Dennis Allens first NFL game as a head coach exposed him as a first-time coach in the NFL, short on solutions for bizarre eventualities and with too great a reliance on the plan even after the plan broke down. Typical, really to be expected.But the day after got worse.Jacoby Ford, the Raiders game-breaking wide receiver, is off to have season-jeopardizing surgery, thereby thinning out the already shallow wide receiver pool, and that means the looming spectre of Chad Ochenta y Cinco.I mean, at this stage of his career, he is no longer in charge of his name, and since 85 is already taken by Darrius Heyward-Bey, Chad may be seeking out ochenta otro.Another eighty.Okay, enough fun with old nomenclature. Allen is in his first true roster jam, Carson Palmer has subtly agitated for Chad Johnson, he is the best available veteran diva, he has more experience than the rest of the Raider wide receiver roster has in total, and he has been beyond humbled.Thats the up-side. The downside is that Allen needed this year to build his foundation, not paper over the old one, and Johnson is a potential complication as most as a potential solution.And frankly, Allen needs talent without complication right now.Now we dont know if the Raiders are looking for Chad Johnson in any form. He is a handy answer to the question, Whos out there? and he is at least more appealing as a player now than Terrell Owens. Owens, after all, got cut by Seattle for not meeting the Seahawks admittedly low receiving standard, while Johnson got banished from Miami in large part for being an irritant.But these Raiders arent the Raiders who would have swallowed up Johnson well before this. Not Al Davis Raiders, and not Hue Jacksons Raiders. Indeed, this is another revealing moment for Allen as he asks himself the question, How flexible must I be in deviating from the master plan?It must be noted that we do not know how much game Johnson has left. Ignoring the turmoil of his private life, he has played 11 full hard years, four full seasons since his last elite year.Moreover, he wont have the Randy Moss role in San Francisco, because he would be an emergency signing and not part of the overall scheme.But the point is, he could be a help to a team in need of it. Whether Dennis Allen and Reggie McKenzie are game for his kind of help will tell us much about what kind of team they want to build not just in the calm of the spring and summer, but the chaos of the fall.Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com
NAPA -- Mario Edwards Jr.’s second season went south in a hurry. The Raiders defensive lineman suffered a hip injury in the 2016 preseason opener that kept him out 14 games and prevented progress after a solid rookie year.
He walked into University of Phoenix Stadium so full of hope, so ready to become a impact player on the inside. He left on crutches, with disappointment etched on his face. Edwards Jr. played thrice in 2016, but never made a real impact.
He’s expected to make one in Year 3. Edwards Jr. is back to full health, without restrictions of any kind. He’s been that way a while now, completely recovered from a hip injury that took forever to heal. He passed standard injury milestones required to overcome a major injury. He regained great shape. He tested the joint several times, and was confident it would provide explosiveness and withstand jarring hits.
One last mental hurdle was cleared Saturday night, when he returned to the crime scene. The Raiders opened this preseason against Arizona, at University of Phoenix Stadium, on the anniversary of his injury.
Flashbacks were unavoidable.
“I definitely thought about it,” he said.
It didn’t consume him. Edwards was played 22 productive snaps and emerged no worse for the wear. That, above all else, was the important thing.
“Going back to where it happened and completing the game, that was important,” Edwards said. “I thank God that I walked off the field the same way I came on it. That boosted my confidence and showed it can hold up. I was happy with that, and happy to have come out of everything just fine.”
Edwards has dealt with significant injuries throughout his career. He had a neck issue late in his rookie year, and a hip problem that stole his 2016 campaign. Edwards is thrilled to say those issues are behind him now.
“I’ve pushed that under the rug,” he said. ”I’m completely done with it. Now I’m focused on moving forward and playing faster.”
There’s no doubt the Raiders are better with Edwards on the line. General manager Reggie McKenzie said so this offseason. Edwards is a versatile, powerful, athletic player capable of playing most every technique from inside out. He played everywhere as a rookie, from stand-up edge rusher to nose tackle.
He’ll be a roving chess piece again this year, Edwards should play end in the base defense, often with Bruce Irvin on his flank. He’ll slide inside to provide a pass rush in a sub packages. Good push from Edwards, Denico Autry, Jihad Ward and Eddie Vanderdoes is vital, especially after struggling to create pressure in years past. Head coach Jack Del Rio said last season’s effort wasn’t good enough. His players heard that, and are hell-bent on showing better.
“We take what people said about last year’s interior push as a challenge,” Edwards said. “We know we’ll be better, and we’re out to prove that the Raiders interior defensive is pretty good.”
NAPA – Gareon Conley ran Sunday for the first time in two months. The Raiders first-round cornerback remains on the physically unable to perform list with a shin injury originally suffered during a June minicamp. He wants to get back on the field. He just isn’t ready yet.
Missing training camp certainly sets back a dynamic cover man, but it doesn’t mean Conley can’t make an instant impact. While he hasn’t been seen on the practice field, the Raiders have been encouraged that Conley’s proving a quick learner and an inquisitive mind.
“We’d love to have him out there right now,” Raiders assistant head coach – defense John Pagano said. “When he’s out there, he’ll be out there. Until then, I think he got the reps he needed in OTAs. His mental game has picked up tremendously. He’s always asking questions, even more. It’s hard for a lot of injured players in this league to stand there on the sidelines and be able to just watch and look out there, but he’s always asking. He’s getting those mental reps.
"When he’s able to come back, he’ll be at a fast level. Injuries are part of the game, you deal with it and you just have to make sure, as a rookie, you’re taking those mental reps.”
Conley has been on the practice field with his position group most days, with a play sheet in hand to follow along. He has also lifted weights the past two days and worked on the JUGS machine Wednesday.
Nearly a month remains until the regular season starts, leaving Conley time to get back in the mix.
-- Cornerback Sean Smith took some reps with the first unit on Wednesday, though most of them came as an outside corner in the nickel package. TJ Carrie slid inside in those instances, and generally remained outside in the base defense.
Smith had his second straight quality practice, a sign he might be rebounding after a rough week where he practiced with the second unit and didn’t fare well at Arizona. The Raiders hope he can build on good work and be steadier in coverage.
“I think he’s growing every day,” Pagano said. “There’s always highs and lows in this game. You don’t want to make it, as we term, inconsistent. We’re always looking for the consistency. It’s how you build. It’s how you learn. It’s how you come off those things. There’s always room for improvement in the backend, in the front, all across our defense. There’s guys we’re asking them to go out there and make plays. Has he been improving at practice? Yeah. Then our job is to take that practice stuff and take it to the game field and have that consistency and that carry over to those types of games.”
-- Offensive line coach Mike Tice praised Ian Silberman’s play in a position switch to center. He has seen extensive reps there in camp, including a massive amount in the preseason opener at Arizona. Silberman will play some left guard in coming weeks to establish versatility and give him a shot to make the team.
-- Undrafted rookie Nicholas Morrow played with the first unit in sub packages, as the Raiders continue searching for coverage options in those personnel groups.
-- Jon Feliciano worked with the first unit on Wednesday at left guard. He will be a primary backup at every interior line spot. He is working back from a knee injury that kept him out until last week.