ALAMEDA -- So much attention -- both good, and bad -- has been paid to Sebastian Janikowski this week that his running mate has become an afterthought. That is, if many gave Shane Lechler a thought at all.True, Janikowski tied the NFL record for longest field goal with his 63-yarder Monday night, before finding his name in a Contra Costa Times report Friday that said he had been charged with misdemeanor battery and false imprisonment. So the man known as SeaBass no doubt had an interesting five days.But Lechler's 77-yard punt in Denver tied a team record, and his name was not found on a police blotter.So even while he was being peppered with questions about Janikowsi's record-tying field goal (he is the holder, after all) this week, and answering them all with aplomb, a smile did creep across Lechler's weary face when he was asked about his own boot, which equaled the 77-yard punt by Wayne Crow against the New York Titans on Oct. 29, 1961."I haven't felt one like that in a long time," Lechler said. "I hit it and kind of stepped back and was kind of like, 'Where did that come from?'"Lechler, whose previous personal best was his 73-yarder on Sept. 28, 2003, laughed, then grew serious."It had a little anger management behind it," he added, "from the 90-yard punt return we had given up earlier in the game."Indeed, Eric Decker's 90-yard touchdown return came on a 57-yard Lechler punt following the Raiders' first series of the second half and pulled the Broncos to within 16-10 with 12:31 to play in the third quarter."I saw that the ball got kicked really far by Shane Lechler, who has an unbelievable foot," said Raiders coach Hue Jackson. "And then all of a sudden, we broke down on coverage on the left side. Maybe kind of out-kicked our coverage a little bit."The coverage guy has to know. Sometimes when you kick a ball you're not sure how far that thing is going. But once you realize, as a coverage unit, that the ball is in the air a little longer than what you're accustomed to, because normally there's a rhythm to a punt, I think the guy has to understand -- this one went a long way, and all of a sudden we have to attack the guy who is returning the ball a little differently."Lechler, drafted in the fifth round out of Texas A&M in 2000, has long been known as having the biggest leg among this generation's punters. Entering this season, his career 47.29 yards-per-punt average is the best in NFL history, and his 51.14 average in 2009 was just behind the single-season record of Sammy Baugh's 51.40 in 1940. Lechler's net average of 43.85 in 2009 did, however, set a single-season record for highest net average.But the six-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler is also one of the smartest. It's not always about showing distance and hang time. You have to be able to pin opponents with their backs to the end zone.His first punt after the TD return was a 46-yarder to the 8-yard line that Decker was only able to return three yards, thanks to a hustle play by Rock Cartwright.Lechler's next punt was a 50-yarder that was returned 10 yards, again snuffed out by Cartwright."If you look at the punt before (the record-tying kick), I kind of punted to the sideline," Lechler said.It gave him the confidence and the feel for the ensuing 77-yarder. So with the Raiders facing a 4th-and-7 at their own 23-yard line, Lechler let it fly into the closed end Sports Authority Field at Mile High, and the ball rolled into the north end zone for a touchback, while giving Crow renewed life and Jackson a chance to praise the man most vocal in his opposition to former coach Tom Cable being shown the door."He is as good as there is in football," Jackson said of Lechler. "There's not a ball he can't put or place anywhere that he needs to. He really works at his skill and his craft and this team and organization means a ton to him."And he means a lot to the Raiders as well. Remember, he is currently the Raiders' No. 3 quarterback."I always tell the guys 'Pat and Go' is the funnest part of the game for me," Lechler said of the passing drill. "It crosses my mind (I could have to play quarterback in a game). Hopefully, it never happens."Even if it does, he will remain intrinsically linked with Janikowski, as the biggest, most powerful legs in the NFL."Yeah, we take pride in that," Lechler said. "We take pride in still being together after 12 years. You don't see that at all any more, especially this year. A lot of veteran guys got cut or went down this year. We're in our 12th year together this year, which I think is a huge advantage."Especially when one of them can be overshadowed by the other in perception, but not in reality.
The Raiders had an NFL-worst 25 sacks last season, and that’s with Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin in their employ. That duo had 18 sacks (and 11 forced fumbles) between them. That left only seven for everyone else. Stacy McGee and Denico Autry had 2.5 each, and McGee isn’t here anymore.
Mario Edwards Jr. was certainly missed last season, when he missed 14 games with a preseason hip injury. The versatile defensive lineman is a solid edge run defender and internal pass rusher in the sub package.
If he’s healthy, Edwards Jr. could pose a real threat rushing the passer next to Irvin or Mack.
“Having Mario healthy will make us a better defense, and that’s not just as a pass rusher,” general manager Reggie McKenzie said in March. “He’s a solid run player. We’ve just got to have him healthy.
“But we’ll continue to add there, too.”
McKenzie subtracted one Tuesday, releasing Dan Williams to free salary cap space. He hasn’t yet added a defensive tackle in free agency, but could certainly do so in next week’s NFL draft.
There’s some quality interior pass rushers in this class. Let’s take a look at some options the Raiders could select and when:
Good fits: The Raiders select 24th overall in this draft, far lower than years past. Some quality defensive tackles might be a proper fit there, especially with depth at positions of need.
They could use some versatility, players like Edwards Jr. who can play multiple techniques. Michigan State’s Malik McDowell is an strong, athletic freak who analysts believe needs to improve his effort and technique. McDowell could develop into a top talent and be viewed as a steal at No. 24, or not realize full potential.
Michigan’s Chris Wormley is a versatile player in the Edwards Jr. mold, a player who seems to fit Raiders needs. Analysts says inconsistency is troubling but has the leadership quality and character the Raiders love. He can be a base end and move inside when required. He also has the size at 6-foot-5, 298 pounds and could develop well at the NFL level while making an immediate impact.
Florida’s Caleb Brantley is also an intriguing prospect adept at reaching the offensive backfield. Analysts say he’s a powerful player with quickness and an ability to work through blocks despite being slightly undersized. Brantley is potential to be a quality NFL pass rusher, and is confident in his ability. He didn’t play a high snap count at Florida, but the Raiders might use him in sub packages as a rookie and fill an important role right away. He’s viewed as a second round pick, and the Silver and Black might cross fingers he’s available at No. 56.
Auburn’s Montravius Adams could help if the Raiders are looking for more of a run stuffer. Clemson’s Carlos Watkins could also play multiple spots and could be available later in the middle rounds. Old Dominion’s Rashaad Coward also fits that mold and would be available in later rounds, though he hasn’t had much pass-rush production.
ALAMEDA – The Raiders visited with former Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon at the team’s Alameda facility on March 21.
General manager Reggie McKenzie came away impressed by the controversial figure notorious for punching a female in 2014 while at Oklahoma, who has spent significant portions of the pre-NFL draft process trying to show that violent incident caught on video doesn't define him.
“We thought he was a really good kid. He came off very well and explained each and everything, the questions that we had,” McKenzie said Friday in a pre-draft press conference. “He had an explanation and he was up front about everything. The kid really came across as a good kid.”
Mixon is also a premiere talent going pro, but there’s no telling how far his off-field issues will drop him in next week’s NFL draft. There’s debate where he’ll be taken, though many expect Mixon to go in the first two rounds.
He was not invited to the NFL scouting combine due to an incident where he punched victim Amelia Molitor and fractured several bones in her face. Mixon has made several pre-draft visits and meet with dozens at Oklahoma’s pro day trying to explain his actions and why he’s a safe pick in this year’s NFL draft.
Mixon and Molitor released a joint statement on Friday announcing the settlement of a civil suit, with both parties hoping to move on from an ugly incident after which the victim spoke out about being harassed.
“I am happy we were able to bring the lawsuit to an end,” Molitor said in a statement. “Joe and I were able to meet privately, without any attorneys, and talk about our experiences since that night. I am encouraged that we will both be able to move forward from here with our lives. From our private discussions I am satisfied that we are going to put this behind us and work towards helping others who may have found themselves in similar circumstances. I greatly appreciate his apology and I think the feelings he expressed were sincere. We both could have handled things differently. I believe if we had a chance to go back to that moment in time, the situation would not have ended the way it did.”
The running back is obviously a polarizing public figure, and the team that drafts him could take flak for selecting him.
“When stuff like this happens, whether it’s domestic violence or drunken driving, whatever issue that comes up, we’ll be prepared to answer questions,” McKenzie said. “We’ll do our research and if we make a decision, we’re going to prepare to have answers for each and every decision that we make.”
Raiders owner Mark Davis has taken a hardline stance against players involved in domestic violence incidents – this was technically assault of a man on a woman, as Mixon and Molitor were not in a relationship -- and he would have to okay a Mixon selection. The Raiders put considerable thought and research into select players with character concerns.
“What we do, we research everything. We get all of the information. We will not make a decision until all the information is in front of us,” McKenzie said. “With certain issues, like domestic violence, we consider that and we really look into everything that is surrounding that. Every decision will be well-researched so if it’s one way or the other, we are going to make it where that decision is based on all the facts, all the research and on the kid moving forward. But yes, we hold that very dear to what we do, as far as who we bring in, absolutely. We will not tolerate that at all.”