Lechler no mere punter for Raiders

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Lechler no mere punter for Raiders

ALAMEDA -- A punter? Addressing the locker room after a big victory? And talking about grinding out the rest of the season because of what's at stake?There would be no stranger scene in all of the NFL. Unless that locker room belonged to the Raiders, and that punter was Shane Lechler."It's a good deal to be 7-4," Lechler told his excited teammates following Sunday's victory over Chicago in an iconic video captured by Raiders.com and published by NFL.com. "Everybody's happy, but guess what -- we've got a lot of football to play, men. We've got a whole lot of football to play. Some tough games coming up. Let's keep on the grind. I'm telling you, we've got to keep on the grind. If you want to keep this feeling, keep grinding."

Three days later, Lechler's sentiments were still being felt not only in the halls of the Raiders' facility, but throughout the streets of Silver and Blackdom. And not in spite of Lechler being a punter, but, probably because he is a punter. The best punter of his generation, if not of all time.That carries weight. As does the job he did against the Bears, limiting Devin Hester to a combined seven punt-return yards on two returns and booming one punt a franchise-record 80 yards."I think guys listen to guys who get it done," said defensive tackle Richard Seymour, who played with a similarly-respected specialist in New England in placekicker Adam Vinatieri."And (Shane is) a combination of both, where he's a veteran leader and also, he's a great player."Consider: Lechler entered this season with the highest career punting average in NFL history at 47.29 yards. Currently, Lechler's 51.5 yards-per-punt average for the season not only leads the league, but would break Sammy Baugh's single-season record of 51.40 yards, set in 1940 for Washington.And Lechler's 38.8-yards net average over his career ranks third in league history, but his 43.85 net average in 2009 is the single-season mark.Yeah, he's got a resume that would make any player stop and take E.F. Hutton-like notice."No one's going to listen to someone that's not getting it done," said safety Mike Mitchell. "We respect Shane because he's a guy that's getting it done. Sometimes I'll make jokes like, Shane still is a kicker, but at the end of the day, man, that dude, he's not getting paid like a kicker, he's doesn't play like your average kicker."When something needs to be said, he's going to be one of the guys to say it, and we're all going to listen."Lechler, drafted out of Texas A&M in the fifth-round of the 2000 draft, said he had addressed the locker room following a game "maybe" once before."I try to be accepted as a football player," Lechler said. "I hang out with the guys on and off the field as much as possible, although it's kind of getting harder to relate to these guys when you're my age."Lechler, 35, laughed."I hang out with all the guys all the time," he added, "and hopefully I'm not looked at as just a punter."He was looked at as a disgruntled punter in the wake of Tom Cable's dismissal in January. Lechler famously blasted Al Davis' decision to part ways with Cable and many wondered if that would affect his relationship with first-year coach Hue Jackson.Instead, Jackson insists he leans on Lechler as a team captain to maintain the pulse of the team. And Lechler has accepted such a role."I think (Hue) knew it wasn't personal," Lechler said. "I back my coach, and I'll back Hue the same way. I'm a big believer in stability and that's why I said what I said. I thought I made it clear there was nothing against Hue in the whole situation. It was the fact that I felt we were on our way."Like I said, anything with Hue, I'll back him 100 percent now, too. Like I have most of my head coaches."Lechler smiled when he said "most."But there are no similar semantics when it comes to discussing Lechler, who has seen the highs of a Super Bowl appearance following the 2002 season, the lows of seven straight seasons with at least 11 losses and the seeming resurgence of the Raiders this season."That's exactly how I addressed the team after the game," Lechler said. "This feels awesome, being 7-4, but guess what, a season goes 16 games and we can't even say we're .500 yet. Seven and four feels great, but we've got some tough, tough games."We've never played well in Miami. We lost to them there in our Super Bowl year, then we've got to turn around and go play at probably the best team in the NFL the following week (in Green Bay). With three out of our last five on the road, we've got a lot of football yet."And perhaps, a victorious postgame speech or two from Lechler.

Lynch outcome should determine whether Raiders draft a running back

Lynch outcome should determine whether Raiders draft a running back

It’s officially NFL draft week. Marshawn Lynch still isn’t a Raider.

A contract impasse remained as of Sunday morning, a few days before general manager Reggie McKenzie’s desire for a by-Thursday resolution.

Deadlines, even soft ones, prompt deals. But Marshawn is unique, adding a level of uncertainty to procedings. 

The Raiders would prefer Lynch agree to terms on a new contract so they can acquire his rights from Seattle -- that’s the easier part – and know where they stand heading into the NFL Draft.

McKenzie left several doors cracked during a Friday pre-draft presser, saying Lynch’s presence wouldn’t stop him from drafting a rusher, not having the Oakland native wouldn’t guarantee it, and that there’s always a chance Lynch could come later no matter what happens during amateur selection.

Those things could be true. Or, you know, not. McKenzie prefers mystery this time of year.

Bottom line: The Raiders need a bigger back to pair with smaller, yet elusive runners DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard.

The Raiders want Lynch to fill the void. Ditto for Raider Nation, especially the Oakland state. A few free-agent options remain, including LaGarrette Blount. Or the Raiders could draft a back, something the Raiders have done well in later rounds.

They got Latavius Murray in the sixth round four years back, and he provided quality before changing uniforms this offseason. They got Washington in the fifth last time and pulled Richard from undrafted free agency. They could mine talent again this year. Waiting seems more likely if Lynch is around. 

Quality abounds in this draft class, with several worthy of early selections and talent easily found late. Let’s inspect McKenzie’s draft options at running back, should he need one:

Good fits: It’s hard to see the Raiders looking at a rusher in the first round, considering the draft’s depth at the position and major defensive needs. A first-round talent might be considered in the second. If controversial former Oklahoma rusher Joe Mixon is available following a free fall due to off-field issues described in detail here, a running back might come early.

Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara could be another Day 2 option, an explosive talent who analysts say has wiggle and power to create coveted yards after contact. He could be a three-down back thanks to quality as a receiver.

Odds are, however, the Raiders will look deeper into the draft. Wyoming’s Brian Hill was an excellent college producer who runs strong and might fit well into the Raiders rotation. Round projections vary, but he should be available on Day 3.

Pittsburgh’s James Conner offers great power at 233 pounds. He could run through tacklers and wear down defenses for the Raiders’ shift backs. He's also well known for drive and work ethic. He is projected as a fifth or sixth round pick.

Brigham Young’s Jamaal Williams might offer value and power rushing later in the draft. Clemson’s Wayne Gallman has tackle-breaking ability, but analysts say he isn’t a strong pass protector.

 

Healthy Edwards, NFL Draft could help Raiders improve interior pass rush

Healthy Edwards, NFL Draft could help Raiders improve interior pass rush

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.