ALAMEDA -- Not to put too much pressure on the kid, but the potential return of Denarius Moore to the field Sunday against Detroit gives the Raiders a significant bump.Technically, the rookie receiver is listed as questionable for the game but he practiced three times this week for the first time since going down with an injured right ankle and foot at Minnesota on Nov. 20."I think it helps, because obviously he's a playmaker and he knows how to make plays and can make plays," Raiders coach Hue Jackson said of Moore. "So it gives you another weapon that you haven't had at your disposal. He's very dynamic with what he does. It helps, but by no stretch of the imagination is he going to be the key to winning the game by himself."True, but his presence on the field would remove some of the focus that has been on Oakland's running game in general, Michael Bush in particular, the past three games. After averaging 4.8 yards per carry in his first four games replacing Darren McFadden, Bush is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry the last three weeks.Having the dynamic Moore on the outside, even as a decoy, would force the Lions defense to stay honest."It's going to open up the offense a whole bunch," Moore said following Friday's practice. "We still need folks that's going to help open up the running gamejust help them get the safeties out of there, make sure that we get our blocking schemes right. It's just helping (to) add more weapons, basically."Moore, the Raiders' fifth-round draft choice out of Tennessee, has caught 24 passes for 410 yards with a team-best four touchdown catches.He had huge games at Buffalo (five receptions for 146 yards, including a TD) and San Diego (five catches for 123 yards and two TDs), with two different quarterbacks in Jason Campbell and Carson Palmer."I think anytime you add a player of tremendous talent at any position, it gives you more options in what you can do," said Raiders offensive coordinator Al Saunders. "Certainly he's a very skilled young man. He's made some great plays for us. To have him back in the lineup gives you an added tool, hopefully to play at a more successful level."He's a special young man, and we're real glad to have him back, that's for sure."Yeah, no pressure. Right?Still, on-field pressure has not gotten to Moore much this season, if at all.If anything, being sidelined since being tackled awkwardly on a punt return at Minnesota some four weeks ago has taken a toll.Which is why he probably will not return punts against the Lions on Sunday."He wasn't back there today," Jackson said. "And we've got to ease him back into this, but he looked like he's back up and rolling. So potentially, he could be back there at some point in time, but right now, I havent, we havent, myself and (special teams coordinator) John Fassel haven't made that decision to stick him back there."Moore is averaging 9.3 yards on 23 punt returns, with a long of 34 yards."It's something where we think punt return is more side-to-side, more jukes, and so they're just going to leave that alone for a while," Moore said. "Or for at least this week, and let it get by and let it heal up all the wayand then we're going to see where we're going to go from there."For now, though, just appearing on the field will be boost enough."DeMo's a playmaker, and anytime you have a playmaker who comes back from being injured it's always an asset," said running back Rock Cartwright. "So we're looking for him to get out there, get back in rhythm and make plays like he did when he was out there early on."With DeMo being back, I think that would give us an opportunity to do a little more on the offensive side of the ball."Of course, Moore has to be physically up to the challenge. Because if he feels that something is not right on Sunday during pregame warmups, he will not play. And if he does, he might be limited, gauging from what he did in practice this week."It's just from little short straight routes and just little short individual routes," Moore said, "and just working on getting more plays and actually putting more plays in as the day goes on and each practice."And his annoyance mounted over his foot's refusal to cooperate the past month."It's been real frustrating sitting there watching your players out there busting their butts, and then you're not able to do nothing yourself," Moore said. "You just want to help, just hurry up and get back out there on the field."Moore and the Raiders anticipate it happening this weekend.
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Jack Del Rio have done three pre-draft press conferences now. They’ve got the routine down, knowing when to deflect questions, when to put people off the scent and, more importantly, how to seem unpredictable.
They were in lockstep again Friday, less than a week before the 2017 NFL Draft.
During their first, McKenzie offered one criticism of his head coach.
“Can you guys get Jack out of my office?” McKenzie said in 2015, with tongue firmly in cheek.
The rhetorical question was answered with a laugh. McKenzie was acknowledging how much Del Rio and staff wanted to support the scouting process. McKenzie ultimately pulls the trigger on draft day, but Del Rio has a loud voice in the room as he looks for players who fit his locker room and his schemes.
McKenzie has open ears, taking advice from the entire coaching staff while arranging his draft board. This time of year especially, coaches and scouts are working together.
“It’s been unified since Day 1,” Del Rio said. “Reggie and I are very unified and much on the same mission and that is to bring a world championship home to this organization. Everything we’re doing is attacking that, adding these impact players where we can.”
The pair was focused on improving a lackluster roster that featured Derek Carr and Khalil Mack but finished 3-13 the year before. Now their partnership is entering Phase II.
They must decide which players to add, and decide which previously drafted players to keep. There are some obvious extensions in the works, with Carr, Mack and Gabe Jackson. They had to let some homegrown talent go in free agency as they attempt to upgrade depth and build a championship roster that can build on last year’s success.
“There’s a whole different phase that we’re about to go through as an organization as you begin to mature, some of those players have to be re-signed or not. Those are decisions you have to make in all of this. This is year three for us working together and I feel like the relationship with the scouts and the coaches and the sharing of information is excellent. We want to continue to work that way.”
The Raiders have an opening in their secondary.
Finding a slot cornerback is a top priority with DJ Hayden now in Detroit. TJ Carrie is an option there, but the Raiders could add a young, versatile talent capable of taking a more prominent role down the line.
That’s true despite the fact Sean Smith signed a free-agent deal through 2019 last year and David Amerson received a contract extension through the 2020 season. Those contracts, however, become pay-as-you-go deals after this season.
The dead money goes away, freeing the Raiders to look for long-term upgrades if they see fit.
Head coach Jack Del Rio loves creating competition and depth, especially at such an important position in today’s NFL. The Raiders like larger, physical cornerbacks with ball skills, and there are plenty in this year’s draft.
Many analysts have the Raiders taking a cornerback at No. 24 overall, and that’s a realistic possibility. They could certainly look to help last year’s No. 24-ranked secondary in the early rounds.
Let’s take a look at some top options available in this week’s draft:
Good fits:There are quite a few quality cornerbacks who could be available at No. 24 overall, even if there’s an early run on the position.
Oakland native and Washington alum Kevin King visited the Raiders during the pre-draft process, and certainly fits what the Raiders like in a cornerback. He’s confident and aggressive, unafraid to use great physical traits to make plays on the ball. He’s tall and long and isn’t afraid to tackle.
USC’s Adoree Jackson has the quality ball skills the Raiders like, and is adept high-pointing the ball. Analysts say he can play several coverage techniques and has the agility to make up for mistakes. He can work in the slot, but at 5-foot-10 isn’t as tall as the Raiders like. They’d have to take him in the first round. He may not last beyond that.
San Jose native and Colorado product Chidobe Awuzie is another interesting local defensive back ready to turn pro. He can play outside or in the slot, and analysts say he has excellent one-on-one coverage skills but needs tackling work. He was a solid slot blitzer at Colorado, and could fill an immediate need crucial against so many three and four receiver sets.
Louisiana State’s Tre’Davious White has experience playing the slot, and could help right away there before transferring outside if asked. He can cover extremely well, though analysts say he isn’t much of a tackler. He might be a tweener as far as the Raiders are concerned, not worthy of the No. 24 pick but long gone before the Raiders pick in the second round.
Central Florida’s Shaquill Griffin visited the Raiders this spring, and rightfully so. A willing run defender with good ball skills and tackling ability who could be available in the third round should intrigue them.