Jihad Ward

Snap count: Ward, Melifonwu off to 'good start' in Raiders season debut

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USATSI

Snap count: Ward, Melifonwu off to 'good start' in Raiders season debut

ARLINGTON, Texas – Raiders second-round safety Obi Melifonwu was a spectator most of training camp. Injury kept the UConn product sidlelined or extremely limited until recently, when his practice activity ramped up and was finally deemed ready to make his Raiders debut Saturday against Dallas.

Coaches didn’t ease back into action. They put him to work.

Melifonwu played 22 defensive snaps and 13 more on special teams. He played a hybrid linebacker role in first-unit sub packages. He played strong safety with the second team, and was still stealing snaps at the end of the fourth quarter.

This plan’s required. There’s no time to waste. The regular season’s closing in, with but one more exhibition until the games actually count.

Melifonwu was decent in a 24-20 loss at AT&T Stadium. He had two tackles and allowed two receptions for 16 yards on three targets. He had a chance to make a pick, but couldn’t quite get there.

Melifonwu wasn’t the only young player back in action against the Cowboys. Defensive lineman Jihad Ward led his position group with 26 snaps, mostly after the first unit left the field. He had a pair of tackles in his first game back from offseason foot surgery. He was taken off the physically unable to perform list on Monday and revved up quickly. He’ll play again Thursday against Seattle in an attempt to expedite prep and contribute heavily to an interior line rotation.

Melifonwu and Ward must be impactful in the regular season. Head coach Jack Del Rio deemed Saturday’s efforts helpful in that effort.

“Both guys, it was good to have them out there,” Del Rio said. “Ward played hard from what I saw. Obi was involved in some things where he was close and could have made a play. Had a chance, I think, with his range. …It was a good start for both of these young men, to get them back. They’re both talented kids, and they’re working hard.”

Veteran left tackle also saw his first game action on Saturday, though injury didn’t slow him down. Penn missed 26 days of the preseason holding out for a better contract. He reported Wednesday and was deemed ready for action Saturday, working the second and third series for a total of 19 snaps. Penn pushed to play longer, but the Raiders capped his count to avoid injury risk. He said he was rusty but played pretty well, with a clean sheet over 19 snaps.

“We got him in,” Del Rio said. “Obviously he had to take care of himself and come back in shape, which he has done. We wanted to get him involved and up to speed and allow him to play a little bit. That’s what we did tonight. He didn’t play a ton, somewhere around 15 plays. That was the idea. All in all, it was pretty solid. I’m pleased with that.”

OFFENSE
Quarterback – Derek Carr 28, Connor Cook 24, EJ Manuel 10
Running back – George Atkinson III 14, DeAndre Washington 14, John Crockett 10, Marshawn Lynch 9, Jalen Richard 7, Elijah Hood 6, Jamize Olawale 3
Wide receiver – Amari Cooper 30, Michael Crabtree 26, Cordarrelle Patterson 24, Johnny Holton 22, Jaydon Mickens 19, Keon Hatcher 19, K.J. Brent 17, Ishmael Zamora 10, Isaac Whitney 2
Tight end – Jared Cook 25, Clive Walford 17, Cooper Helfet 13, Pharaoh Brown 11, Gabe Holmes 7, Ryan O’Malley 7
Offensive line – Jon Feliciano 34, Gabe Jackson 31, Kelechi Osemele 31, Marshall Newhouse 31, David Sharpe 31, Rodney Hudson 28, Ian Silberman 20, Donald Penn 19, Jordan Simmons 18, Oni Omoile 17, Chauncey Briggs 17, Jylan Ware 14, Vadal Alexander 12, Kareem Are 7

DEFENSE
Defensive line – Jihad Ward 26, Eddie Vanderdoes 25, James Cowser 24, Khalil Mack 24, Treyvon Hester 23, Denico Autry 23, Mario Edwards Jr. 14, Darius Latham 14, Justin Ellis 9, Paul Boyette 9, Branden Jackson 8, Fadol Brown 1
Linebacker – Nicholas Morrow 31, Jelani Jenkins 30, Tyrell Adams 28, Bruce Irvin 28, Najee Harris 23, Shilique Calhoun 21, Marquel Lee 15, IK Enemkpali 13, LaTroy Lewis 10, Rufus Johnson 7, Brady Sheldon 4
Cornerback – TJ Carrie 34, Sean Smith 32, Dexter McDonald 31, Antonio Hamilton 227 David Amerson 23, Breon Borders 19, Kenneth Durden 10, Chris Humes 1
Safety –Karl Joseph 34, Shalom Luani 33, Reggie Nelson 31, Obi Melifonwu 22, Marcus McWilson 16

SPECIAL TEAMS
Obi Melifonwi 13. Nicholas Morrow 12, Xavier Woodson-Luster 11, Cooper Helfet 11, Shalom Luani 11 Johnny Holton 11, James Cowser 11, Marquette King 9, Jamize Olawale 8, Shilique Calhoun 8, Breon Borders 8, Marquel Lee, 7, LaTroy LewisGiorgio Tavecchio 7, DeAndre Washington 7, Elijah Hood 7, Dexter McDonald 6, John Crockett 6, Antonio Hamilton 6, Kenneth Durden 6, Jalen Richard 5, Jon Condo 5, Rickey Jefferson 5, TJ Carrie, Karl Joseph 5, Jon Feliciano 5, Anthony Cioffi 5, Cordarrelle Patterson 5, Andrew East 4, Justin Ellis 4, Brady Sheldon 4, K.J. Brent 4,Treyvon Hester 4, George Atkinson III 4, Bruce Irvin 3, Jihad Ward 3, Khalil Mack 3, Denico Autry 3, Mario Edwards 3, Gabe Jackson 2, Darius Latham Marshall Newhouse 2, Vadal Alexander 2, Najee Harris 2, Branden Jackson 2, Kelechi Osemele 2, Eddie Vanderdoes 2, David Sharpe 2, Isaac Whitney 2, Ian Silberman 1, Jelani Jenkins 1, Jaydon Mickens 1, Jordan Simmons 1, Jylan Ware, Pharaoh Brown 1, Ryan O’Malley 1, Gabe Holmes 1, Kareem Are 1

Looking for better interior pass rush, Del Rio gives vote of confidence

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AP

Looking for better interior pass rush, Del Rio gives vote of confidence

ALAMEDA – A large chip rests on Jihad Ward’s shoulder. That’s common for athletes, always on the hunt for motivation. Critics, detractors, those of little faith are easy and obvious targets.

The Raiders defensive lineman had options during a rookie season where he was thrust into full-time duty. Mario Edwards Jr. got hurt and never truly recovered, leaving last year’s second-round pick to play significant snaps. The heavy workload came earlier than the Raiders had planned, before Ward was ready. When Edwards Jr. returned late in the year, Ward was essentially shut down.

The Illinois product took some flak for it. He listened, absorbed and was fueled. He’s comfortable with that process, and the motivation that comes with it.

“They’re just trying to hate (on) people trying to do what they have to do,” Ward said Tuesday. “Keep on pushing. That’s all. …There will be critics everywhere.”

Head coach Jack Del Rio openly criticized Ward’s position group. He said after last season that the Raiders had to upgrade their inside pass rush, that they need more quarterback pressure from guys not named Mack or Irvin. He was right. The Raiders had a league-low 25 sacks despite 18 coming from their star edge rushers.

Edwards Jr. got healthy and Eddie Vanderdoes came in the NFL draft’s third-round, adding power and speed to that group. Ward, Denico Autry, Treyvon Hester, Justin Ellis and Darius Latham all have a part to play inside, and Del Rio believes that unit will be more impactful this season.

“It definitely is a much deeper group than we’ve had. More athletic group than we’ve had,” Del Rio said. “I’m very encouraged by the early signs that I’ve seen in pads, throughout camps against a very good offensive line that we have. Another great test this week to evaluate these guys because we’re playing one of the better lines in the league.”

The Raiders play Dallas on Saturday at AT&T Stadium, where starters will play extensive snaps against the vaunted Cowboys offensive line.

“It’s a great opportunity to evaluate, develop, continue to push, but we feel like we’ve strengthened ourselves there,” Del Rio said. “It’s probably the strength of the defense right now.”

That’s a vote of confidence for a group that should be more effective if healthy. Edwards Jr. and Vanderdoes should front the effort, though Ward could be an impact player if he builds off a strong offseason program. Del Rio says Ward was “more decisive,” this spring, a product of being comfortable playing in this system and this league.

Then Ward suffered a setback. He felt a tweak in his foot during OTAs, one that proved serious and required surgery to repair. He spent training camp on the PUP list, and was finally cleared to practice on Monday. Ward doesn’t think the layoff killed offseason momentum. The comfort and confidence hasn’t left.

“Your first year coming here, you’re thinking too much,” Ward said. “Now it’s like ‘okay, I get it now.’ That’s how it is for all rookies. They just have to learn what’s going on, so I feel it. Everything is easier now, it’s my second years now. It’s regular.”

Following surgery, Raiders activate former second-round pick off PUP list

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AP

Following surgery, Raiders activate former second-round pick off PUP list

Raiders defensive lineman Jihad Ward injured his foot during the team's offseason program and hasn't seen the field since. Last year's second-round pick had it surgically repaired, and missed training camp rehabiltating. 

He's finally ready to go. He passed a physical on Monday and was removed from the physically unable to perform list. The team had a walk-through on Monday. Ward should be active for Tuesday afternoon's practice, the first back at their Alameda practice facility. 

The Illinois product had 30 tackles in 13 starts last season, playing significant snaps with Mario Edwards Jr. out due to a hip injury. He'll have to compete for a spot in the rotation, even after working with the first unit during the offseason program. Rookie third-round pick Eddie Vanderdoes has played well in his absence and could be a three-down player inside. 

Ward was a raw, yet athletic talent capable of playing several techniques across the line. The teams sees great potential, though Ward must continue to develop as a player. 

In addition, the Raiders activated tight end Cooper Helfet off the non-football injury list.