Season review -- Raiders RBs

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Season review -- Raiders RBs

The identity of the Raiders' running game switched as soon as the "mid-foot sprain" in Darren McFadden's right foot set in on Oakland's first drive against Kansas City on Oct. 23. The Raiders wanted to "build a bully" with a diverse running attack, one built on McFadden's speed and versatility and supported by Michael Bush's closing power style. And it workedfor six games. The Raiders were 4-2. Then McFadden went down and Bush became the feature back, eliciting a shift in offensive philosophy. But the injuries did not stop there. Consider: Bush was the only Raiders running back to play all 16 games. Bully, indeed. Especially when you consider the Raiders ranked seventh in the NFL in rushing, averaging 131.9 yards.
Grade: C-RUNNING BACKSMichael Bush -- One of the true injustices of the season was Bush falling 23 yards short of hitting that 1,000-yard milestone. Still, he picked a great time to have a breakout year, what with him slated to become an unrestricted free agent and his picking up the slack for the injured Darren McFadden in rushing for 977 yards on the season and becoming the every down back when DMC went down in Week 7. Bush averaged 4.2 yards per carry after McFadden limped off the field, 2.0 yards as his backup. And he had his signature game at San Diego on Nov. 10 in a primetime affair with 242 all-purpose yards against the Chargers, the most by a Raiders player since 1963. No, Bush is not the home run threat that is McFadden -- then again, neither is McFadden when he's injured -- but Bush plowed forward and deserved to be a Pro Bowl alternate. But does he deserve big bucks from the Raiders to return, or will another team make him their featured back? In any event, he carried the Raiders' running game the second half of the season and should be commended.Darren McFadden -- Where oh where to start with the artist formerly known as Run DMC who has been more Limp DMC? Entering Week 7, McFadden was the most explosive back in the NFL, leading the league with 610 rushing yards while a threat to go the distance every time he touched the ball, via handoff or reception. But two carries and a catch into the eventual 28-0 loss to Kansas City, his right foot failed not only him, but the Raiders as a team. He never returned, despite assurances from coach Hue Jackson that McFadden was closer to playing than not. When he's right, he's one of the most complete backs in the NFL. But he's rarely so. He has already missed 19 of 64 games (29.7 percent) due to injury in his four-year career and been hurt in numerous others. How much trust should the Raiders place in him going forward?Taiwan Jones -- The Raiders had high hopes for the speedy rookie, who was selected in the fourth round of the draft. He was seen as McFadden-light and, many thought, Jones was the fastest guy on the team. But he took a while to get his legs under himself, especially with a healthy McFadden and Bush getting the majority of the carries early. And when McFadden went down, Jones would have been the perfect change-of-pace back to complement Bush. Instead, Jones' hamstring betrayed him and he did not play again after Nov. 20, rushing for 73 yards on 16 carries in 10 games.Rock Cartwright -- He's more a special teams ace and emotional team leader than a force at running back but Cartwright did have four carries for 45 yards. The two-time Commitment to Excellence Award winner's most memorable play of the season came in Week 5 at Houston, when he took a direct snap in a punt formation and rumbled 35 yards. A nagging calf injury ensued and Cartwright missed one game as a result.Marcel Reece -- A matchup nightmare at fullback, Reece can line up as a blocking back, a tailback, a tight end and out wide as a receiver. And do every job well. But a sprained ankle in the home opener against the New York Jets caused him to miss four games. Yet he still caught 27 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns and carried the ball 17 times for 112 yards. But the playbook went away from him late in the season and he was not able to make such an impact. Then again, defenses actually started gameplanning for him, a rarity for a fullback. He picked up a pair of All-Pro votes a year after getting one.Manase Tonga -- Signed off the practice squad on Oct. 8, Tonga was the quintessential blocking fullback and the staff liked his blocking so much he stayed on the roster the remainder of the season. He had one carry, a memorable 12-yard burst against Cleveland, and caught three passes for 18 yards.

Cooper: 'I can go nowhere but up,' wants improved play down the stretch

Cooper: 'I can go nowhere but up,' wants improved play down the stretch

The Raiders searched in vain for dynamic receiving production before Amari Cooper came along. Thousand-yard seasons proved elusive even in the golden age of passing stats, with a full decade’s drought after Randy Moss posted a four-digit total in 2005.

Cooper’s made that old hat.

The 2015 first-round pick has two 1,000-yard campaigns in as many seasons. Ditto for Pro Bowl honors. Those feats have become increasingly common, Cooper’s already in rarified air.

Cooper’s career is off to a solid start, but the No. 4 overall pick two years ago believes he can be much better. That especially true later in the season, where production has waned in his first two seasons.

He has nine 100-yard performances in two seasons, with just two coming after week 8. He noticeably struggled with injury at the end of 2015, but wouldn’t make excuses for a production drop last season.

Cooper wants to finish as strong as he starts, and has full confidence that will happen this season.

“Of course it’s been on my mind, but it’s a good thing to me because I feel like I can go nowhere but up,” Cooper said after Tuesday’s OTA session. “I know that I can have a lot more production than I’ve had in the past two seasons, so we’ll just see.”

Cooper has sought counsel from other NFL greats – Calvin Johnson has been in Alamenda this week, offering sage advice – and Raiders coaches have identified ways where he can be even more dynamic working with quarterback Derek Carr.

“Certainly there are things that we think we can do to help,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “Also, for him, I think he has a much greater understanding. I thought last year was a step forward. I know he wants to continue to push. It’s great when you have a young, talented player that’s really eager to be special, wants to make a mark in this league. The way he’s working at it right now is outstanding. That’s all we want of our guys.

Cooper is a versatile presence, able to do most everything well. His route running was luaded out of college, though he can be a good deep-ball receiver and can create big plays after the catch. Cooper knows his hands much be more consistent, but the Raiders want to exract more from his natural talents.

“There are a lot of different facets to him,” Del Rio said. “Where his speed is really one of his greatest strengths, obviously, his route running ability was pretty doggone polished when he got here, but even that can continue to improve and the timing with Derek. We think he’ll continue to ascend.”

That’s the goal heading into his third NFL season now armed with greater knowledge of how he’s being covered and muscle memory of what went wrong at times later in the year.

Cooper believes detail work will help him this fall and winter, and that starts in earnest during the offseason program.

“It’s easy to forget the small things like high-pointing the ball, looking the ball all the way through and not trying to run before you actually catch the ball,” Cooper said. “Overall, I’m just working hard in the offseason so that you can come back and you can be dominant.

“I want to be the best Amari Cooper that I could possibly be. I want to be better than every other year that I’ve played football, so that’s how I am looking at this year.”

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.”