AFC West: Marquette King

The Oakland Raiders added a camp leg on Friday with the signing of free-agent punter Daniel Zychlinski.

Sure, general manager Reggie McKenzie likes competition at every position, but last season Marquette King beat out veteran Chris Kluwe and King has a stranglehold on the gig. Still…

Zychlinski, who turns 24 on April 17, played at Stanford from 2008-12 and averaged 42.2 yards per punt, appearing in 41 games and punting 97 times. As a senior on the Farm, his 43.1 yards per punt average was the fifth best in school history.

King, meanwhile, led the NFL with a 48.9 yard average last season, his first full year punting in the NFL after replacing Shane Lechler.

All-AFC West: Oakland Raiders

January, 2, 2014
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NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


Tracy Porter and Lamarr Houston are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. The Oakland Raiders would be wise to re-sign both as the cornerback and defensive end were named to our all-AFC West first-team defense in a vote by the four ESPN.com NFL Nation reporters who cover the division.

That the Raiders were the lone team in the division to not qualify for the playoffs should speak volumes for Porter, who also slid into the slot on nickel defense and whose 67 tackles ranked third among AFC corners, and Houston, whose 69 tackles led the division’s defensive ends.

Still, Houston, who had a team-high six sacks after moving to the right side after playing the first three years of his career on the left, raised many eyebrows following the Raiders’ 34-14 season-ending loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday when he said he did not expect to return to Oakland.

“I believe that Dennis Allen and the Raiders might be looking to move on and have me go to another team and find something more what they want for their system and their scheme,” Houston said. “Who knows? It’s a rough business, and nothing’s guaranteed, and everything changes from day to day.”

Later that night, though, Houston took to Twitter to blame the Fourth Estate for taking him out of context.

“I would love to b back in Oakland if they will take me,” Houston tweeted. “best fans in the league…u listen to the media u a fool.”

So there.

“I did see that quote, and that’s not the case,” Allen said of his purported desire to move on from Houston. “Obviously, I sat down with Lamarr today and had a nice discussion with him. We’d love to have him back. We think he fits our system and what we’re trying to do and we think he’s a guy that we can build with.”

There has been no such drama with Porter, who had two interceptions, including a pick-six of the New York Giants’ Eli Manning, becoming the only player in league history to return an interception for a touchdown against both Manning brothers.

Porter said during the regular season he was not necessarily thinking about next year ... yet.

“I’m not saying I don’t want to come back,” Porter said in mid-December, “I would. Otherwise I wouldn’t have come here from the start.”

A case could be made that two other Raiders players should have been named all-AFC West in fullback Marcel Reece and punter Marquette King.

Despite being underutilized in Oakland’s offense, Reece was named to his second consecutive Pro Bowl. He also started at tailback at the New York Jets when Rashad Jennings and Darren McFadden were injured. He rushed for a career-high 123 yards, including a career-long 63-yard touchdown run. On the year, he averaged 4.6 yards per rush and scored two TDs while also catching 32 passes for 331 yards and two scores.

So how was Reece snubbed? The voting system asked us to vote for three receivers and no fullbacks -- and with the season turned in by Jamaal Charles, there you have it. I’m sure Reece will be fine, though, lounging in the Honolulu sun for the NFL’s reimagined all-star game.

King, meanwhile, led the NFL in gross average (48.9 yards) in his first year replacing Shane Lechler and had an AFC West-long punt of 66 yards this season.

Then there was middle linebacker Nick Roach, who led the NFL’s MLBs in sacks (5.5) and forced fumbles (4).
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Marcel Reece, the Pro Bowl fullback for the Oakland Raiders, rumbled for a career-high 123 yards rushing, including a career-long 63-yard touchdown run in the third quarter Sunday. He also caught two passes for 38 yards.

And while Reece was playing tailback out of necessity and making his first start there this season because of injuries to Rashad Jennings, Darren McFadden and Jeremy Stewart, it raises the question: Is Reece a special player in the NFL, or simply a very good one on a bad team?

Then there’s this: Whatever the answer to the above, why has it taken the Raiders so long to figure it out and make him a feature of this offense?

[+] EnlargeMarcel Reece
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesFilling in at tailback, Marcel Reece rushed for a career-high 123 yards, including a 63-yard TD.
For a 4-9 team slipping backward after a 37-27 loss to the New York Jets, there are always more questions than answers. And as far as Reece is concerned, he’d turn in those gaudy individual stats for a team victory.

“If we lose,” Reece said, “it’s irrelevant. We worked too hard to have the outcome be like this. We need ‘W’s.’ This game is about winning. It’s about production. Stats don’t matter. The numbers don’t matter unless you win, and we didn’t do it.”

But it was not for a lack of Reece.

The “matchup nightmare” who was a wide receiver in college, also had a big game starting at tailback in place of the injured McFadden last season, albeit in blowout loss to the New Orleans Saints, going for 103 yards on the ground and catching four passes for 90 yards.

Yet, Marcel Reece had been as silent as Marcel Marceau in the offense this season despite the front office thinking enough of him to sign him to a three-year contract extension in September. In the Raiders’ previous four games, Reece had a total of 20 touches. Sunday, he had 21 (19 carries and two receptions on five targets).

“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” said rookie quarterback Matt McGloin. “He does what we ask of him. He busts his tail day in and day out. He catches the ball well, runs the ball well, blocks well. He’s an all-around guy, a great guy and a great player and we’re lucky to have him [as] part of this organization.”

Especially when his deceptive speed was on display in outrunning the Jets’ secondary on a power run up the gut.

“It was a routine run,” Reece claimed. “The O-line stepped up and did a great job and made my job easy.”

The touchdown, the longest run against the Jets’ top-ranked rush defense this season, got the Raiders to within 20-10 on the second play of the second half. Things were looking up.

Oakland’s defense, though, could not hold up, and the offense and special teams – Sebastian Janikowski missed another field-goal try, this one from 52 yards, and the Jets took advantage of the short field to score a touchdown three plays later, and the Jets blocked a Marquette King punt for a TD – had just enough misfires to keep the game out of reach.

Reece could not put his finger on when the game flipped, though.

“If I could put a finger on it, he said, “I would have changed it.”

That task, invariably, falls to coach Dennis Allen.

“The big run was a huge run and a huge play in the football game,” Allen said. “I thought, overall, he did a nice job of running the football. I’ll have to go back and look and see exactly how well he played. But I thought, overall, he did a nice job.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but then again, as Reece said, it doesn’t matter much without a victory, right?
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Perhaps no other Oakland Raiders player epitomized the state of the rebuilding franchise during the nationally broadcast Thanksgiving Day game against the Dallas Cowboys more than receiver Andre Holmes.

He entered the day with five career catches for 76 yards and the product of Hillsdale College (also alma mater to left tackle Jared Veldheer) responded with a breakout game -- seven receptions for 136 yards -- albeit in a 31-24 defeat.

[+] EnlargeAndre Holmes
Thomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesAndre Holmes is making the most of his opportunity with the Raiders.
More to the point, Holmes was one of 16 undrafted players who suited up for the Raiders against the Cowboys, seven of whom were initially signed by Oakland's second-year regime of general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen: rookie quarterback Matt McGloin, receivers Rod Streater and rookie Greg Jenkins, punter Marquette King, offensive lineman Lucas Nix, rookie defensive end Ryan Robinson and linebacker Kaelin Burnett.

“You look across the league and there's a lot of undrafteds starting and a lot of undrafteds playing,” Holmes said Monday. “It's what you do on the field on Sunday.”

Or, in Holmes' case, what he did last Thursday to the team with which he spent 2011 and 2012.

“We liked Andre,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said after the game. “You know, we had him here for a couple of years on our roster and on our practice [squad].

“He is a big, strong guy and can make those kinds of plays. He has good length and he has good ball skills, so we certainly have a healthy respect for him because we know him pretty well.”

The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Holmes had to sit out the season's first four games due to a league-mandated suspension for failing a performance-enhancing substance test and did not get his first catch with Oakland until Nov. 17 at the Houston Texans. He became more of a factor with Denarius Moore missing the past two games with an injured shoulder.

And yes, Holmes circled his calendar when the Cowboys game came up, and his teammates noticed.

“When you don't get drafted, that kind of [sets] you back, but it also gets you that edge,” said fellow non-draftee Streater. “You want to work hard and you always feel like you've got something to prove. That's kind of the thing with Andre.

“It was like the perfect situation going against the Cowboys. They let him go, and he was undrafted.”

Proverbial chip on the shoulder, much? Even if Holmes was initially signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Minnesota Vikings in 2011?

If so, you could make the same claim for the eight other undrafted Raiders who played against the Cowboys and were first signed elsewhere before finding a home in Oakland -- tight end Jeron Mastrud (Tampa Bay), fullback Marcel Reece (Miami), middle linebacker Nick Roach (San Diego), safety Brandian Ross (Green Bay), running back Jeremy Stewart (Philadelphia), fullback Jamize Olawale (Dallas), long-snapper Jon Condo (Dallas) and defensive tackle Daniel Muir (Green Bay).

“It's taken me three years to be able to do it and I think it's just the development and me figuring out the skills that I need when I'm out on the field,” Holmes said. “Part of it could be opportunity and things like that, but I mean, I wouldn't say that I wasn't doing it before or anything like that. It was just the right time. The ball was coming to me and I was able to make plays on it.

“I've been able to use my strengths a lot more and playing bigger and making sure I come down with the 50-50 balls. I know when I was a rookie that was one thing I wasn't really doing. It was more of like a 20-80 ball, know what I mean?”

Janikowski: 'I want to redeem myself'

November, 26, 2013
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- How has Sebastian Janikowski attacked his sudden case of the yips on field-goal attempts?

By watching film. About 2 1/2 hours worth.

Janikowski
“I watched film from this year, every kick, and last year,” the 14-year pro, former first-round draft pick and highest-paid kicker in league history said Monday night. “It seems like my step, I'm off to the side, I'm too wide. My plant foot is way ahead. I'm just not finishing.

“I've still got five games left (to correct it).”

Janikowski missed two field goals in Sunday's 23-19 loss to the Tennessee Titans, a chip shot from 32 yards to end the first half and a 48-yarder in the third quarter. He also made four others, from 52, 48, 24 and 42 yards.

Still, it was his first multi-miss game since Sept. 26, 2010, and he has already missed as many field goals this season as he did the previous two years combined, seven.

And the left-footed kicker's first six misses this year were from the left hashmark.

“That's what everybody is talking about,” Janikowski said. “I don't care which hash it is. It's just like I said, I'm not finishing my kicks. I'm taking the steps the wrong way, I'm too wide.”

Many point to an unfamiliarity with a new holder in Marquette King after 13 years with Shane Lechler, and sideline radio reporter Lincoln Kennedy, a former teammate, said during the Titans game that Janikowski told him he did not like a hold on one of his misses.

“You'll have to talk to Marquette or the head coach about that,” Janikowski said.

King, though, was not available.

Said Allen: “I wouldn't necessarily say there's an issue (between them), but I would say that when we go out there to kick field goals, we've got to make field goals.”

Janikowski insisted there is no problem with King.

“There's no issue at all,” he said. “During the game, I just pushed it.

“Marquette did a great job all the way around. We're cool.”

And while a short week with a Thanksgiving Day game against the Dallas Cowboys may not be all that inviting to the more “physical” players, it has its benefits for Janikowski ... and King.

“I wish I could play today, yeah,” he said. “I want to go out there and play Dallas right now. I want to redeem myself a little bit.”
OAKLAND -- There was an empty can of Copenhagen long cut sitting in his locker, along with a three-quarter-filled spit cup. A can of Red Bull energy drink was present, as well as a full bottle of water, an empty Gatorade bottle, a spoiled banana peel and another, unpeeled banana.

There was no Sebastian Janikowski, though. The items at his locker had nothing to say for their benefactor after he missed two field goals Sunday to run his season total of misses to seven in the Oakland Raiders' four-point loss to the Tennessee Titans, 23-19.

[+] EnlargeSebastian Janikowski
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsSebastian Janikowski has now missed seven field goals this season.
To be fair, Janikowski is rarely, if ever at his locker during media access periods. But to be true, it marked at least the third game this season the usually dependable Janikowski had misses that cost the Raiders dearly, along with the season opener at Indianapolis and the Matt Flynn game against Washington.

"We're not making them, not consistently enough," said coach Dennis Allen. "We have to continue to work to get better there. I feel like Sebastian is going to work through this. I still have all the confidence that when I send him out there that it's going to go through.

"So it's just something that we have to go through and we have to get better in that area."

Fair enough, but Allen has been saying the same things since the opener against the Colts. And 11 games in, it no longer seems prudent for Janikowski to blame an unfamiliarity with first-year holder Marquette King for his shortcomings.

Yet that's exactly what Janikowski did during a mid-game "interview" with radio sideline reporter, and former teammate, Lincoln Kennedy. Janikowski told Kennedy he did not like the hold on one of his misses.

Janikowski shanked a chip-shot 32-yard attempt toward the northern end zone to close the first half. All six misses on the season had come from the left hash mark. It was his second miss from fewer than 40 yards of the year after making 85-of-86 from that distance the previous five seasons combined.

Then, Janikowski's 48-yarder midway through the third quarter, in the same direction but from the right hash, went high over the left upright and was ruled wide left.

Janikowski glared at King and then pleaded his case with the officials, to no avail.

Only in Oakland would a placekicker's troubles garner front-page news. Then again, it was Al Davis who used a first-round draft pick on Janikowski in 2000 when Jon Gruden preferred running back Shaun Alexander or receiver Sylvester Morris.

And Janikowski, 35, has gone on to become the franchise's all-time leading scorer and signed a four-year extension worth as much as $19 million.

He's been the Raiders' most dangerous weapon in recent years … just not since his long-time holder, Shane Lechler, left this offseason for Houston.

And while his 52-yarder in the first quarter was his second-longest of the season, behind the 53-yarder he hit against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 3, it also marked the first time since Nov. 26, 2010 he missed two field goals in a game.

It was the second time he had missed two since 2008.

Then there's this: Janikowski has missed as many field goals through 11 games this season (seven) as he did the previous two seasons combined.

Allen, though, was not about to throw all of the blame at the feet of Janikowski.

"I'd say it's a field-goal unit problem," Allen said. There's 11 guys out there; it's not all on one guy. We have to improve in that area -- snap, hold, kick, protection. The goal is to get the ball through the uprights, and there's 11 guys responsible for making sure that happens."

The last person to make contact with that ball, though, is Janikowski , and neither he nor the personal effects at his locker were talking.

Midseason Report: Oakland Raiders

November, 6, 2013
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- You knew this was going to be a rebuilding year for the Oakland Raiders and, before Sunday's embarrassing 49-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland was playing above expectations. Indeed, after a 4-12 season last year, the Raiders had a chance to win their fourth game at this year's midway points.

Alas, the Eagles and Nick Foles, who threw a record-tying seven touchdowns, had different plans and it makes you wonder if these are indeed the same old Raiders who have not been to the playoffs since 2002, let alone had a winning season since that Super Bowl campaign. The difference, at least on the surface, is this team has been in every game save two -- at Denver and against the Eagles.

But the NFL is a results-oriented business and at the midway point, the Raiders sit at 3-5.

 

What's eating SeaBass?

October, 21, 2013
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No one is perfect, but Sebastian Janikowski, AKA “Automatic SeaBass,” has been as sure a thing for the Raiders as the sun rising in the east.

But with the place-kicker’s alarming accuracy issues this season, is the sun starting to set on Janikowski as Oakland’s most dependable weapon?

Janikowski, the Raiders’ first-round draft pick in 2000, entered the 2013 season with a career field-goal conversion rate of 80.6 percent, with 75 attempts from 50 yards or longer. Thus far this season, he is 7-for-11 (a career-worst 63.6 percent) overall, 1-3 from 50 or more.

Knee-jerk reaction? Maybe. Small sample size? Definitely. But this much is true: the 35-year-old Janikowski, who was signed to a four-year contract extension in training camp that will pay him upwards of $19 million through 2017, has already missed more field-goal attempts in six games this season -- four -- than he did all of last year – three.

There has been a common factor as all four misses have come when the left-footed Janikowski has kicked from the left hashmark, and the first three shanks were all wide left.

Then came last week’s misfire, the strongest leg in the game coming up short when he “toed” the ball.

Many point to Janikowski potentially having a mental block as the team breaks in a new holder in Marquette King after 13 years with Shane Lechler. Others wonder if Janikowski is still feeling the effects of calf and hamstring issues from late in camp. Hey, at least the dirt baseball infield should be gone this week, right?

Raiders special teams coach Bobby April, though, told reporters Janikowski was healthy. It all made for some interesting food for thought as the Raiders return to work Monday from their bye week to prepare for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Especially when you consider how costly Janikowski’s misses have been and, in the hindsight-is-20-20 world of sports, they could be the difference between the Raiders being 2-4 and 4-2.

A look, then, at Janikowski’s misses, and how they factored into the final result:

The game: Indianapolis Colts 21, Raiders 17

The miss: Janikowski whiffed from 48 yards as the first half of the season opener at Lucas Oil Stadium came to a close. It was his first miss from under 50 yards since 2011.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda: Not only do the Raiders pull to within 14-10 of the Colts at the half, but the Raiders would have been within 21-20 at the end of the game. And with Terrelle Pryor having led the Raiders to the Colts’ 8-yard line in the last 73 seconds, Oakland would have merely needed a chip-shot 26-yard field goal from Janikowski to upset the Colts, rather than a touchdown that never came.

The game: Raiders 19, Jacksonville Jaguars 9

The miss: Janikowski shanked it from 35 yards with 4:11 to play in the first half at the O.co Coliseum in the Raiders’ home opener. It was his first miss from under 40 yards in 54 attempts.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda: The Raiders would have gone up 10-3. No matter, Janikowski made four other field goals after the miss -- from 46, 30, 29 and 29 yards -- as Oakland cruised.

The game: Washington 24, Raiders 14

The miss: Janikowski was off from 52 yards at the 6:55 mark of the third quarter as the Raiders’ implosion under Matt Flynn, with Pryor concussed, continued in Week 4.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda: Make the 52-yarder, and the Raiders extend what had been a 14-0 lead to 17-10. Instead, Washington took advantage of the relatively short field after the miss and drove 58 yards to score a touchdown and take the 17-14 lead it would not relinquish.

The game: Kansas City Chiefs 24, Raiders 7

The miss: Janikowski raised many an eyebrow on both sidelines when he was short on his 51-yarder with 12:26 to play in the first half at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 6. Long snapper Jon Condo said he could tell by the sound of foot meeting ball Janikowski had “toed” it.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda: The 51-yarder would have given the Raiders a 3-0 lead and, coupled with Pryor’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Denarius Moore on their next offensive series, Oakland would have held a 10-0 advantage on the Chiefs in a game the Raiders were winning in every phase until just before the half.

QB Matt Flynn getting reps at holder

September, 19, 2013
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Raiders backup quarterback Matt Flynn, who was acquired from Seattle this offseason and is making $6.5 million, is getting practice reps at holder for Sebastian Janikowski.

Flynn
Flynn
“We have to be better in that area,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said Thursday. “We’ve been good, but we have to improve.”

First-year punter Marquette King had taken over holding duties from Shane Lechler, who held for Janikowski since 2000 and signed with the Houston Texans. But Janikowski has uncharacteristically missed field-goal attempts from 48 and 35 yards out, typically gimme distances for the strong-legged kicker.

Janikowski has made five other kicks, though King took the blame for the 48-yard miss in Indianapolis. Replays showed the laces on the football were not turned all the way out on that kick. The Raiders lost that game 21-17 and had the ball at the Colts' 8-yard line in the final minute.

Both misses have been wide left for the left-footed kicker.

“We’re getting better,” Janikowski said last week. “We’re working every week. It’s getting better every week.”

Flynn, meanwhile, lost out to Terrelle Pryor in training camp a year after being beaten out in Seattle by Russell Wilson.
ALAMEDA, Calif. – Sebastian Janikowski did not miss a single field-goal attempt from under 50 yards in 2012.

King
Janikowski
The Oakland Raiders place-kicker shanked his first attempt of 2013 last week in Indianapolis, from 48 yards.

Janikowski, Oakland’s first-round pick in 2000, had converted 50 consecutive attempts from under 40 yards and had not missed one from inside the 40-yard line at home since 2007.

He went wide left again Sunday in the Raiders’ home opener against Jacksonville, this time from 35 yards out.

Sure, Janikowski has also made five field goals thus far this season, but the two misses, especially from the man known in most corners as Automatic SeaBass and in others as the Polish Cannon, have many observers scratching their heads.

It may also have people wondering if Janikowski is having growing pains adjusting to a new holder in punter Marquette King after 13 years with Shane Lechler.

“We’re getting better,” Janikowski said last week. “We’re working every week. It’s getting better every week.”

King, meanwhile, fell on the sword for Janikowski’s miss after the Colts game.

“It’s my fault,” King said. “It’s me.”

Janikowski, 35, has also been dealing with a sore right (non-kicking) calf, though the Raiders’ all-time leading scorer said it was “fine” last week.

Raiders coach Dennis Allen allowed there may still be a trust being developed between Janikowski and King.

“Absolutely,” Allen said, “I mean, there obviously was a comfort level with Shane; those guys had worked so long together that there wasn’t much of a thought process that had to go into it. I still think we’re in a situation where SeaBass is still working to develop the confidence in Marquette as the holder.

“But the more these guys continue to work together, the more they continue to go out there and get an opportunity and kick, I think that’s going to get worked out.”

Meaning with added reps will come familiarity and fewer mind games.

“I think it’s more of a situation where we’ve got to just develop that confidence in the operation that SeaBass had when Shane was holding for him,” Allen said.

Upon Further Review: Raiders Week 1

September, 9, 2013
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An examination of four hot issues from the Oakland Raiders21-17 loss at the Indianapolis Colts:

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesTerrelle Pryor joined some elite company with his dual-threat performance on Sunday.
It’s TP2 Time: Even if Terrelle Pryor is not Mr. Right for the Raiders, it’s obvious he’s Mr. Right Now. Pryor’s playmaking ability and his knack for extending plays and, thus, hiding some deficiencies in the offensive line gave the Raiders a shot at upsetting the host Colts. He became just the seventh QB to pass for at least 200 yards (217) and rush for 100 (112) in a regular-season game, joining the likes of Michael Vick, who did it twice, Randall Cunningham, Cam Newton, Aaron Brooks, Steve Young and Donovan McNabb. “I wanted to dice 'em up,” Pryor said, reflecting upon his fateful final drive, on which he led the Raiders to the Colts' 8-yard line but suffered a 16-yard sack before throwing an interception at the 6-yard line.

King’s issues: Punter Marquette King was anything but proud of his first-ever NFL game. “I just have to watch film,” he lamented, “and take notes.” And he needs to regain his confidence going forward. Sure, he averaged 50.5 yards on two punts, but his net was only 29 yards after his first punt -- which he mis-hit and which was fielded off the ground and returned 23 yards by T.Y. Hilton -- and his second just missed being downed inside the 5-yard line and instead rolled into the end zone for a touchback. Plus, King was the holder on Sebastian Janikowski’s missed 48-yard field goal attempt to end the first half, the first time SeaBass missed from inside 50 yards since 2011. "It’s my fault," King said. "It’s me." Of course, there was also his getting "blasted" covering on his first punt. "I got kind of dizzy getting up," King said. "But I’m tough. I’m a football player at the end of the day, so I took it."

East side problems: The last time the Raiders won a game in the Eastern time zone? Try Dec. 6, 2009, when Bruce Gradkowski led a comeback in Pittsburgh. Since then, Oakland is 0-11 playing three time zones away, being outscored by a combined 353-178 and losing by an average score of 32-16. Since Dec. 15, 2002, when the Raiders lost at Miami, Oakland is 5-28 in the Eastern time zone. The Raiders have two more games on the East Coast this season, playing at both the New York Giants (Nov. 10) and New York Jets (Dec. 8).

Of explosive plays: Coach Dennis Allen made a point last season to make “explosive plays” -- plays that gain at least 16 yards through the air or 12 yards on the ground -- a point of emphasis. Limit the opponents' while maximizing your own, and your chances for victory increase. So how did the Raiders do against the Colts? Oakland had nine explosive plays -- six passes and three runs -- all by Pryor. Indianapolis had eight explosive plays, five through the air and three on the ground. None of the Raiders’ plays, though, ended as scores, while a 20-yard Andrew Luck pass and a 19-yard Luck run were TDs.

Locker Room Buzz: Oakland Raiders

September, 8, 2013
9/08/13
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Observed in the locker room after the Oakland Raiders’ 21-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

No moral victories: Everyone from coach Dennis Allen to the anointed starting quarterback in Terrelle Pryor to the last inactive player sang the same verse -- there are no moral victories in the NFL. And yet, the feeling of promise was palpable in the locker room after such a heart-wrenching loss to a playoff team.

Stimmed up: Tight end Jeron Mastrud cramped up on the second catch of his NFL career, a 41-yard pickup late in the fourth quarter, and went down in a heap on the play. He had electrical stim wires attached to both hamstrings as he conducted postgame interviews.

Some veteran advice: First-year punter Marquette King wishes he had two punts back, as well as his hold on place-kicker Sebastian Janikowski's miss from 48 yards. No wonder, then, he was listening intently to the counsel of long-snapper Jon Condo at his locker after the game. “It was kind of weird,” King said. “I got blasted; kind of a welcome-to-the-NFL hit.”

Pryor soaks it in: Allen announced Pryor would be the starting quarterback going forward and after his performance, in which he passed for 217 yards and rushed for 112 more, Pryor refused to gloat. He said he was disappointed in himself. Especially his two interceptions. “Geez, man,” Pryor said. “We almost had them. Geez.”

Inside the Terrelle Pryor decision

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
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Multiple news outlets are reporting that Terrelle Pryor, not Matt Flynn, will open as the Oakland Raiders’ starting quarterback this season. This is no shock, and I have long stumped for this outcome. Some thoughts:

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
AP Photo/Greg TrottOakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor provides some versatility the Raiders were lacking with quarterback Matt Flynn.
McKenzie goes with Al Davis' guy: General manager Reggie McKenzie is having trouble identifying quarterbacks. He traded for Flynn (and gave up two picks and guaranteed him $6.5 million this season) and drafted Tyler Wilson in the fourth round. Wilson was cut and -- in a damning statement by the rest of the league -- was not claimed. He is now a practice-squad player McKenzie spent a fourth-round pick and a $450,000 signing bonus to get. Instead, Pryor gets the call. Pryor was a third-round pick of the 2011 supplemental draft. He was the final draft pick Davis made, as Davis died less than two months later. Pryor often said he forged a close relationship with Davis. Now he has the chance to restore the pride to the franchise that was the passion of Davis’ life.

There were hints: We shouldn’t be stunned by the decision to start Pryor. Flynn came down with a “sore arm” after a poor preseason performance. Coach Dennis Allen and offensive coordinator Greg Olson had been talking up Pryor lately. After a lackluster performance by Pryor in the preseason finale, Allen said he was looking beyond statistics. He said he was looking for how a quarterback moved the team. Pryor can be dynamic with his feet, much more so than Flynn.

Don’t expect miracles: I’ve been on board with starting Pryor for weeks. Let’s see what he can do. But it would be naive for the team or for Oakland fans to think they are going to get a Colin Kaepernick effect. Pryor is a work in progress. He is still inconsistent as a passer, although his accuracy has improved and he is a diligent worker. But there will be growing pains.

The Marquette King theory: King beat out veteran punter Chris Kluwe because of his potential. On a rebuilding team, going for youth over a marginal veteran is always a smart idea.

The lesson of Flynn: I wonder whether teams around the league will look at Flynn’s career and allow it to affect how they think about backups in the future. After being a backup in Green Bay, Flynn has starting jobs in two different cities in the past year. Sometimes a backup is just a backup.
I commended the Oakland Raiders for bringing in veteran punter Chris Kluwe to training camp.

And I commend the Raiders for naming Marquette King their punter heading into the season. Kluwe tweeted Sunday that King won the job and he is being cut.

I think it is the right call and I give King a lot of credit for putting the Raiders in the position of being comfortable with him moving forward. Longtime star Shane Lechler left the team in free agency to go to Houston. King was with the team last year, on injured reserve. King showed a strong leg in the 2012 preseason, but he was green.

Kluwe, who spent eight years in Minnesota, was brought in to give Oakland insurance in case King didn’t show the necessary consistency. However, King had a strong preseason and improved his consistency. He answered the bell. Going with the youngster with potential is the way to go for a team that is rebuilding.

I still expect King will have the occasional growing pains as most young punters have. But it will be worth it in the long haul.
Most significant moves: The Raiders were one of the more intriguing teams in the NFL on cut-down day because they have so many holes and ongoing competitions. There were a lot of significant moves. The Raiders are desperate for pass-rushers, and they cut two who were expected to make contributions. Veteran Andre Carter (expected to be a leader on a young team) and seventh-round pick David Bass were cut. Coach Dennis Allen recently said the team was counting on Bass. Tight end Richard Gordon had a chance to start, particularly because he is a good blocker on a team with a bad offensive line, but he was cut. Jeron Mastrud is the starter for now with David Ausberry coming back from a shoulder injury. The punting battle has yet to be settled. Both veteran Chris Kluwe and youngster Marquette King were kept. Either Oakland will let the two battle it out another week or cut one of them when the team makes roster additions. Perhaps the Raiders are even trying to swing a trade. Since King has made it this far, he might stick around. The team wanted to see improved consistency and he has shown it.

Crowded quarterback room: The Raiders are keeping four quarterbacks. The team kept both fourth-round pick Tyler Wilson of Arkansas and undrafted free agent Matt McGloin of Penn State. It would be highly unusual for a team to keep four quarterbacks. Some just keep two. That’s three players who most likely won’t be playing on game day. That is not ideal for a team with major depth issues. McGloin outperformed Wilson and became the No. 3 quarterback. But the decision to keep Wilson comes down to the Raiders not waiting to give up on a quarterback who was a fourth-round pick. I understand. It would be admitting a huge mistake, and perhaps Wilson (many thought he could push to start as a rookie during the offseason) will figure things out. Keeping four quarterbacks adversely affects this roster. The truth is, none of the current quarterbacks in Oakland -- including Matt Flynn and Terrelle Pryor -- may be the ultimate answer for the franchise. But the Raiders are reluctant to make any decisions now.

What’s next: The Raiders are thin and will likely look for players for the next several weeks. I would not be surprised if this team adds four or five players this week. Prime need areas are tight end, the offensive line and pass-rusher. There are a lot of interesting tight ends available, including Tony Moeaki (talented, but injured), D.J. Williams (who was in Green Bay with Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie) and Clay Harbor. Possible offensive line targets include Jake Scott and Danny Watkins.

Players cut: DE Andre Carter, LB Omar Gaither, CB Joselio Hanson, T Tony Hills, S Reggie Smith, DL Ryan Baker, DE David Bass, LB Billy Boyko, CB Chance Casey, G Jason Foster, TE Richard Gordon, WR Greg Jenkins, S Shelton Johnson, TE Brian Leonhardt, G Lamar Mady, K Justin Medlock, DT Kurt Taufa'asau, LB Chase Thomas, WR Conner Vernon, RB Deonte Williams and T Willie Smith. G Tony Bergstrom was put on injured reserve. WR Andre Holmes is serving a four-game NFL suspension.

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