AFC West: Lucas Nix

Camp preview: Oakland Raiders

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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NFL Nation's Paul Gutierrez examines the three biggest issues facing the Oakland Raiders heading into training camp.

Matt Schaub: Dennis Allen told anyone who would listen this offseason that Schaub, a two-time Pro Bowler who once passed for 4,770 yards but is coming off a nightmarish final season in Houston, is a top-10 quarterback. And even if a project by found that NFL insiders ranked Schaub 25th in the 32-team NFL, that will not dissuade Allen. Far from it. Schaub is his guy. Still, the question of Schaub's confidence after he threw 14 interceptions (with four pick-sixes in four straight games) and lost his job with the Texans will continue to hound Schaub and the Raiders until he proves it is not an issue. To his credit, Schaub, who looked impressive in the offseason non-padded practices open to the media, insists it's in the past. Besides, a change of scenery might do wonders for him. It's not like the Raiders are putting everything on the 10-year veteran; a running attack spearheaded by Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew should get the play-action passing game going … unless Schaub is shot. Which brings us to the intriguing figure that is Derek Carr, Oakland's second-round draft pick who was elevated to second string in minicamp. But Allen appears ready to ride or die with Schaub, for better or worse.

Khalil Mack: You could say that Mack, whom many saw as the most versatile defensive player in the draft, simply fell into the Raiders' lap at No. 5 overall. And that would be just fine with Oakland. Because in remaking the defense, Allen has compared Mack to Denver Broncos All-Pro linebacker Von Miller, whom Allen coached as a rookie. If Mack, who has stepped in at strongside linebacker, shows a smidgen of Miller's pass rushing acumen -- 35 sacks in 40 career games -- the Raiders have a cornerstone. Mack's blend of size, speed and athleticism were evident in the offseason workouts as he appeared to be a physical marvel with quick feet and balance. Alas, the game will change in camp when the pads come on. No, he's not nervous; Mack is looking forward to knocking heads with the pros. Or did you miss his declaration that he is most looking forward to sacking the Broncos' Peyton Manning? Mack has impressed the staff and teammates alike by constantly being in veterans' ears, picking the brain of players such as Justin Tuck. Mack is a sponge. Yes, similar praise was heaped upon Rolando McClain when the middle linebacker was drafted in 2010. This just feels different.

D.J. Hayden: The Raiders were impressed enough with Hayden to make him their top pick last year, even though he was still recovering from the practice injury to his heart at the University of Houston that nearly killed him. After an up-and-down rookie season that ended with a trip to injured reserve, Hayden again hit a speed bump. This time, he missed the second and third organized team activities (OTAs) sessions as well as minicamp due to a sprained ankle. Allen has said that the only player he expects to be a question mark health-wise entering camp is offensive lineman Lucas Nix. But with so many hopes tied into Hayden -- he was penciled in to start at right cornerback -- his injury history has to have Oakland worried. Even if he is a full go at the start of camp, he missed valuable reps in the offseason. Sure, Hayden got mental reps, but they are not nearly as important or effective, especially for a player who many in the organization see as a bonus draft pick since he appeared in only eight games (two starts) last season.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders' offseason workouts began on April 22. They concluded Thursday with the end of a mandatory three-day minicamp.

So what did Dennis Allen, entering his third season as the Raiders' head coach, glean from nearly two months of being around his team as it begins its reconstruction in earnest, especially with training camp about five weeks away?

Consider: Every Raiders draft pick is signed and every Raiders player under contract was in attendance for the minicamp. No contract haggling, squabbling or unnecessary drama.

"I like the direction we're headed as a football team," Allen said. "I think we've got a group of guys that are committed to winning. I think they're committed to this organization, and I think we have a lot of guys who have a lot to prove. That's an exciting thing for a football coach. That's an exciting thing for these football players.

"So I like our direction, I like our commitment and we've just got to keep working."

An infusion of veteran talent with past success, especially on the defensive side of the ball, such as Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith -- as well as Oakland taking linebacker Khalil Mack with the No. 5 overall draft pick -- has given the team a new identity.

And on offense, the Raiders have a seasoned, new quarterback in Matt Schaub and a hot prospect in second-round draft pick Derek Carr, who has overtaken Matt McGloin as Oakland's second-string signal-caller.

Injury-wise, guard Lucas Nix (knee) is the only player Allen sees as potentially missing the start of training camp, even though cornerback D.J. Hayden (foot) participated in just one organized team activities (OTAs) session and linebacker Kevin Burnett (ankle) and Smith (undisclosed) missed them all while recovering from injuries.

Allen was asked if there was a palpable feel on the practice field that this was, indeed, a better team than he had the previous two years.

"I don't think there's any question you can feel that," Allen said. "You guys have been around here too, so I think you've seen these practices around here for a while.

"I think we've had an outstanding offseason and I think our team from the day that we started the offseason program to where we're at now, we've improved tremendously. But we've still got to go out there and do it when we get to training camp and do it when we get to the regular season."

Khalif Barnes primed to move inside

November, 26, 2013
As has been widely theorized, Oakland Raiders veteran left tackle Khalif Barnes is expected to make the move from left tackle to left guard, with Jared Veldheer primed to make his season debut Thursday at the Dallas Cowboys.

Barnes was open to the idea last week.

“Whatever they want to do, I'm totally behind,” Barnes said at the time. “I'm here for whatever the team needs and I've kind of been like that since I've been here. Whatever direction, whatever they want to do, I’m totally cool with it.”

Barnes, who was penciled in as the starting right tackle before making the move because of preseason injuries to Veldheer and rookie Menelik Watson, would seemingly help shore up the interior. Second-year pro Lucas Nix has struggled mightily at times at left guard.

And while coach Dennis Allen would not commit to the move, citing game-plan issues, offensive coordinator Greg Olson raved about Barnes, the player and the person.

“There is a player to me, talk about an unselfish guy and a team player, that’s Khalif Barnes, and also someone we can count on,” Olson said. “To see him go from right tackle to left tackle and then to volunteer and say, ‘Coach, I’ll go inside, whatever can make us better,’ we’re obviously real happy with not just the way he plays, but his attitude and what he’s brought to us in the leadership role.”

Barnes, according to the Associated Press, has 31 plays at guard in his NFL career, the snaps coming in a backup role for the Raiders in 2010.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Bittersweet, or simply the nature of the business?

I asked Raiders coach Dennis Allen this in the wake of Oakland cutting a member of the first draft class in the Allen/Reggie McKenzie Era: defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi. The move was made to to make room for linebacker Martez Wilson.

“Really,” Allen said, “it's the nature of the business. This is a production business and we're going to continue to try to do everything we can to upgrade our roster to help our football team. We felt like being able to take a look at Martez was a good chance for us to upgrade the roster.”

No doubt Bilukidi was a project when the Raiders used a 2012 sixth-round draft pick on the Georgia State product, the fifth player ever taken by McKenzie and Allen.

And while Bilukidi appeared in 13 games as a rookie and five more this season, getting a sack of Jacksonville's Chad Henne in the Raiders' home opener, it was not enough.

“No,” Allen said, when asked if he had, indeed, seen enough to warrant keeping Bilukidi and his sack.

In fact, small sample size and health issues be damned, you could say the same about that entire first draft class, which was already stretched thin due to trades under the previous regime that left the Raiders without a pick until the end of the third round.
  • Offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom, who was taken with a compensatory pick at No. 95 overall and played in nine games while starting the season finale, was placed on Injured Reserve before the season began with a Lis Franc injury to his right foot.
  • Linebacker Miles Burris, who started 15 of the 16 games in which he played, is on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform List after offseason knee surgery, though Allen said he hopes Burris will begin practicing next week.
  • Defensive end Jack Crawford has already played in more games this season than last -- five to four -- and has six tackles after having three last season.
  • Receiver Juron Criner has yet to be active for a game this season, Bilukidi was cut and linebacker Nathan Stupar is a special teams contributor for the San Francisco 49ers. He was was cut by the Raiders before last year's season opener.

In fact, two undrafted rookie free agents from 2012 start for Oakland now: receiver Rod Streater and left guard Lucas Nix.

“I think part of the draft process is picking up some players, and if you have numbers and volumes of players, your percentages of hitting on those guys are pretty good,” Allen said.

“I think we'll see some good things, not only out of the 2012 guys, but some of these guys we drafted this past season. I think that as we keep moving down the road, I think those guys will help us.”

Just not right away.

Porter, Moore return to practice

September, 25, 2013
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- While quarterback Terrelle Pryor (concussion) did not practice Wednesday, two other previously concussed Raiders players returned: cornerback Tracy Porter and linebacker Sio Moore.

Porter and Moore were listed as limited, as was left guard Lucas Nix (ankle) and fullback Jamize Olawale (ankle).

Three others did not participate in strong safety Tyvon Branch (ankle), left tackle Menelik Watson (knee) and defensive end Jason Hunter (quad). Hunter was not mentioned as being injured after Monday night’s 37-21 loss in Denver.
DENVER – Upon arriving in Colorado on Sunday, the Oakland Raiders added starting strongside linebacker Sio Moore to their injury report with a concussion. The rookie’s status for Monday night’s game against the Denver Broncos is questionable.

The Raiders did not elaborate on the cause of Moore’s concussion, though he did tweet: “Talk about a scary morning man. Just thank god I’m safe and made it safely to CO.”

Moore, who dealt with a toe injury and came off the bench in the season opener at Indianapolis, started the Raiders’ home opener against Jacksonville last week. He was not on the Raiders’ injury report during the week.

Strong safety Tyvon Branch (ankle), left tackle Menelik Watson (knee) and tight end David Ausberry (shoulder) already were ruled out of the Broncos game, while left guard Lucas Nix (ankle) was listed as questionable.

Branch, Watson, Ausberry ruled out

September, 21, 2013
There were no surprises on the Raiders’ injury report Saturday as strong safety Tyvon Branch (ankle), left tackle Menelik Watson (knee) and tight end David Ausberry (shoulder) were all ruled out of Monday night’s game at Denver.

Left guard Lucas Nix, who injured an ankle in Sunday’s home-opening victory over Jacksonville and did not practice until Friday, was listed as questionable. Nix was replaced in the game by Andre Gurode.

Linebacker Kevin Burnett was no longer on the injury report after leaving Thursday’s practice early due to illness.

Raiders sport variety pack in pass rush

September, 20, 2013
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning looks over the Raiders' defense Monday night, he will be looking at a group that has gotten the bulk of its sacks from guys wearing jerseys with numbers in the 20s on the front.

The Raiders have nine sacks this season, and the team’s defensive backs have five. When the Broncos go to the three-wide look, which they most often do when they have the ball, it will put the Broncos' running backs on the spot in pass protection. That's especially true when the Raiders add a player or two to the rush from off the line of scrimmage.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Dustin Bradford/Getty ImagesThe Broncos know pass protection will be crucial against the Raiders.
The Broncos backs have worked plenty this week on different scenarios to know who to pick up when those defensive backs arrive in the rush after the initial surge following the snap.

“They do a good job of freeing guys up,’’ said Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase. “ … We just better be on whatever blockings assignments we have. If one guy’s on the wrong page, we’ve got an issue.’’

It also won’t be a matter of simply sliding the protection to the rusher doing to the most damage, either. The Raiders have nine sacks distributed among seven players. Defensive end Jason Hunter has two to lead the way, and cornerback Tracy Porter (both are former Broncos) has 1.5.

“When you have multiple DBs on the field, you have multiple DBs rushing,’’ said Broncos coach John Fox. “ … They do do a lot of that.’’

Manning was not sacked last weekend against the Giants after being sacked three times in the season opener against the Ravens.

  • Broncos guard Chris Kuper practiced fully for the second consecutive day Friday. The eighth-year veteran has spent roughly a year and a half battling back from a dislocated ankle he suffered in the 2011 regular-season finale, as well as the multiple surgeries and infection that followed. Kuper has been a gameday inactive in the Broncos' first two games this season, but Fox said following Friday’s practice that Kuper continues to close in on being game-ready. “He’s doing well, he’s getting better every day … when he stops having soreness and is able to put a whole week together, he could even be in the mix this week,’’ Fox said. Given Kuper’s versatility -- he worked sparingly at center in training camp and the Broncos consider him a stop-gap option there, he will almost certainly be in the mix at tackle as well moving forward. With left tackle Ryan Clady on injured reserve, the Broncos will have to address depth issues at the position. After current starter Chris Clark, they do not have a player who has predominantly been a left tackle in the NFL on the depth chart. Winston Justice, signed Wednesday, has been a right tackle for most of this career. Zane Beadles was a left tackle at Utah in his college career and played some tackle early in his career with the Broncos before being moved inside to guard. Fox has said repeatedly he wants to work guards like Beadles and Kuper at tackle from time to time, so they could play there at game speed if needed.

  • Broncos’ guard Louis Vasquez has been one of the least penalized players in the league in his career -- he was not flagged for a penalty in either of the 2011 or 2012 seasons with the Chargers. But he was flagged for a false start in the opener against the Ravens. He did not have one of the 13 penalties the Broncos were assessed against the Giants this past Sunday. The Broncos had eight of those penalties against New York called on defensive backs, several of which the Broncos challenged with the league’s officiating department this week in their weekly review. Before the opener, Vasquez’ last penalty had been a false-start penalty on a field-goal attempt Oct. 24, 2010, against the Patriots. The only other time Vasquez had been flagged in his career was for holding in Week 6 of his rookie season (2009), but the penalty was declined.

  • Safety Rahim Moore, who was flagged for unnecessary roughness for a sideline hit on Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks this past Sunday, was not fined for the play. Many of the Broncos players, because Moore had made first contact with Nicks with his shoulder, didn’t believe the play even warranted a penalty.

  • Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio on whether or not a running quarterback like the Raiders' Terrelle Pryor keeps him up at night more than a traditional drop-back passer; “I don’t like giving quarterbacks too much credit, but they all keep us up.’’

  • Raiders guard Lucas Nix was limited in the team’s practice Friday because of an ankle injury. If Nix cannot play Monday night, former University of Colorado offensive lineman Andre Gurode figures to get the start at left guard.
Oakland Raiders linebacker Kevin Burnett returned to practice Friday and was a full participant after being limited the day before, and left guard Lucas Nix, who missed the previous two days of practice with an ankle injury, practiced on a limited basis.

The other three players on the Raiders' injury report -- tight end David Ausberry (shoulder), strong safety Tyvon Branch (ankle) and left tackle Menelik Watson (knee) -- did not participate.

Raiders coach Dennis Allen said after practice that Brandian Ross would likely start at strong safety in place of Branch on Monday night in Denver.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Left guard Lucas Nix (ankle) remained an observer at Oakland Raiders practice Thursday, and the other known injured players -- strong safety Tyvon Branch (right leg), left tackle Menelik Watson (right knee) and tight end David Ausberry (right shoulder) -- were not on the field.

Linebacker Kevin Burnett, though, left practice early, taking off his helmet and jersey as he walked off the field. Burnett paused, took a knee and then was joined by a team trainer as he made his way to the locker room.

The official injury report will be made available by the Raiders following practice.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Oakland Raiders left guard Lucas Nix, who was pulled in the third quarter of Sunday’s home-opening win against Jacksonville due to a combination of an ankle injury and ineffectiveness, was an observer during the media window at practice Wednesday.

Andre Gurode replaced Nix in the game and figures to get the nod for Monday night’s game at Denver if Nix is unable to go.

Place-kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who has been on the injury report with a right calf issue, was not seen on the practice field. Neither were strong safety Tyvon Branch (right leg), left tackle Menelik Watson (knee) nor tight end David Ausberry (shoulder).

The official injury report will be issued by the Raiders following practice.

UPDATE: Raiders coach Dennis Allen, citing NFL policy, said he did not have to discuss injuries on Wednesdays when the team does not play until Monday. Thus, the team did not issue an official injury report Wednesday.

AFC West notes

August, 18, 2013
Kansas City Chiefs star running back Jamaal Charles practiced Sunday for the first time since strained his foot on Monday. Kansas City coach Andy Reid said he hasn’t decided if Charles will play in the preseason next weekend. I wouldn’t be surprised if Reid keeps Charles out of game action until the regular season as a precaution.

Right tackle Eric Fisher, tight end Travis Kelce and cornerback Dunta Robinson were all not practicing for the Chiefs on Sunday because of injuries.

Andre Gurode was reporteldy not working with the first-team guards in Oakland on Sunday after he struggled last week. Perhaps Oakland’s starting guard will be youngsters Tony Bergstrom and Lucas Nix. This is a young team and it makes sense to get the youngsters experience and playing time over a veteran like Gurode. He recently signed in Oakland after not playing in the NFL last year.

San Diego receiver Eddie Royal was released from the hospital Sunday. He bruised his lung in practice Saturday and is expected to have a short recovery time.

U-T San Diego reports Chargers’ receiver Danario Alexander cleared waivers and signed back with the Chargers. He was waived-injured. It was fully expected he would not be claimed since he is a free agent next year. He will miss the season with a torn ACL.
" Alex Barron practiced Tuesday at left tackle for the Oakland Raiders in place of Jared Veldheer, who has an arm injury. Barron entered camp as a long shot to make the team, but he has had a good camp and could even start at right tackle. Veldheer is getting an MRI on his triceps. He is one of the Raiders’ better players. They need him to be healthy.

Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston and guard Lucas Nix returned to practice Tuesday afternoon after missing time due to injuries. Cornerback Tracy Porter is not practicing after leaving Monday’s practice early.

" San Diego Chargers rookie receiver Keenan Allen didn’t finish practice as a precaution due to a lingering knee injury. With starting receiver Danario Alexander out for the season and fellow starter Malcom Floyd out until at least Week 1, the Chargers have to do what it takes to keep Allen fresh and healthy.

" Former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Andy Studebaker signed with Jacksonville.

Evening AFC West notes

August, 5, 2013
Oakland rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden suffered a minor hamstring injury. He was not going to play in Friday’s preseason opener against Dallas, anyway. He has yet to be cleared for contact because of his recovery from a life-threatening heart surgery last November. Oakland coach Dennis Allen has said Hayden, the No. 12 overall pick in the April draft, will play in the preseason.
  • San Diego safety Brandon Taylor took another step in his recovery from a torn ACL. He was practicing in team drills Monday. He was working in individual drills last week.
  • Oakland guards Mike Brisiel and Lucas Nix returned to practice. Nix was working some with the first team Monday. He is fighting 2012 third-round pick Tony Bergstrom for the starting job.
  • The Chargers signed linebacker Jerrell Harris. He was on three different practice squads last season, including in Oakland. He is an Alabama product. He’s a longshot to make the roster.

Raiders looking for leaders

June, 3, 2013
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Some thoughts from the Raiders’ OTA session Monday:

I found it interesting that Oakland coach Dennis Allen is putting a huge premium on finding leaders on both sides of the ball. Allen said identifying leaders is “huge” in the big picture.

Oakland is a young team that is going under a major rebuilding movement. The team lost several veteran players and Allen is looking for some players to emerge as leaders to guide the roster, Allen calls it “peer pressure.”

Allen sees free-agent pickup linebacker Nick Roach and veteran fullback Marcel Reece as potential leaders. I agree with Allen. The importance of leadership cannot be discounted. If this inexperienced roster is going to make some noise, it’s going to need strong on-field leadership.
  • Allen said cornerback D.J. Hayden, the team's first-round pick, is still on target to return for the start of training camp in late July. Hayden, who watched practice Monday, had surgery last week to remove scar tissue in his stomach, stemming from a life-threatening heart surgery last November. Allen called the situation “unchartered waters,” but he said the team remains confident Hayden should be fine once camp starts.
  • Receiver Jacoby Ford (hamstring) and defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi (ankle) did not practice Monday.
  • Cornerback Tracy Porter was noncommittal on whether or not he is going to give up No. 24 to Charles Woodson. Woodson wore the number in his previous Oakland stint. He is wearing No. 2 in practices, but the NFL doesn’t allow defensive back to wear single digits. Porter said say the number exchange is up for discussion. Translation: Woodson will have to pay up if he wants No. 24.
  • Allen was asked about punter Chris Kluwe not being able to attend a Washington D.C. event for gay rights. The event is being held next week during the team’s mandatory minicamp. Allen said Kluwe knows his focus has to be on making the roster. It was an expected answer from a coach and frankly, it’s the right answer. Players need to focus on the team during the season. Kluwe is a pro. He knows that.
  • As for Kluwe’s competition, Marquette King, Allen said consistency is the key for the strong-legged youngster. Kluwe is the favorite to win the job because of his experience.
  • Allen said the overall production of this week’s media-open session was much better than last week’s open session.
  • Allen expects free-agent picks ups Vance Walker and Pat Sims to improve the team’s run defense.
  • Allen said he wants to further the importance of special teams this year as he moves into his second season as the team’s head coach. Allen praised the experience and ability of new special teams coach, longtime NFL assistant Bobby April. Allen thinks improved depth at linebacker and in the secondary can help on special teams.
  • Allen categorized the tight end position as being “wide open” with every tight end on the roster having a legitimate chance at significant playing time. Allen said if an interesting veteran becomes available at some point, Oakland could show interest. On paper, it is one of the team’s weakest positions.
  • Allen expressed excitement about improvements in both the secondary and at linebacker. As he has all offseason, Allen praised this team for “loving football.” He really likes this group of players.
  • Tony Bergstrom, a third-round pick in 2011, was back working ahead of 2011 undrafted free agent Lucas Nix at left guard. Nix was working ahead of Bergstrom last week. The battle should continue all summer.
  • Undrafted free-agent receiver Conner Vernon continues to look good. He might have a shot to stick with the 53-man roster.

In other AFC West notes:
  • New San Diego pass-rusher Dwight Freeney isn't with the team in OTAs yet. Coach Mike McCoy said he expects Freeney in soon. The team is having a mandatory minicamp next week.
  • Denver running back Knowshon Moreno did some light work as he returned from a knee injury he suffered in the playoff loss to Baltimore.