Raiders key matchup No. 2: Adams vs. McCluster

adams_phillip_mccluster_dexter_split.jpg

Raiders key matchup No. 2: Adams vs. McCluster

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second part in a series that spotlights three Raiders-Chiefs matchups to watch Sunday, 1:25 p.m. (CBS), at the O.co Coliseum

Raiders CB Phillip Adams vs. Chiefs WR Dexter McCluster

Tale of the tape
Adams (28): 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, third season, South Carolina State
McCluster (22): 5-foot-8, 170 pounds, third season, Mississippi

ALAMEDA -- Wait, isn't the diminutive Dexter McCluster more of a hybrd slot receiver/running back than a wideout? And isn't Phillip Adams more of a punt returner than a cornerback?

Well…

Injuries being what they are, McCluster is second on the depth chart to the physical specimen that is Dwayne Bowe--out with an injury to the ribs--and Adams has proven himself so valuable at corner that Oakland cut Ron Bartell this week. So here we are, even if Joselio Hanson is the Raiders' nickel defensive back and McCluster primarily lines up in the slot. Sure, Adams might see more of Terrance Cooper or Jon Baldwin, but the if-and-when matchup between Adams and McCluster is the most intriguing.

"I’m excited that I get to compete every day," Adams said this week. "I take great pleasure coming out here to play football.  It’s a game we all love. I just plan to keep on competing and being there for my teammates and everybody in the organization."

Adams, with his fourth organization since 2010, has two interceptions for the Raiders, one in each of his last two games. He suffered a concussion on the first one, against Cleveland's Brandon Weeden, and was knocked out of that game. He kept the ball as a keepsake after picking off Denver's Peyton Manning on Dec. 6.

"He competes very well in the pass game," said Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver. "He needs to wrap up and tackle with his eyes up a little bit better. That’s where he can improve. But he’s competing in the pass game and continuing to finish. He’s made plays on the ball. Of course he caught one and knocked himself out. We’d prefer if he doesn’t knock himself out, but it was a heck of a catch.

"But he competes in the pass game and that’s the key.”

If and when he faces McCluster, Adams will have lots of competition.

Far from a deep threat, but speedy nonetheless, McCluster has 41 receptions for a career-high 358 yards, and also 11 rushing attempts for 60 yards in 13 games with five starts. In the Raiders' 26-16 victory at Arrowhead Stadium on Oct. 28, McCluster caught a career-high tying six passes for 54 yards and his lone touchdown of the season.

Adams, meanwhile, may have found a home in Oakland after stops across the Bay as a seventh-round draft choice of the 49ers, in New England and in Seattle. His confidence is growing as well.

"I think I just have more experience (now)," Adams said. "Repetition is the father of learning. If you get enough reps and you get that much experience, you gain that much confidence. I’m starting to gain that much confidence and feel like I can be an impact on my team."

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.”

 

Raiders OTA observations: Conley, rookies must earn their stripes

Raiders OTA observations: Conley, rookies must earn their stripes

ALAMEDA – Rookies have been immersed in the Raiders system most of this month, but still have a lot to learn before training camp begins this summer.

There’s significant work ahead this spring during OTAs and mid-June’s mandatory minicamp, and young players will do so from the second and third teams. Even the highly touted ones.

First-round draft pick Gareon Conley played slot cornerback with the second unit and outside cornerback on the third during Tuesday’s OTA open to the media. It’s a position the slick, speedy cover man will vacate posthaste, but the Raiders prefer rookies earn their stripes.

“All of our young guys are going to earn their way,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We have a good football team. We’re going to let them earn their way. We’ll let them compete. We’re early in the competition, so we’ll just go through the offseason and continue to get (Conley) involved and get him reps. These guys will ascend and take their positions as they earn it. We’re really happy with the way he’s started.”

The Raiders didn’t feature a single rookie on their first units Tuesday. Second-round safety Obi Melifonwu, fourth-round offensive tackle David Sharpe and middle linebacker Marquel Lee were featured on the second unit.

Here are some other observations from Tuesday’s OTA sessions.

-- Del Rio said Marshall Newhouse had the inside track to be the team’s starting right tackle. The versatile veteran worked there with the first team, joining a front five otherwise intact from a season ago.

-- Second-year pro Connor Cook, who switched from No. 8 to No. 18 this offseason, ran the second offensive unit. E.J. Manuel worked with the third team.

-- Inside linebacker Ben Heeney worked on a side field with a trainer during Tuesday’s practice, as he continues to rehab from surgery to repair an ankle broken early last season. Jelani Jenkins also did side work after practicing on Monday.

Cory James and Tyrell Adams worked with the first unit at inside linebacker.

-- Veteran running back Marshawn Lynch was limited to individual drills for a second straight day as the Raiders ease him back into football activity.

-- Offensive lineman Austin Howard is working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery, and only practice during individual drills.

-- Cornerback Sean Smith had offseason surgery, but was a full participant in Tuesday’s session.

-- Third-round defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes remains away from the Raiders complex due to an NFL rule preventing players from schools still in session to work with their teams. He won’t re-join the squad until training camp. Undrafted rookie Nicholas Morrow is in a similar spot, but will return next week.

-- Edge rusher Shilique Calhoun played last season at 250 pounds, but looks decidedly bigger now. He told the team website he’s up to 270 pounds.