 2.5 million in 2011, and Samson Satele, who was initially given an original-round tender but is suddenly an unrestricted free agent. Plus, there could be attempts to restructure contracts belonging to recent draft picks Darrius Heyward-Bey and Rolando McClain.

RELATED: Raiders ready to lock in, begin work in Napa
2) The Zach Miller Situation
It appears as though Davis gambled and lost by not slapping the Franchise Tag on Miller when he had a chance before the lockout hit, instead using it on linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. The thought was that Miller would be a restricted free agent, thus, easier to keep after putting first and third-round tenders on the Pro Bowl tight end. But the language in the new CBA had fourth-year players as UFA's and some talent-hungry and well-heeled owner could potentially swoop in on Miller.

The Raiders need to pull out all their stops to keep him in the fold. He has been the team's most valuable player on offense the past three seasons, and with JaMarcus Russell as the quarterback for two of those campaigns, that's saying a lot. Miller was in the unique situation of being the Raiders' player rep through the lockout so he's seen things from all sides. He likes being a Raider, though, and appreciates the history of the team and the position. So Oakland has that going for it, which is nice.

3) Preparing for life after Nnamdi Asomugha
There's still a sliver of hope, however thin it may be, that Asomugha gives the Raiders the ultimate hometown discount and returns to the East Bay. But the feeling here is that the team has been preparing for life after him, the second his contract is voided, perhaps even before as he was due to make 18 million had the contract not voided.

Numerous teams have been linked to the All-Pro shutdown cornerback, from Houston to Green Bay to Baltimore to the New York Jets to, the latest to join the rumor mill, the Dallas Cowboys. The Raiders affording Stanford Routt a three-year, 31.5-million contract, with 20 million guaranteed all but closed the door on Asomugha's return to the only professional team he's ever known.

4) What to do with Michael Huff
There have been rumblings the Raiders tried hard to come to a contract agreement with the second-team All-Pro free safety before the lockout hit, to no avail. So there's definitely mutual interest. Thing is, he's a fifth-year player who did not start playing to his stature as a No. 7 overall draft pick until lately. Plus, with the Raiders already 10 million over the 120-million cap, he might be too expensive to retain.

Would he take a significant pay cut to come back to Oakland and continue his growth, or would a bigger payday closer to the Texas native's home be too tempting to pass up. In any event, the Raiders seemed to see this coming when they threw that four-year, 10.25-million contract at Hiram Eugene.
5) Welcoming back Michael Bush, with a caveat
The Raiders were apparently victorious in their claim that Bush should be classified as a third-year player rather than a fourth-year veteran since he did not appear in a game his first season in Oakland after being drafted as damaged goods out of Louisville. As such, he is a restricted free agent, and the first and third-round tenders will stick, making it all the more likely he will return to the Raiders at a decent price to again be the "Smash" to Darren McFadden's "Dash" in their offensive backfield.

Still, the Raiders might have to dole out some sort of discipline in light of his off-season arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence. Plus, the league might have something to say about it as well. Stay tuned
5a) Patching up the offensive line
Imagine an O-line of LT Jared Veldheer, LG Daniel Loper, C Stefen Wisniewski, RG Bruce Campbell and RT Joseph Barksdale. That's probably what the Raiders were imagining on draft weekend as well. But that's two rookies and a pair of second-year pros charged with protecting the quarterback and maintaining the league's No. 2 running game. That's too much inexperience to start the season, what with the lack of mini-camp and OTA's, so the Raiders might have to look at bringing back one or two of their own to, ahem, steady to ship. How do Mario Henderson, Langston Walker and Khalif Barnes grab you?

Cooper: 'I can go nowhere but up,' wants improved play down the stretch


Cooper: 'I can go nowhere but up,' wants improved play down the stretch

The Raiders searched in vain for dynamic receiving production before Amari Cooper came along. Thousand-yard seasons proved elusive even in the golden age of passing stats, with a full decade’s drought after Randy Moss posted a four-digit total in 2005.

Cooper’s made that old hat.

The 2015 first-round pick has two 1,000-yard campaigns in as many seasons. Ditto for Pro Bowl honors. Those feats have become increasingly common, Cooper’s already in rarified air.

Cooper’s career is off to a solid start, but the No. 4 overall pick two years ago believes he can be much better. That especially true later in the season, where production has waned in his first two seasons.

He has nine 100-yard performances in two seasons, with just two coming after week 8. He noticeably struggled with injury at the end of 2015, but wouldn’t make excuses for a production drop last season.

Cooper wants to finish as strong as he starts, and has full confidence that will happen this season.

“Of course it’s been on my mind, but it’s a good thing to me because I feel like I can go nowhere but up,” Cooper said after Tuesday’s OTA session. “I know that I can have a lot more production than I’ve had in the past two seasons, so we’ll just see.”

Cooper has sought counsel from other NFL greats – Calvin Johnson has been in Alamenda this week, offering sage advice – and Raiders coaches have identified ways where he can be even more dynamic working with quarterback Derek Carr.

“Certainly there are things that we think we can do to help,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “Also, for him, I think he has a much greater understanding. I thought last year was a step forward. I know he wants to continue to push. It’s great when you have a young, talented player that’s really eager to be special, wants to make a mark in this league. The way he’s working at it right now is outstanding. That’s all we want of our guys.

Cooper is a versatile presence, able to do most everything well. His route running was luaded out of college, though he can be a good deep-ball receiver and can create big plays after the catch. Cooper knows his hands much be more consistent, but the Raiders want to exract more from his natural talents.

“There are a lot of different facets to him,” Del Rio said. “Where his speed is really one of his greatest strengths, obviously, his route running ability was pretty doggone polished when he got here, but even that can continue to improve and the timing with Derek. We think he’ll continue to ascend.”

That’s the goal heading into his third NFL season now armed with greater knowledge of how he’s being covered and muscle memory of what went wrong at times later in the year.

Cooper believes detail work will help him this fall and winter, and that starts in earnest during the offseason program.

“It’s easy to forget the small things like high-pointing the ball, looking the ball all the way through and not trying to run before you actually catch the ball,” Cooper said. “Overall, I’m just working hard in the offseason so that you can come back and you can be dominant.

“I want to be the best Amari Cooper that I could possibly be. I want to be better than every other year that I’ve played football, so that’s how I am looking at this year.”

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.”