AFC West: Oakland Raiders

When the Oakland Raiders drafted Derek Carr with the fourth pick of the second round of the NFL draft, they thought they were taking an interesting player for the future.

Carr
They had no clue that Carr would win the job over Matt Schaub, who the Raiders acquired from Houston to be the starter and play every game. Fast forward to the final week, and Carr is on pace to throw the second most passes by an NFL rookie. He has thrown 563 passes and needs 25 completions to top Sam Bradford's rookie completion record of 354.

Oakland interim coach Tony Sparano said the Fresno State product has offered the team so much more than they thought he would right away.

“He just has a bunch of great intangibles,” Sparano said. “You never know until you get a player in the building what his real study habits are and how he’ll really handle the work week, the responsibilities that come with the work week, all those things. I guess that would probably be the best thing that came out of this.

"I thought obviously during the draft process, we knew that there was arm talent there, we thought he was a high-character person, we caught all of those things. You just never know how they handle a game week and all the preparation that goes into game week at our level because of the type of offenses that they came from, those types of things. He’s done that well.”

And it has resulted in one of the most active seasons produced by a rookie quarterback.
It’s already Thursday in the Oakland Raiders' world this week.

Because of the Christmas holiday, the Raiders practiced Tuesday, which is usually an off day, as they began preparation for this Sunday’s season finale at Denver. The Raiders will not practice Thursday to observe the holiday.

Oakland interim coach Tony Sparano said Tuesday that the team had a fairly typical Wednesday-like practice.

“Everything that you would do on Wednesday we did today,” Sparano said. “We might have geared a period or two down a little bit that way for the players, but at this point there are some things that they need to see more than they need to run to. And then there are some things that we need to run to, so we did that.”

In other Raiders notes:

Defensive lineman Antonio Smith was named the first recipient of the Raiders’ Craig Long Pride and Poise Award by local media for his preparation and professionalism in interview settings. Long was a former Raiders public relations employee who died in 2007 at the age of 36.

Defensive end Shelby Harris announced on social media he has signed with the Raiders. Harris, who was on the practice squad, spent time on the active roster earlier this season. The team did not announce any moves Tuesday.

The Raiders signed linebacker Justin Jackson to the practice squad.
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SELECTIONS

Marcel Reece, FB, third Pro Bowl: Reece made the Pro Bowl because there are not that many full-time fullbacks and he has made it the past two years. Reece is a good player, but he is a niche player. He has 54 touches this season. It his second-fewest touch total since he became a full-time player in 2010. Again, Reece is talented, but he wasn’t a major impact player this season, especially since the Raiders use him in a limited capacity.

Who he beat out: The San Francisco 49ers' fullback Bruce Miller and the New England Patriots' James Develin deserved consideration.

SNUBBED

Khalil Mack, OLB: The No. 5 overall pick is an alternate, but I think he is one of the bigger snubs in the league. It's a bigger oversight than veteran safety Charles Woodson, who is also an alternate. Mack didn’t have huge numbers, but he is a complete player, who got better as the season progressed. There will likely be plenty of Pro Bowls in his future.

Who he should have beaten out: Mack had a better all-around season than the Kansas City Chiefs' Tamba Hali.

QB snapshot: Derek Carr

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
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A quick observation of quarterback Derek Carr and how he played in the Oakland Raiders' 26-24 win over the Buffalo Bills in Week 16:

Carr
The Bills have stymied some superstar quarterbacks in recent weeks, but they could not hold down Carr on Sunday.

Carr was 15-of-22 for 202 yards with two touchdown passes when the Bills attacked him with a four-man pass rush. The Bills had great success against Denver's Peyton Manning and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers while using a standard pass rush in the past two weeks.

It's not surprising. Carr has been good against a four-man pass rush this season. The rookie has struggled, naturally, when blitzed. That was the case again Sunday. He was just 2-of-12 when facing at least five pass-rushers. But against a standard pass rush, Carr did much better against the Bills than the two future Hall of Famers they just faced.
Tony Sparano doesn’t know what his future with the Oakland Raiders will be. But he is confident he will talk with owner Mark Davis about it.

A day after leading the Raiders to their third win in his 11 games as their interim coach, Sparano said Monday that he has enjoyed building a relationship with Davis. Sparano said he didn’t have a close relationship with ownership when he was the coach in Miami.

“I’ve gotten great feedback from Mark. Any conversation that he and I have is really open and really honest about anything. I owe it to him to do that,” Sparano said. “I encouraged that in the beginning of this process and it was something that, quite honestly, I owe to him as the owner of the football team. He’s the boss and I owe explanations when it goes well and even when it doesn’t go well. I owe explanations in both of those scenarios; I’m not afraid to do that. And it’s been really good. “

Sparano would like to return as the permanent coach. The Raiders are expected do have a search. Sparano said he expects to chat with Davis after the season, but nothing is set.

“We’ve had good conversations. Conversations that I hope and assume will continue at some point,” Sparano said. “His goal, my goal is plain and simple. Last week we had two games left. This week we have one game left. The goal is to make sure we’re doing the right things. I’ve got a ton of work to do upstairs. He’s got a ton of work that has to be done right now. There’s time at the end of this thing to make those decisions.”
With one game remaining for the Oakland Raiders, one of the topics we will hear a lot about is the status of interim coach Tony Sparano.

Sparano
After Sparano raised his record to 3-8 -- he took over when the Raiders were 0-4 under fired coach Dennis Allen -- with a 26-24 home win against Buffalo, key Oakland veterans Charles Woodson and Antonio Smith spoke highly of Sparano. Woodson said Sparano "made his case" to be promoted to the permanent coach. Sparano has also said he believes he should stay.

Is it a possibility? Does Sparano really have a chance to become Oakland's permanent coach?

I wouldn't say he's the favorite, but I could see it getting to that point where Sparano becomes a candidate.

Clearly, Jim Harbaugh is expected to be the first target. But if Harbaugh, who is expected to leave the San Francisco 49ers next week, goes to Michigan or another NFL team, the search could be extensive. Coaching candidates such as Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio will emerge, but Sparano could then also be in the mix.

There is precedent in Oakland. The late Al Davis promoted Tom Cable from interim coach in 2009. It's not out of the question that Sparano will get some consideration.
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If anything positive has come out of this miserable season for the Oakland Raiders, it's that some young players are emerging.

That’s been an issue in recent seasons for a franchise that hasn’t had a winning season since 2002. But as the Raiders are likely preparing for another leadership change, the team can hang its hat on having an intriguing trio of key, young players.

Quarterback Derek Carr, linebacker Khalil Mack and running back Latavius Murray keyed Oakland’s 26-24 win over Buffalo and knocked the Bills out of playoff contention. Oakland is now 3-12 and has won its final three home games of the season.

[+] EnlargeKhalil Mack
AP Photo/Jeff ChiuThe Raiders' Khalil Mack continued to show steady progress with five tackles on Sunday.
The strong finish is fantastic advertising for Oakland owner Mark Davis as he tries to attract a big-name coach. Of course, Davis' first target is expected to be San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh. He is expected to leave the 49ers after the season ends.

Harbaugh and any other candidates will surely like the makings of this roster, which is also going to have a top draft pick. Any team with hope at quarterback, running back and outside linebacker is a team that has something to work with.

All three players made their presence felt Sunday in the win over Buffalo.

Carr overcame a shaky start to lead a game-sealing touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Carr, who had two touchdown passes, has 20 for the season to go with 3,112 yards. He joins Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III as rookies who threw for 3,000 yards and 20 touchdown passes.

Think Harbaugh isn’t intrigued by the idea of working with Carr? Nothing can kick-start a franchise like a young stud quarterback. It makes everything better. And Oakland’s hope doesn’t stop with Carr.

Murray continued to show he has a chance to be a workhorse tailback. A sixth round pick in 2013 who missed his rookie season, Murray had 86 yards on 23 carries on Sunday. He had explosive runs of 25 and 17 yards. Murray, who is 6-foot-3, 228 pounds, looks to have a future because he runs hard and with a purpose. Oakland started to give him a chance in November, and he has responded with consistency.

Although the Oakland offense has a nice head start with Carr and Murray, Mack is doing his part to push the defense into the future. In fact, Mack is the best of the three at this point. The No. 5 overall pick had one of his best games of the season Sunday.

Mack had five tackles, his fourth sack and three quarterback hurries. He has gotten better as the season has gone on. There has been no rookie wall for this complete player.

He affects every aspect of the game. Along with St. Louis’ Aaron Donald and Baltimore’s CJ Mosley, Mack is a prime candidate for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He is the type of cornerstone player a good defense can be built around.

That’s what Sunday was all about for the Raiders. The future might not be so bleak.

Oakland Raiders-Buffalo Bills inactives

December, 21, 2014
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Here are the inactives for Sunday’s game between the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills:

Raiders: WR Denarius Moore, WR Vincent Brown, CB Chimdi Chekwa, G Tony Bergstrom, T Menelik Watson, TE Brian Leonhardt, DT Stacy McGee.

Bills: CB Ross Cockrell, RB Bryce Brown, LB Larry Dean, LB Randell Johnson, T Cyrus Kouandjio, WR Deonte Thompson, TE Chris Gragg.
Brown
The Oakland Raiders have put cornerback Tarell Brown on the injured reserve list. He has a foot issue.

Brown, who signed a one-year deal with Oakland in 20104 from Bay Area rival San Francisco, started all 14 games this season. Brown is the 14th player Oakland has put on the injured reserve this season. He is the 10th defensive player to be put on the injured reserve and sixth defensive starter shelved due to injury for the 2-12 Raiders.

The Raiders promoted linebacker Spencer Hadley from the practice squad to take Brown’s spot on the 53-man roster.
The Oakland Raiders and their home crowd always have a special bond on game day. On Sunday, the feeling could be even more emotional because the team's future in Oakland is still up in the air. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills could be the team’s final game in Oakland.

Sparano
The Raiders do not have a lease to play in Oakland beyond this season, and the team has been connected to both Los Angeles and San Antonio. Raiders owner Mark Davis is on the record as saying he wants to stay in Oakland with a new stadium, but he is open to all possibilities.

Oakland interim coach Tony Sparano said he doesn’t know too much about the situation, but he said his players know it’s possible that this could be the last game in Oakland.

“I have given some thought to that. It’s not something I’ve really spent a lot of time talking to the team about, but I know the team knows and they’re aware of it; we’ve touched on it briefly,” Sparano said. “But at the end of the whole thing, we don’t know.”

The Raiders have won consecutive home games and Sparano said the primary focus is making it three in a row to close the season.
The Oakland Raiders have taken a beating during this rough, 2-12 season. Oakland has 13 players on injured reserve and six additional players were ruled out for Sunday’s home finale against Buffalo.

The six players are defensive backs Tarell Brown and Chimdi Chekwa, tackle Menelik Watson, receivers Vincent Brown and Denarius Moore and tight end Brian Leonhardt. The Raiders need to add just one player to the inactive list Sunday.

Cornerback D.J. Hayden (back) and defensive tackle C.J. Wilson (knee) are both listed as questionable. Hayden was limited in practice Friday. With Brown and Chewka out, Hayden, who’d start for Brown, is needed.

Bills vs. Raiders preview

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
8:00
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When: 4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: O.co Coliseum, Oakland TV: CBS

The Buffalo Bills have the longest playoff drought in the NFL. It’s been 15 years since this franchise has tasted the postseason.

The Oakland Raiders are right behind them in the playoff futility chase. Oakland is tied with Cleveland for the second-longest playoff drought. Oakland hasn’t been to the postseason since 2002.

The Raiders are going to try to keep from moving up on this dubious list by attempting to knock off the visiting Bills Sunday. The Bills are 8-6 and their playoff hopes are alive. Oakland is 2-12 and is in play for the No. 1 overall pick.

ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak and Raiders reporter Bill Williamson preview the game:

Rodak: Bill, what's your gut feeling on the Raiders' future in Oakland? Could this be the last game they play at O.co Coliseum?

Williamson: Yes, we could be on the cusp of the final game in Oakland. It is not out of the question that the Raiders move back to Los Angeles for the 2015 season. Oakland owner Mark Davis is on the record as saying he wants to stay in Oakland, but it has to be with a new stadium. The team does not have a lease to play in Oakland next season. Davis is also saying he’d be open to playing in L.A., or even San Antonio, if a new stadium deal in Oakland isn’t reached. The Raiders are not close to a new deal in Oakland. While L.A. is possible and we hear a lot about it, I think we have to actually see the Raiders move to Los Angeles before I'll believe it. Everything is in play.

Mike, the Bills, on the other hand, are set with their new leadership. Do you think the stability has changed the entire feeling around the franchise?

Rodak: Without a doubt. There were always fears about the team moving to Los Angeles, or more recently, Toronto. The team faced blackout issues for games in recent seasons, while funding for a new stadium was an issue in a small market. In truth, there would have been more outside suitors for the team had the Bills’ lease at Ralph Wilson Stadium not been so restrictive -- a victory for the county and state. In the end, the Bills found owners for the team in Terry and Kim Pegula who had both local ties and the capital necessary to win the bidding. While much remains to be decided about a new stadium, when it will be built and how it will be funded, any thoughts of the team relocating have passed.

Bill, if the Bills are going to draft a quarterback this spring, it will almost certainly have to be in the second round or later -- they don't have a first-round pick. The Raiders selected Derek Carr in the second round last May; has he shown signs he can be Oakland's franchise quarterback?

Williamson: The Raiders could trade their top pick to a team wanting to draft Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston for a gaggle of selections. The Raiders like Carr. Even if there is a brand-new regime in Oakland, which is very likely, I’d think Carr will be the guy. He has a great arm, he’s poised and he’s a leader. Give him more talent and he should be a quality player for the long haul.

Mike, the Bills made a big trade up in the draft this year to get Sammy Watkins. Could you see them perhaps being a trade partner with the Raiders in their search for a quarterback?

Rodak: I do think that the Bills must get creative at quarterback. Given what we saw out of EJ Manuel and Kyle Orton this season, it would be a tough sell to fans to turn back to either next season without a clear backup plan. I don’t see the Bills having interest in either of the Raiders’ backups, Matt Schaub or Matt McGloin. The names that have been the subject of media-based speculation include Jay Cutler and Robert Griffin III, although it’s unclear if either will become available or if the Bills would have interest. As far as the Bills and Raiders trading draft picks, I see that as unlikely. The Raiders could select as high as first overall, and having already sent their first-round pick to Cleveland in the Watkins trade, the Bills don’t have anywhere near the ammunition to move that high in the draft.

Bill, wins have been a rarity for the Raiders this year, but they were able to beat the Chiefs, a team that is fighting with the Bills for an AFC wild-card spot. What would be the formula for Oakland to repeat that sort of performance against Buffalo?

Williamson: Playing at home won’t hurt. Both of their wins came at home. The Raiders get a lot of energy from their fans. The Raiders won those two games with timely offense. They ran the ball and Carr was terrific when it counted in both games. The offense has not been good for most of the season. If this offense can play a clean, clutch game, Oakland can end the home slate on a good note.

Mike, could you see the Bills letting down against the Raiders after their big win over Green Bay?

Rodak: I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility. The Bills put a lot of energy into trying to topple Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers over the past two weeks, and now they’ll need to take a six-hour plane ride across the country Friday night. Road trips that long can be draining at this time of the season. If the Bills have a “letdown” game in Oakland, I think the formula would be what has plagued them in other losses this season: an inability to score on offense. The Bills have the NFL’s 31st-ranked red zone offense and might not have won against Green Bay had they not scored on defense and special teams. Unless the Raiders have a meltdown as the Jets did against the Bills twice this season, the Bills most likely will need to find a way to put the ball in the end zone.

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Is a reunion at the Big House going to get in the way of the Oakland Raiders' big plans?

ESPN's Adam Schefter is reporting that Michigan is making a push for San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who played quarterback at the school. Harbaugh is not expected back with the 49ers and is expected to be the target of the Oakland Raiders after the season.

Schefter reported Harbaugh is “considering” the Michigan job. There are reports that the school is offering Harbaugh a six-year, $49 million deal.

Here are some thoughts on how it affects the Raiders:

It’s not over yet: This is high speculation season. Lots of rumors are floated. The key is leverage. Harbaugh has plenty of it and it's being played. Let’s see what happens.

Raiders can match that deal: If Mark Davis really wants Harbaugh, he knows he has to pay big. I believe he’s prepared. So, if Harbaugh is patient, more cash could be had in the Bay Area and in the NFL.

What if Harbaugh goes to Michigan? Well, the Raiders will be bummed. Gruden is staying at ESPN. Harbaugh was the big fish. If not, the Raiders will have to lower their expectations. There will still be plenty of good candidates. But no Harbaughs left.

Raiders pleased with progress of Khalil Mack

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
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ESPN Raiders reporter Bill Williamson talks about first-round pick Khalil Mack coming into his own entering the Bills game.

QB Snapshot: Derek Carr

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
1:00
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A quick observation of quarterback Derek Carr and how he played in the Raiders' 31-13 loss in Week 15:

Carr
Earlier in the season, there were a lot of questions about how Oakland Raiders rookie Derek Carr would endure a rough season.

With two games remaining in a miserable season for the 2-12 Raiders, there is little question how the second-round pick from Fresno State is doing.

Carr is one tough customer. While the Raiders have been thrashed on a regular basis, Carr has withstood the storm. Sunday's lopsided loss at Kansas City was a perfect example of Carr's tireless play.

He suffered what appeared to be a significant ankle injury in the second quarter and was hobbling badly. But Carr finished the drive, bounced back and didn't miss a snap for the rest of the game. He ended up throwing 56 passes in the loss.

Carr fights to the end. He will continue to do so through the rest of his rough rookie season, and he and the Raiders will end up being better for it in the future.

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