Season review -- Raiders WRs

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Season review -- Raiders WRs

The purported strength of the Raiders receiving corps was that there was no clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver. And as such, no divas living in their ranks.

But something happened when quarterback Jason Campbell went down with a broken right clavicle on Oct. 16 and Carson Palmer was acquired two days later. Heyward-Bey emerged as the top target and Jacoby Ford and Louis Murphy, both of whom are standing up in Campbell's wedding next month, became afterthoughts.

Yes, injury had a lot to do with it, but their close off-field relationship with Campbell, at whose house they crashed during the lockout for workouts, might have been a positive for the team before Campbell's injury, a hindrance after it.

And now that it appears fairly certain Campbell will be leaving as a free agent, it will be interesting to see how the young receiving group responds with a full offseason with Palmer as their quarterback.

And despite any rift, real or imagined, the Raiders receivers helped Oakland finish with the No. 11-ranked passing attack in the NFL.

Grade: CWIDE RECEIVERSDarrius Heyward-Bey -- Raise your hand if you predicted before the season began that Heyward-Bey would not only lead the Raiders in receiving but would be within a mere 25 yards of hitting that 1,000-receiving yards threshold? Now give yourself a Barry Horowitz-style slap on the back.
Not bad for a guy that entered his third season on the fast track to Bustville, right? Well, his maturation as a pass catcher has been a sight to behold -- a week after being carried off the field on a stretcher at Minnesota he started against Chicago -- even if he is more of an intermediate route runner than the deep threat Al Davis envisioned when he took him with the No. 7 overall pick in 2009.
He still has his fair share of drops, though no receiver on the Raiders roster works harder off the field to improve. And his work ethic has paid off as quarterbacks have begun to trust him with aplomb -- he was targeted a team-high 115 times, including 17 targets in the season finale -- and his 64 receptions were 27 more than Oakland's second-leading pass catcher, running back Michael Bush.
He had four touchdowns but no reception was as impressive, or important, as the 53-yard long bomb from Carson Palmer on the first play of overtime at Kansas City on Dec. 24 that put the Raiders in field-goal position.Denarius Moore -- The fifth-round rookie revelation turned heads in training camp with ridiculous plays seemingly every day. "I'm not a playmaker," Moore said in ah-shucks fashion. "I just make plays."
That he did, especially at Buffalo (five catches for 146 yards and a TD), at San Diego (five for 123 and two TDs) at Kansas City (four for 94 and a TD) and in the season finale against the Chargers (three for 101).
His five touchdown receptions led the team, even as he missed three games with an injured right foot and ankle suffered at Minnesota on Nov. 10.
Moore's 18.7-yards per catch average on 33 receptions, for 618 yards, led the team.
Yet as explosive as he could be, he would also sometimes disappear. He had a total of five catches in games against Denver, Houston, Cleveland, Kansas City, Minnesota and Detroit.
With experience and more reps, he only figures to get more consistent. "Denarius Moore," coach Hue Jackson said, "I give him an A." He's also considered the Raiders' best pure route runner.Chaz Schilens -- The oft-injured possession receiver stayed relatively healthy in 2011, missing only one game after missing a combined 19 games the previous two seasons.
Schilens tied a career-high with two touchdown catches and his 23 receptions for 271 yards were both second-best in his four-year career. No, Schilens did not have the impact expected of him when the Raiders trumpeted him in a famous (infamous?) press release a few years back.
But that's the issue with proclaiming receivers as game-changers -- they can only do so much when the ball is thrown their way and can do nothing when the ball is not thrown their way.Jacoby Ford -- A broken hand suffered in training camp was followed by a lost fumble the first time he touched the ball in the season opener, ensued by a strained hamstring, and bookended by a sprained foot.
The icing was the, ahem, icy glare Ford received from Palmer when Ford purportedly "slipped" in the season finale and Palmer's throw to the diminutive receiver was picked off.
Not exactly a season to write home about for Ford, who did, however, return another kickoff for a touchdown, in Week 6.
In all, Ford missed half of the season and caught 19 passes for 279 yards and a TD. Not quite the playmaker he was as a rookie in 2010, when he had 25 receptions for 470 yards and two scores while returning three kicks for touchdowns.
He seemed to take especially hard the loss of Campbell and how the arrival of Palmer was handled.Louis Murphy -- An offseason Viagra-related arrest preceded sports hernia surgery and Murphy was not the same player he had been the previous two seasons, when he led the receiving corps in catches and averaged 38 receptions, 565 yards and three TDs in nine starts.
In 2011, Murphy started one of the 11 games in which he played and caught 15 passes for 241 yards and did not have a touchdown catch.
Like Ford, he too seemed to struggle with the transition from Campbell to Palmer and some might say the most interesting nugget we learned about Murphy this season was that he prepares his chicken without washing his hands, courtesy of CSN California's "Raiders Unplugged."T.J. Houshmandzadeh -- The 11-year veteran's mere arrival on Nov. 1 as a free agent raised some hackles in that he was seen as Palmer's personal receiver, what with their prior relationship in Cincinnati.
After all, Houshmandzadeh caught an NFL-high 112 passes in 2007 with Palmer as his QB. Really, though, the 34-year-old Houshmandzadeh was used more as a third-down safety valve.
In eight games, he ended up catching 11 passes for 146 yards and his 13.3-yards per catch average was actually the second-highest of his career. Small sample size, yes, but it was also the same average he had the previous year in Baltimore, when he had 30 catches.Derrick Jones -- An undrafted free-agent rookie who blew out his Achilles' tendon in training camp and spent the season on Injured Reserve.

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.”