Bruce Irvin Comments on Raiders Defense, Khalil Mack and More

Oakland Raiders linebacker Bruce Irvin appears confident about his new team’s playoff chances this upcoming season, as he sees his team breaking out in 2016.

Irvin, who signed with Oakland during the offseason, said he was brought in to be a leader for a young team. The former Seattle Seahawks defender feels the Raiders are ready to take the next step, per ESPN.com’s Paul Gutierrez:

You have a lot of guys who are willing to listen to the older guys, so that’s the greatest thing about coming to a situation like this … I have to say, it’s a bunch of guys who are hungry. They are ready to take the next step. We know what we have to do. We’ve seen the blueprint to win a Super Bowl — it’s running the ball and playing great defense. I think we are ready to take that next step and really capture this AFC West.

Oakland has not made the playoffs since appearing in the Super Bowl during the 2002 campaign.

Irvin went on to say the key for Seattle’s recent success, besides talent, was that everybody was on the same page and playing for one another. He sees a similar attitude in Oakland. 

The Raiders will hope Irvin, who has 22 sacks in four NFL seasons, can take some pressure off young All-Pro Khalil Mack. Irvin commented that he feels the two will blend well together to improve the team’s pass rush.

“On the field, [Mack] is more power, and I’m more of a speed guy,” Irvin said, per Gutierrez. “I think we’re a great complement to each other. I really expect us to do a lot of great things this year.”

Last week, Irvin elaborated on how the two will coexist, per CSNCalifornia.com’s Scott Bair: 

Mack was excellent for Oakland last season, as the 25-year-old racked up 15 sacks and 77 tackles. Irvin is not the only teammate who has confidence in Mack, as quarterback Derek Carr told Adam Schein on Sirius XM Radio’s Schein on Sports that he believes the pass-rusher could push for 30 sacks next season (via CBS Sports’ Will Brinson).

Irvin joins another former Seahawks defender who thinks his new team is ready to make some noise. Brandon Mebane, who signed with the San Diego Chargers, said earlier this month that his new defense has more natural talent than Seattle’s, per the San Diego Union-Tribune‘s Michael Gehlken.

There could be an opportunity for Oakland to surprise in the AFC West. The Denver Broncos will be working with a new quarterback after Peyton Manning‘s retirement, as well as Brock Osweiler’s departure, and the Chargers are coming off a rough 4-12 campaign.

The Raiders have a young core and have been improving, as they won seven games last season after posting three victories in 2014. If it continues to grow, Oakland could challenge Denver and the Kansas City Chiefs for the division crown. 


All statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com.

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A chance to hit someone is welcome

“Yeah, it’s just one step closer to real football,” head coach Jack Del Rio said.

The last couple of weeks, where you get to have meetings and you get to come out and coach, but you can’t ever line up anybody across from you, it’s pretty hard to play defense without being able to do that. …

[...] I love this part where we actually can practice real football and spend time developing our guys.

Oakland’s returning players, free-agent acquisitions and rookies were on the field together, and one thing was definitely in the air:

Not all of the the players participated Tuesday, including starting safety Reggie Nelson, middle linebacker Malcolm Smith and defensive end Mario Edwards Jr.

Edwards had said he was all the way back from a mysterious neck injury suffered last season, but he obviously is not.

Del Rio doesn’t like talking about injuries, and isn’t going to shed light on how close players are to returning or what’s ailing them, like with Smith and Nelson.

Besides new players, Tuesday was also a chance for old players playing new positions to make an impression.

Former cornerback Keith McGill, a fourth-round pick in 2014 who has moved to safety, had an interception of a Derek Carr pass, thanks to some pressure from Irvin.

Though NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday called talk of the Raiders moving to Las Vegas “premature” and “pure speculation” at this point, Raiders owner Mark Davis told NFL Network at the owners’ meetings why he’s excited about the “new market.”

Derek Carr Comments on Predictions for Khalil Mack in 2016

Oakland Raiders star Khalil Mack would routinely exceed 20 sacks if not for illegal play from opposing offensive linemen, according to his quarterback, Derek Carr.

Carr told Adam Schein on Sirius XM Radio that Mack has the ability to set records (via CBS Sports’ Will Brinson):

20 sacks for Khalil is easily attainable. … He could have 30 if he just didn’t get held all the time. I’m not kidding you. I go back and watch him, because me and him are close, close friends. So I go back and watch him and those things I’m not kidding you, this guy gets held more than anything I’ve ever seen in my life.

If he didn’t get held, if all those things got called, he’d be hitting the quarterback at least 40 times.

The Raiders’ Twitter account is also intrigued at how many sacks Mack might accumulate in 2016:   

Mack’s 15 sacks last season were second to the Houston Texans‘ J.J. Watt, who racked up 17.5 quarterback takedowns. 

The third-year player out of Buffalo is supremely gifted, but he is more than just a pass-rusher. Of all of the players who finished in the top 50 in sacks, none recorded more total tackles than Mack’s 77.

He has such a quick, powerful first step off of the line of scrimmage, which allows him to disrupt plays like this, courtesy of the NFL:

Reaching the 30-sack plateau is unrealistic, but Mack could exceed 20 sacks this upcoming season. 

At 25 years old, Mack will be entering the beginning of his prime, so improvement is expected. What also helps is the division he plays in. According to Pro Football Focus, the Denver Broncos (tied for 20th), San Diego Chargers (32nd) and Kansas City Chiefs (22nd) were among the worst offensive lines in the league in 2015.

The Broncos also ranked second in penalties, so maybe Carr has some substance behind his holding claims.

Mack is one of the brightest young talents in football, so Carr is right to have confidence in him. With Carr also stepping into his third season, the future looks bright in Oakland. The team could be in line for a breakthrough campaign by no later than the 2017 season.


All statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com. 

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Dress rehearsal over for Raiders’ Greg Townsend Jr.

Dress rehearsal over for Raiders’ Greg Townsend Jr.

The former Raiders defensive end would take his son out trick or treating, and they would wear matching jerseys.

[...] this time it was for real as he went to the team’s rookie camp trying to make the roster as an undrafted free agent.

The 6-foot-3, 260-pound defensive end had an injury-marred career at USC, playing behind first-round pick Leonard Williams, and is trying to crack one of the deepest units on the team.

Townsend is the Raiders’ all-time sacks leader with 107.5, and his career total of 109.5 is No. 22 in NFL history.

Townsend Jr. didn’t get to hang around as a kid, as the players didn’t want children under 5 at training camp.

[...] Townsend Jr. got to know a lot of Raiders greats through his dad, was a fan growing up and … well, he’s always been a Raider.

Townsend tells his son that he is “in the same boat” as second-round pick Jihad Ward and third-round selection Shilique Calhoun, both defensive linemen, and former first-round picks on the roster like Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.

“Those guys will be in the first rotation at practice, because they’re (general manager Reggie McKenzie’s) picks,” Townsend said.

Greg can tell himself, ‘I have to prove that I should have been a first-round pick, that they made a mistake in taking those guys over me.’

Townsend said the coaches at USC didn’t let his son use all the moves that he had taught him, like the spin move.

Bills’ top pick, wide receiver sidelined

Buffalo Bills officials said Monday that first-round draft pick Shaq Lawson will have surgery on his right shoulder and that wide receiver Sammy Watkins had an operation on one of his feet.

The Bills say Lawson, the 19th pick in last month’s NFL draft, tweaked the shoulder last week and will undergo a procedure Tuesday.

Denver quarterback Mark Sanchez will miss the first few days of organized team activities (OTAs) next week after undergoing surgery to repair a ligament in his left, non-throwing hand.

With Sanchez expected to miss at least a week, second-year pro Trevor Siemian and first-round draft pick Paxton Lynch will be taking the snaps when OTAs begin May 24.

Tennessee released quarterback Zach Mettenberger, a 2014 sixth-round pick from LSU who is 0-10 in his career as a starter.

Miami signed defensive end Jason Jones, who started 31 games for Detroit over the past two season.

QB Connor Cook praised at Raiders’ rookie camp

QB Connor Cook praised at Raiders’ rookie camp

The Raiders expect rookie quarterback Connor Cook to push Matt McGloin for the backup quarterback job, and though Cook wasn’t particularly sharp at rookie camp Friday, coach Jack Del Rio was pleased.

Humble is not something a coach usually throws out there about a rookie after practice, but there were reports that personality issues pushed the Michigan State quarterback down to the fourth round and to the surprised Raiders.

Third-round pick Shilique Calhoun was a teammate of Cook’s at Michigan State, and the defensive end also said nice things.

Cook admitted he was off at times Friday, and part of that is lining up with players he had just met and running plays he had just seen for the first time.

Another play that I just wasn’t familiar with, with the footwork, I took a three-step (drop) instead of a five-step, was waiting on my guy to be open and ended up sailing it. …

There were 50 players on hand, with the seven draft picks joined by undrafted free agents and roughly 20 players who were trying out.

First-round pick Karl Joseph did not practice as he continues rehabbing a knee injury and is targeting training camp for his debut.

[...] second-round pick Jihad Ward looked pretty good for a defensive lineman who ESPN reported at the draft may need more knee surgery.

NFL Owner: Potential Raiders Move to Las Vegas Gaining Steam Throughout League

There was a time, as recent as a few years ago, when if you asked NFL owners or executives if the league would ever have a team move to Las Vegas, the answer you almost always got was: “No effing way.” 

As the months have passed since, and as the NFL’s dance with Vegas continued, people began to tell me the odds were increasing, like a thermometer reading from the fall to the spring. The percentages of the chances rose from 0 to 10, then 10 to 20, then higher.

Then just recently, in a conversation with an NFL owner about the Raiders and Vegas, I heard something that clarified just how far this has come. This owner said the percentage of the Raiders moving to Vegas “is now 50 percent—and maybe as high as 75.”

Whoa. Here we go.

I’m beginning to believe that—if this isn’t a ploy by the Raiders to get more cash from Oakland—this Raiders-to-Vegas thing has a real chance of happening. I’m far from the only one who thinks that. The sentiment is clearly growing—and growing far faster than people know—throughout the upper hierarchy of the sport.

The owner said that as he’s spoken to other owners, as well as key league officials, one thing continues to crystallize. Attitudes toward the NFL having a team in Las Vegas have dramatically softened. I’ve written that before, but what continues to surprise me is how dramatic that softening has been.

The owner said that just three or four years ago there was no chance an NFL team would relocate there. “Las Vegas,” he said, “was considered poison.”

“That’s not the case any longer,” he said. “One of the things owners see is there’s a lot of money to be made there.” He laughed. “A lot of money will ease those gambling concerns.”

There are still a number of owners highly opposed to an NFL team being in Vegas. Giants co-owner John Mara said in March that the idea is a nonstarter. 

I can say with certainty he’s not alone in that feeling.

But then there are owners like Dallas‘ Jerry Jones, who said publicly this month he’s open to having a team in Las Vegas.  

Jones did make his statement with an important caveat. He said he was open to a team in Vegas with “the right ownership.” What I’m told is that for years Jones has been pushing for Mark Davis to sell the Raiders—or, at the very least, to relinquish control of the team.

The feeling is that Davis is incapable of maximizing revenues and the brand, creating value for the team and league, improving the league or advancing its goals or agenda in general. (Other than that, Jones loves him.)

Jones is a highly influential owner, so if he’s only willing to support the Raiders’ move to Vegas if this change happens, that could throw a wrench in the works. I know for a fact that when Davis flirted with Los Angeles, Jones was highly vocal with other owners that if the Raiders were to be considered, Davis had to sell or give up control.

But again, money talks, more than hurt feelings or relationships.

There’s a plan for a new domed stadium, with the Raiders contributing $500 million, the Sands Corporation $150 million and taxpayers $750 million. Of that $500 million from the Raiders, I’m told the NFL as an entity will contribute $200 million. So that part of the breakdown is approximately $300 million from the Raiders and the rest from the league.

Pay attention to that last number, said the owner. There are very few places in the country right now where a city or municipality would give that kind of money to an NFL team for a stadium.

The owner said he and other owners see Las Vegas as the last frontier for possible expansion.

“This may be the last time we can go to a fertile market,” the owner said.

And have someone else pick up a nice chunk of the tab while doing so.

The owner explained he believes Las Vegas could be among the most popular teams in football. Some of that popularity, he said, would be because of the fervor of Raiders fans, some of the most dedicated in football. The owner also believes the western part of the country can easily support the team. Combine those beliefs with the unique abilities of Vegas’ tourism bureau, and you’d have quite the combination, he said.

Raiders fans travel well. They are all over the country. This owner is banking on the fact that Raiders fans—lots and lots and lots of them—will travel to games for a weekend. Not just go on Sunday or Monday. Go on Friday and stay through the game. Go gamble, see 148-year-old Barry Manilow, then catch the game.

There’s something that needs to be noted. The owner believes there’s a small chance that Davis is bluffing and doesn’t intend to move the team, that he is using the talk to get a better deal from Oakland. That is definitely a possibility. But that possibility is growing more remote by the day.

The mayor of Vegas, Carolyn Goodman, just said she believes the Raiders are serious, and this is no bluff.

It would take eight “no” votes to stop the move, and I hear from people I trust that there aren’t eight votes against. I can’t say this for certain, but that’s what I keep hearing. The owners against the move may not have enough votes to stop it.

The owner I spoke to outlined another scenario. He says it’s possible NFL owners vote to reject Davis’ request to move the team, then Davis moves it anyway, but there’s no legal fight. In other words, the owners would publicly denounce the move, but there’d be no court entanglements the way there were with Davis’ father, Al.

There’s something else. If the NFL does block his move and take it to court, he can’t afford to fight, I’m told. The team doesn’t have the cash for a long, protracted court battle.

However it proceeds from here, what’s certain at the moment is that momentum for the Raiders in Vegas is building. And it’s building fast. Really fast.

Faster than anyone ever thought it would.


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

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Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman Comments on Raiders’ Potential Relocation

The Raiders‘ future in Oakland has become increasingly cloudy over the past few months, and Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman fueled speculation that the franchise could relocate during an interview Tuesday.

Speaking to Andy Katz on ESPN Radio’s Capital Games podcast, Goodman expressed optimism that the storied squad could move to Sin City, saying, “The Raiders will come if Nevada handles this properly.”

“Mark Davis has assured us that Las Vegas is not getting played in a Raiders stadium deal,” Goodman added, per Katz. “I know we will have a team.”

Goodman’s comments come on the heels of a major monetary move by Davis, the Raiders owner.

On April 28, Davis pledged $500 million toward a stadium in Las Vegas, according to the Bay Area News Group’s Jimmy Durkin, while the Las Vegas Sands Corporation and Majestic Realty pledged another $150 million in funding, per Katz.

Katz noted that taxpayers will need to front another $750 million for the stadium if the Raiders are to move forward with the relocation. As things stand, the Nevada Legislature isn’t slated to convene for a special session regarding the allocation of “room-tax funds” until 2017, per Katz.

“We are getting calls from outside the region offering to help with funding for a stadium in Las Vegas,” Goodman said.

In February, the Raiders signed a one-year lease with two one-year team options to remain at the Oakland Coliseum, and Davis said that the agreement was a good stopgap solution for both parties.

“It gives us an opportunity to work on a permanent facility for the Raiders here in Oakland,” Davis said, according to the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). “It gives us some certainty for this season as well as flexibility for the following two seasons.”

There’s also a possibility the Raiders could move to the Los Angeles area if they can’t resolve their stadium situation in Oakland. Though NFL owners voted against a move south earlier this year, the Raiders will have the option to relocate there should the San Diego Chargers defer their relocation option in 2017.

“There’s nothing new in Oakland,” Davis said in March, per the Los Angeles TimesSam Farmer. “It just doesn’t seem like there’s going to be anything. There’s really no place for us to build a stadium right now. That’s the biggest problem up there.”

The situation is fluid, but the Raiders appear serious about changing their ZIP code.

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Sean McDonough to replace Mike Tirico on “Monday Night Football”

ESPN named Sean McDonough its play-by-play man for “Monday Night Football,” an hour after NBC said Mike Tirico will start with the network July 1 after 25 years at ESPN — the past 10 calling its Monday night NFL games.

Calling the job “the dream of a lifetime,” McDonough grew emotional Monday during a conference call to announce his new assignment, especially when he spoke of his late father, Will, a football writer who became a pioneer for print journalists appearing on TV.

NBC did not reveal details of Tirico’s role, but he widely is assumed to be ticketed for play-by-play duties on “Thursday Night Football” as well as roles in NBC’s golf and Olympics coverage.

The Raiders announced the signings of several players, including first-round draft pick Karl Joseph (a safety from West Virginia), quarterback Connor Cook (fourth round, Michigan State) and guard Vadal Alexander (seventh round, LSU).

In 42 starts at West Virginia, Joseph had eight interceptions and a school-record eight forced fumbles.

Moore, a third-round draft pick of the Giants in 2013, has 9½ sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in his career.

New Orleans signed three draft picks, including former Cal running back Daniel Lasco.

Raiders’ Edwards says he’s medically cleared

The new and improved Raiders defense got another boost Friday when defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. posted on Instagram that he has been cleared to return to the field after suffering a mysterious neck injury.

Edwards was having a great rookie season last year, but missed the last two games with a neck injury that was genetic and was feared to be career-threatening.

Edwards, the team’s second-round pick in 2015, showed the ability to play both defensive end and tackle.

The Raiders have since re-signed pass rusher Aldon Smith and added former Seahawks outside linebacker Bruce Irvin to their front seven.