Sean Smith losing grip on Raiders starting CB spot

Sean Smith losing grip on Raiders starting CB spot

NAPA – Raiders cornerback Sean Smith has been a mainstay on the first unit since he signed a four-year, $38 million contract two offseasons ago.

That grip is loosening some. He hasn’t worked with the starting 11 the past three days in deference to TJ Carrie. He was a second unit outside cornerback on Friday and Saturday, but was used as a hybrid linebacker/safety covering tight ends in sub packages on Sunday. He was also a slot corner when the offense went four wide.

That’s a new world for Smith, who has been a starter his entire career. This rotational change doesn’t mean he won’t start in the regular season. It is, however, a sign the Raiders are pushing him with younger cornerbacks. Pressure will likely increase when first-round cornerback Gareon Conley comes off the physically unable to perform list.

His starting spot has become an open competition.

Head coach Jack Del Rio said Smith is handling the assignment change like a pro.

“I think he is,” Del Rio said after Sunday's practice. “Everybody wants to be the guy, and we love that about our guys. We also understand that there’s a lot of competition that takes place out here.”

Smith’s paycheck suggests he should start. That doesn’t mean he will. Del Rio doesn’t include status in his lineup decisions.

“I’m a big believer in that you get what you earn,” he said. “As a team you do, and as a player you do. It’s there for us to decide as we go through camp and get ready for the season. In the meantime, we’re rolling guys through there to make it ultra-competitive. You make something more than you say when you back it up and let other guys get a shot in the rotation.”

Del Rio pointed out competition is being created at several other spots that aren't drawing attention. He's right, but Smith's pedigree and paycheck put him under a stronger spotlight. 

Working Carrie in with the first unit has been warrented. He has been good. Smith hasn’t played particularly well early in camp, and has been part of some blown assignments that led to big plays.

That was an issue last year as well. Smith played well for stretches but fell victim to the big play. Passers had a 114.0 rating against Smith last year, with 44 completions on 77 targets for 749 yards and eight touchdowns. His first game was a nightmare, than got him benched after giving up two long touchdowns. He rebounded well starting in Week 3, with a seven-game stretch without a touchdown allowed. He was stingy then, playing to vast potential.

He slipped some at season’s end, when he dealt with a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery.

He needs to play through this camp setback and rebound again to become a major contributor in this defense.

“What we want to see from all of our guys, is for them to play with positive energy and see a desire to get better,” Del Rio said. “Everybody’s basically in the same boat in terms of meeting the standard we have with the way we want to practice, from the energy, the attention to detail and the focus.”

Smith will be here in 2017, with his $9.5 million salary fully guaranteed in March. His release is far easier next year. That action would not come with dead money or guaranteed funds owed to the defensive back.


-- The Raiders engaged in a physical camp practice in pads, with hard hits especially in 9-on-9 rushing drills. Safety Karl Joseph played especially well in those instances, using an aggressive playing style to knock offensive players. His best effort came early on, when he stripped Marshawn Lynch and allowed the defense to record one of several takeaways on the day.

-- The Raiders held their annual family day on Sunday, where family and friends watch practice and then join a BBQ afterward.

Head coach Jack Del Rio made his players run after practice, but said the action was not punitive. He wanted to get some extra work in before an off day.

“Just a little extra conditioning before they ate some bar-be-que,” Del Rio said. “It was nothing punitive. They’re going to have bar-be-que and get a day off tomorrow, so it’s a good way to finish up. The work their legs some and get back to work on Tuesday.

-- Del Rio creates punitive action for mental mistakes or focus issues, forcing an offensive or defensive unit to do up-downs when one team member makes a mistake. It’s commonplace in his camps, but Del Rio picks his moments when to do it.

“If we’re in a move-the-ball period I generally don’t do it because they’ll feel the effect (of a penalty). When we have scripted plays it’s a reminder that, when you make that kind of mistake, we’re making it a lot harder on ourselves. …We can condition the mind on how to react and respond to the adversity.”

-- The Raiders are practicing without three of their top four draft picks. First-round cornerback Gareon Conley remains on PUP with shin splints. Second-round safety Obi Melifonwu and offensive tackle David Sharpe have been out several days with undisclosed injuries.

“We’re doing the best we can to get those guys schooled up and working with the trainers to get themselves healthy,” Del Rio said. “They’re involved in everything they can be, with meetings so they can plug in as best they can. There are a lot of situations that come up, and we’ll matter-of-factly deal with it.”

In addition to the rookies, edge rusher Shilique Calhoun was out for the first time with an undisclosed injury.

Defensive tackle Jihad Ward remains on PUP recovering from a foot injury, but seems closer to a return. He was doing side work with trainers before practice.

Seventh-round offensive tackle Jylan Ware got hurt in practice and was slow to get up, but left under his own power. He tweeted “No worries. I’m good,” after practice, signifying that he avoided a significant injury.

-- Several young cornerbacks have played well in this camp. Undrafted rookie Breon Borders has received several compliments on his play. Antonio Hamilton and Kenneth Durden had a strong performance on Sunday. Dexter McDonald has also produced well in this camp.


Injury report: CB Sean Smith questionable; Washington TE Reed's status uncertain


Injury report: CB Sean Smith questionable; Washington TE Reed's status uncertain

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Raiders are remarkably healthy heading into Sunday night’s game against the Washington football club.

The entire 53-man roster practiced fully on Friday, before heading to the nation’s capital.

That includes veteran cornerback Sean Smith, who missed the previous game with a neck injury. A shoulder ailment cropped up during the week, which prompted the Raiders to label him questionable heading into Week 3. Smith’s the only Raider on the injury report, and even he’s in decent shape.

“I mean we put it on there because there’s still a little bit of a question,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “You don’t have probable’s anymore. Given the choices, I just left him that way.”

That means the Raiders are going to have some healthy scratches a week after Smith was the only injured player sitting out.

Washington has some impact players on the mend. That included tight end Jordan Reed, who is questionable with a rib/sternum injury. He stands 6-foot-2, 246 pounds and is the type of receiving tight end that gives the Raiders fits. He has 1,638 yards 17 touchdowns the last two seasons, using good hands and a large frame to create mismatches in the secondary.

It’ll be key for the Raiders to defend him well if he’s active, with Nicholas Morrow as a primary coverage option.

“We’re prepared to face him,” Del Rio said. “We think he’s a good player. We’ll approach it that way and adjust if he doesn’t go.”

Washington also lists starting inside linebacker Mason Foster and running back Rob Kelley as questionable.

Raiders Injury Report
CB Sean Smith (neck/shoulder)

Washington Injury Report

TE Jordan Reed (rib/sternum), LB Mason Foster (shoulder), RB Rob Kelley (rib), S Monate Nicholson (shoulder), CB Josh Norman (shoulder)

Karl Joseph living up to first-round billing with early impact for Raiders

Karl Joseph living up to first-round billing with early impact for Raiders

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Raiders safety Karl Joseph notched his first career forced fumble in Week 2’s blowout victory over the New York Jets. It came on his first sack, where he bent around a tackle into the pocket and devoured his pray.

Joseph recovered the ball, and the Raiders quickly scored a touchdown. The second-year pro enjoyed that moment, but left the game with regrets.

"I should have definitely had more sacks than I did,” Joseph said. “I feel like I should have had three.”

Joseph had quarterback Josh McCown in the crosshairs three times, and feels like he should’ve finished each one. The game plan provided opportunity. Joseph blitzed six times – fellow safety Reggie Nelson attacked thrice – and pressured the quarterback four times.

It was a relatively new responsibility, considering he blitzed nine times all last year. Joseph will be first to say he was a different player then. He was less explosive, more tentative and a smidge less confident, lingering effects from an ACL tear during his final college season. Joseph was cleared to play as a rookie but wasn’t all the way back, doubly hampered by missing an offseason program where rookies grow quick.

"I wasn’t completely myself,” Joseph said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports California. “I feel a lot more like myself this year. I obviously feel better physically, and the year of experience in the system has definitely helped. So has adjusting to the NFL life. That’s been an easier transition for me.”

Joseph is playing more like his highlight reel from West Virginia, where he proved a heavy hitter and a solid cover man worthy of last year’s No. 14 overall draft pick. The Jets game isn’t the only evidence of that.

Joseph had an excellent training camp, flashing an aggressive style and solid timing making plays in practice. That translated to the regular-season opener at Tennessee, when he saved a touchdown on consecutive plays. The first came on an open-field tackle. The second was a leaping pass breakup in the end zone, proof positive that Joseph was ready to make a big impact.

"He’s really good close to the line of scrimmage,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. "He’s a really good tackler in the open field. He also plays well on the back end. I think his development is right on time right now.”

The Raiders recognize that, and are using him like a queen on the chessboard. He can move back or forward, as an attacker or the last line of defense. He’s a rover at times, with an ability to create havoc at all levels of the defense.

Joseph is an excellent fit for the defensive scheme, bring a tone-setting physicality to the secondary. He is learning, as part of his development, that the nuclear option isn’t always best. There are times when it is, and Joseph enters those scenarios without fear.

"You can’t play worried about getting hurt. That’s not the way I play,” Joseph said. “It’s about being smart. I had to adjust my game coming into the NFL. Every hit can’t be a big hit. Sometimes you have to be smart and just wrap people up, but you can’t ever play scared.”

He isn’t afraid to take risks or attack when asked, and is already making a major impact on this year’s defense. That isn’t a surprise. It’s expected of first-round picks.

"That’s what he’s supposed to do. He’s supposed to make plays,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s a guy we selected because we thought he’d be a guy that could come in and impact on our defense. In the first two games of this year he’s played well. There are still things, like I tell you all the time, that have cleaning up to do, work to do, things to improve on, but he’s off to a good start and obviously it follows up from a good offseason. Healthy, a lot of good work and confidence that he’s gaining as we go.”