Raiders key matchup to watch: No. 1 -- Huff vs. Manning

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Raiders key matchup to watch: No. 1 -- Huff vs. Manning

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the final part in a series that spotlighted three Raiders-Broncos matchups to watch Thursday, 5:20 p.m. (NFL Network), at the O.co Coliseum

Raiders CB Michael Huff vs. Broncos QB Peyton Manning

Tale of the tape
Huff (24): 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, seventh season, Texas
Manning (18): 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, 15th season, Tennessee

ALAMEDA -- The last time Michael Huff faced Peyton Manning, Huff was just starting his baptism by fire at cornerback against a trio of elite quarterbacks.

After making the switch from free safety to corner in Week 3, against Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, Huff went up against Manning. Then Huff stared down Atlanta's Matt Ryan.

"Got thrown in the fire," Huff said before facing Manning, who, in turn, absolutely torched the Raiders secondary that day, passing for a season-high 338 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in Week 4.

Eight games later, Huff has found a comfort zone with interceptions of Ryan and Baltimore's Joe Flacco.

"A lot more comfortable," he said. "That was my second game out there, still going through the growing pains. Obviously a lot more comfortable now than I was back then."

Even as general manager Reggie McKenzie still thinks of Huff as a safety. The experience can only help him when he moves back in the secondary, right?

"Oh yeah, it will help me grow," Huff said. "It will help me grow at safety in the future, kind of knowing what things to look at now at corner as opposed to safety. Safety, you’re kind of locked in and focused on just the quarterback and formations and things like that. (At corner), you look more at splits, leverage and things like that. Hopefully I can take that to safety."

But while Huff will be playing against Manning, the Broncos first-year quarterback who seemingly already has comeback player of the year honors wrapped up while making a run at what would be a record fifth MVP trophy, is also facing history.

Just don't bring that up to Manning, who has passed for 3,502 yards with 29 touchdowns and nine interceptions. His 104.6 passer rating is his best since a 121.1 in 2004.

"I really have tried to kind of live in the moment and try to kind of focus on the now," Manning told Denver reporters this week. "I really haven’t had a whole lot of time to reflect upon years past. Obviously, this has been an entirely new year and there’s been so much on my plate this year -- plenty to focus on -- so it’s not something that I think about a lot.

"Certainly, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, it’s very humbling to be mentioned amongst some of the all-time greats and some of my favorite quarterbacks, guys like Dan Marino and John Elway. It’s very humbling to me. I’m just grateful to be playing the same position as those guys. That’s how I’ve always approached it."

And Huff's approach as the Raiders try to break their first five-game losing streak since 2007?

"Just got to find a way," Huff said. "Obviously, it’s tough, especially in a short week. He is their offensive coordinator so obviously they’ll know what they’re doing. We’ve got to find a way. We’ve got to step up and make plays. Leaders, like myself and Tyvon (Branch), we've just got to find a way to rise up and make plays."

Or, at least make more than they did back in September.

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.