Raiders key matchup to watch: No. 1 -- Huff vs. Manning

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Raiders key matchup to watch: No. 1 -- Huff vs. Manning

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the final part in a series that spotlighted three Raiders-Broncos matchups to watch Thursday, 5:20 p.m. (NFL Network), at the O.co Coliseum

Raiders CB Michael Huff vs. Broncos QB Peyton Manning

Tale of the tape
Huff (24): 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, seventh season, Texas
Manning (18): 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, 15th season, Tennessee

ALAMEDA -- The last time Michael Huff faced Peyton Manning, Huff was just starting his baptism by fire at cornerback against a trio of elite quarterbacks.

After making the switch from free safety to corner in Week 3, against Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, Huff went up against Manning. Then Huff stared down Atlanta's Matt Ryan.

"Got thrown in the fire," Huff said before facing Manning, who, in turn, absolutely torched the Raiders secondary that day, passing for a season-high 338 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in Week 4.

Eight games later, Huff has found a comfort zone with interceptions of Ryan and Baltimore's Joe Flacco.

"A lot more comfortable," he said. "That was my second game out there, still going through the growing pains. Obviously a lot more comfortable now than I was back then."

Even as general manager Reggie McKenzie still thinks of Huff as a safety. The experience can only help him when he moves back in the secondary, right?

"Oh yeah, it will help me grow," Huff said. "It will help me grow at safety in the future, kind of knowing what things to look at now at corner as opposed to safety. Safety, you’re kind of locked in and focused on just the quarterback and formations and things like that. (At corner), you look more at splits, leverage and things like that. Hopefully I can take that to safety."

But while Huff will be playing against Manning, the Broncos first-year quarterback who seemingly already has comeback player of the year honors wrapped up while making a run at what would be a record fifth MVP trophy, is also facing history.

Just don't bring that up to Manning, who has passed for 3,502 yards with 29 touchdowns and nine interceptions. His 104.6 passer rating is his best since a 121.1 in 2004.

"I really have tried to kind of live in the moment and try to kind of focus on the now," Manning told Denver reporters this week. "I really haven’t had a whole lot of time to reflect upon years past. Obviously, this has been an entirely new year and there’s been so much on my plate this year -- plenty to focus on -- so it’s not something that I think about a lot.

"Certainly, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, it’s very humbling to be mentioned amongst some of the all-time greats and some of my favorite quarterbacks, guys like Dan Marino and John Elway. It’s very humbling to me. I’m just grateful to be playing the same position as those guys. That’s how I’ve always approached it."

And Huff's approach as the Raiders try to break their first five-game losing streak since 2007?

"Just got to find a way," Huff said. "Obviously, it’s tough, especially in a short week. He is their offensive coordinator so obviously they’ll know what they’re doing. We’ve got to find a way. We’ve got to step up and make plays. Leaders, like myself and Tyvon (Branch), we've just got to find a way to rise up and make plays."

Or, at least make more than they did back in September.

Donald Penn: Raiders players trust McKenzie will add right pieces

Donald Penn: Raiders players trust McKenzie will add right pieces

The Raiders were pretty darn good last season. A 12-4 record proved that point. There was plenty of talent on a team with a penchant for high-wire acts in victory that masked the fact there were holes on the roster.

They need to be filled for the Raiders to improve in 2017, and new players will be imported through free agency and the draft.

Left tackle Donald Penn is excited to see who gets added, but said there’s no doubt talent is coming to Oakland. He speaks for Raiders players, who have faith that general manager Reggie McKenzie will make the right moves.

“Things that Reggie has done in past drafts have been great, and we’re looking forward to seeing what he brings back towards us,” Penn said recently during an in-studio appearance on NFL Network. “We can’t wait to get back out there healthy. We’re ready to hit the football world with a storm.”

While new guys are coming, a few might head out. The Raiders have several unrestricted free agents. Penn wants to keep his guys around – he mentioned running back Latavius Murray by name -- though he has some ideas for McKenzie’s checklist.

The Raiders don’t need much with most key players under contract – the Raiders should be less active in free agency over past offseasons – but a few key components could put this team over the top.

“If we stick to Reggie’s plan, we’ll be great,” Penn said. “I know he’s going to have a great draft, add a couple little pieces here and there – maybe somebody in the secondary to help out a little bit.

"On offense, you could always use a weapon. Maybe we get another receiver to take (pressure off Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper), but we have a good nucleus right now.”

Raiders LT Donald Penn: QB Derek Carr 'almost 100 percent'

Raiders LT Donald Penn: QB Derek Carr 'almost 100 percent'

Derek Carr is on the mend. The Raiders franchise quarterback had surgery to repair his fibula shortly after he broke it in a Week 16 victory over Indianapolis, and is recovering well during the offseason.

Carr insisted on intense rehab this winter in an attempt – however unlikely it may have been – to return should the Raiders have played in the Super Bowl. It slowed to a normal pace after the Raiders' loss at Houston in the postseason’s opening round, but those in contact with him say he’s making strides.

Left tackle Donald Penn was recently in contact with Carr, and provided an update on Monday during an in-studio appearance on NFL Network.

“I texted Derek (a few) days ago checking in,” Penn said, “and he said he’s almost 100 percent.”

Surgically-repaired broken filbulas take significant time to heal, and the Raiders plan to be conservative with their MVP candidate during the offseason. Derek Carr’s brother and NFL Network analyst David Carr, who was on set with Penn on Monday, said Derek could be back for offseason work.

“He’s doing good,” David Carr said. “He’s walking around already, stretching it out. You can’t do a lot for the bone, right? But he’s going to be back. He’s going to get a whole full offseason in. That’s going to be the best part.”