AFC West: Mike Mitchell

Mike Mitchell, LaMarr WoodleyGetty ImagesIn safety Mike Mitchell and linebacker LaMarr Woodley the Steelers and Raiders hope to find free-agent steals.
LaMarr Woodley is now a Raider as he signed with Oakland last week following his release from the Steelers. The Steelers, meanwhile, made an uncharacteristic signing on the first day of free agency, bringing in Mike Mitchell to take over for Ryan Clark at free safety. Mitchell played for the Panthers in 2013 but spent his first four seasons with the Raiders.

ESPN.com Steelers writer Scott Brown and ESPN.com Raiders writer Paul Gutierrez take a closer look at Woodley and Mitchell and what their signings mean for their respective teams.

Paul Gutierrez: The Raiders had many needs entering the offseason, perhaps none greater than pass rush. They seemed to address that by signing Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, but I’m sure Raiders fans are wondering just how much Woodley, who turns 30 in November, has left in the tank?

Scott Brown: The Raiders should be getting a player who will be extremely motivated following his release by the Steelers -- and by how his career played out after they had made Woodley the highest-paid defensive player in franchise history. It proved to be a rather stunning fall from grace for Woodley, and ultimately the Steelers picked Jason Worilds, whom they had been widely criticized for drafting in the second round in 2010, over Woodley.

Woodley’s inability to stay on the field led to the Steelers making that choice, and if he can stay healthy he could turn out to be a real bargain for the Raiders. Woodley played well until a calf injury sidelined him in the second half of the last season and ultimately shut him down. What has the reaction been to the Woodley signing, and do you think the Raiders view it as a low-risk, high-reward proposition?

Gutierrez: The reaction has been one of relief from Raiders fans, especially since Tuck had signed earlier in the wake of the Rodger Saffold debacle. Now, I’m not saying it “saved” the Raiders’ free agent-signing season, but it did wash away some of the bad taste because the Raiders had a huge need at pass rush. In Woodley (57 career sacks) and Tuck (60.5 career sacks) they addressed it even if both guys will be on the wrong side of 30 come midseason. Still, Woodley and Tuck, bring a championship mentality (two Super Bowl appearances) to a franchise that has not had a winning record since 2002. And yeah, the money is right (“only” up to $12 million) as is the length of the deal (two years).

Still, there are questions about how his skill set plays into the Raiders’ base 4-3 defense since Woodley was the left outside linebacker in the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme. He says he’ll play with his hand in the dirt as a defensive end in a 4-3. Do you see that as a realistic possibility, or is that too much to ask of him at this stage of his career?

Brown: Woodley should be fine moving to defensive end as that is what he played in college when he tormented quarterbacks for Michigan. The move might help him regain some of his pass-rushing mojo as Woodley won’t drop into coverage nearly as often as he did with the Steelers. I like the signing for the Raiders, especially if Woodley prepares and plays as if a fire has been lit under him. Did complacency set in after he signed the six-year, $61.5 million in 2011? It sure seems that way and maybe getting released is what Woodley needed to get his career back on track.

The Steelers normally stay on the sidelines during the first wave of free agency but they made a significant signing when they lured Mike Mitchell away from Carolina with a five-year, $25 million contract. Mitchell spent his first four seasons in Oakland and I’m curious about your impressions of him. Did he simply need a change of scenery or did things click for him last season because he played on a better team?

Gutierrez: Yeah, it’s been a couple of years since I covered Mitchell on a day-to-day basis but he definitely left an impression as one of the best interviews in the Raiders locker room, win, lose or draw. The spotlight was on him from the day Al Davis used a second-round pick on a little-known player from Ohio University. Davis had visions of another undersized, hard-hitting safety from the Buckeye State in Jack Tatum but that was a tough bar to reach. Still, he had some flashes… especially in covering San Diego tight end Antonio Gates a few years back. A change of scenery, and being with a team that had a better pass rush, definitely helped him out in Carolina. Plus, he was able to freelance more with the Panthers as a free safety, rather than on the strong side. And with his outspoken manner, gritty disposition and, yes, rep as a hard hitter, he seems to fit the mold of Raiders and Steelers' DBs of yore, even if he’s not Tatum or even Donnie Shell.

Speaking of old school, Raiders fans still refer to “IT” as the Immaculate DE-ception… so when, if ever, is Frenchy Fuqua going to tell the entire story?

Brown: I just read a tremendous book on the 1970s Steelers, “Their Life’s Work,” and it sounds like he is taking that story to his grave. I’m sure Steelers’ fans would counter that the Immaculate RE-ception is history and in the books no matter how it went down. It certainly is one of the more intriguing chapters of that storied rivalry and remains so after all of these years. What are the chances that the Raiders and Steelers turn back the clock at some point and resume meeting regularly in the playoffs as they did in the 1970s?

Gutierrez: Well, that would mean the Raiders have to get BACK to the playoffs, a place they have not visited since 2002. Realistically, I can’t see it happening in the next year or two, but in the NFL, things do change quickly. Not sure the rivalry can ever get back to the days of the ’70s, though, when the Steelers and Raiders met in three straight AFC title games, which I wrote about in January.

Shane Lechler to visit Houston

March, 20, 2013
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Oakland punter Shane Lechler is one of the better remaining AFC West free agents.

His market is about to get going. The Houston Chronicle is reporting that Lechler, one of the greatest punters of all time, will visit the Houston Texans on Thursday. Lechler is from Texas and played at Texas A&M. Prior to the start of free agency, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Lechler wants to sign with the Texans.

The Raiders have many needs and limited resources, so if Lechler is offered a strong deal he may join the litany of Oakland free agents who have left the team this year.

Lechler is 36 and, by his standards, is coming off a subpar year.

If Lechler leaves, the Raiders would likely give Marquette King the first opportunity to take over. He was stashed on injured reserve last year. King has a strong leg, but he needs to show consistency if Lechler does leave.

UPDATE: The Charlotte Observer reports the Carolina Panthers signed Oakland free agent Mike Mitchell. He was a surprise second-round pick in 2009. Mitchell was more of a special teams player in Oakland and never developed as a safety.

 
As he gets to know his new team, Kansas City coach Andy Reid has looked back at old film to get a feel for his players.

To help get a feel for star running back Jamaal Charles, Reid studied film of the 2010 AFC West champion Chiefs, whose offensive coordinator was Charlie Weis. Reid said Weis’ offense is similar to his and he liked what he saw of Charles.

[+] EnlargeJamaal Charles
AP Photo/Jonathan BachmanOne can hardly blame new Chiefs coach Andy Reid for being eager to work with RB Jamaal Charles.
“Charlie kind of moved him around like we did with our guys [in Philadelphia],” Reid said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings. “I did that just to see how [Charles] handled the quick passing game or the deep passing game from the wide receiver position. He handled it well. So that gives you another dimension that you know is in there that he wasn’t utilized … they just didn’t use it in him the last couple years.”

In 2010, Charles had 1,467 yards rushing and 45 catches for 468 yards receiving. It was his second- highest rushing season total and a career high in catches and receiving yards.

There have been questions whether Charles will fit with Reid because Reid is a pass-first coach. But he is also a smart coach. He knows Charles, who had 1,509 rushing yards last season, is special on the ground and Reid will use him. But he also will give defenses multiple looks at Charles.

Tiny receiver Dexter McCluster is another player who excited Reid. He said McCluster can line up all over the field. It will be interesting to see if McCluster can flourish in Reid’s offense.

“You know what, I kind of like him,” Reid said. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he’s got a heart of a lion. He’s got that MO, tremendous quickness and can catch. He’s pretty good at running the football, so there is a place for him. You line him up everywhere. You can move him around and kind of do some unique things with him.”

Reid was less expansive on his answers when the subject of 2011 first-round pick, receiver Jon Baldwin, came up.

“Baldwin is kind of a tweener,” Reid said. “He does have good, long speed, not great long speed. He’s somebody that needs to continue to develop. That’s a position that you need time to develop in. We’ll see how he does.”

Baldwin has talent, but reading Reid’s comments, I get the idea he isn’t exactly counting on Baldwin.

Reid reiterated that he will call the offensive plays.

Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated reports Jacksonville may consider taking West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith with the No. 2 pick. That could be good news for the Kansas City Chiefs who have the No. 1 pick. If the Jaguars are getting interested in Smith, it could create a trade market for the Chiefs.

Also, long snapper Thomas Gafford has reportedly re-signed with the Chiefs.

In other AFC West news:

Oakland safety Mike Mitchell is reportedly visiting Carolina.

Observation deck: Raiders-Cowboys

August, 13, 2012
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A look at the Oakland Raiders’ 3-0 home loss against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night:

It was uglier than Russell Brand’s performance at the Olympic closing ceremonies.

Both the Raiders' and Cowboys’ first-team offenses were awful. Dallas' was probably more awful, but the Raiders’ first-team offense (sans running back Darren McFadden, who was his explosive self in a cameo appearance) shouldn’t take solace in not being as sloppy.

Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer was on the field for 10 plays. He threw an ill-advised interception and the Raiders struggled to move the ball. I wouldn’t worry too much about Palmer based on this performance, but interceptions were a problem for him last season and remain something he needs to address.

Oakland receiver Jacoby Ford had a terrible night, for what it’s worth. He dropped two passes from Palmer, ran out of bounds on a punt return and looked pretty disinterested during his outing. I’m a big Ford fan, but he has to shake off this performance. With rookie Rod Streater the flavor of the month in Oakland’s receiver’s room, Ford could be pressed for playing time.

There are no doubt the Raiders wanted to showcase Streater. Backup quarterback Matt Leinart, who looked good at times, often went to him. The undrafted free agent from Temple had six catches in the first half. At this point, I’d think Streater is a lock to make the 53-man roster. Fifth-round pick Juron Criner, also a camp star, had a bad drop and did not shine like Streater did. Still, Criner will have a place on this team.

In his first NFL preseason action, Oakland third-string quarterback Terrelle Pryor brought some late-game excitement with several exciting runs. That is Pryor’s game. But the truth is, Oakland wants to see him develop as a pocket quarterback. Perhaps the team will draw up some packages for Pryor, but he is still a work in progress. Running for his life won’t always work against first-team NFL defenses.

ESPN's Herm Edwards just said on "SportsCenter" that he'd move Pryor to tight end. It could be tempting because of his size and speed -- and because of Oakland's need there -- but I'd think Pyror will still get more time at quarterback. Plus, I think he would be reluctant to make that switch at this point.

Oakland had just three penalties in the first half, which is a good sign for a team that set NFL records for penalties and penalty yardage last season.

Backup safety Mike Mitchell made a nice interception for Oakland near the end of the first half. Mitchell is not a star, but he makes enough plays to keep him in business.

Is Oakland’s sloppy game a worry, particularly because Denver, Kansas City and San Diego were all impressive in their preseason debuts? No. I wouldn’t worry about that. But it is clear first-year coach Dennis Allen still has to get this team in shape as the season opener against San Diego looms in four weeks.

Cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, who looked good in training camp, struggled some Monday night. The second-year player will get a shot at playing extensively.

One of the most impressive Raiders on Monday was a player who will not be on the 53-man roster -- punter Marquette King. The rookie, who is playing for injured star Shane Lechler, has a huge leg. But he isn't beating out Lechler. Perhaps Oakland will try to stash King of the practice squad as insurance for Lechler, who is entering the final season of his contract. But with the film King is putting out there, there is a chance a team in this punter-hungry league could snap him up.

Rookie linebacker Chad Kilgore was very active and physical. He could be practice squad bound.

Great scene to see former Oakland coach Jon Gruden, now an analyst on ESPN's "Monday Night Football," hug fans prior to the game. They still live and breathe Gruden in the Black Hole.
NAPA, Calif. -- One of the biggest curiosities in the NFL this summer is what is occurring in Wine Country. Graced with the prettiest training camp setting in the league, the Oakland Raiders are changing in front of our very eyes.

On the same practice field where the late Al Davis used to famously stalk practice from a nearby golf cart, the Raiders are a drastically different franchise as they enter their first full season since Davis died last October at the age of 82.

The team is now run by first-time general manager Reggie McKenzie, a respected former Green Bay executive and former Raiders linebacker. He was handpicked by several of Davis’ closest confidantes. McKenzie chose Dennis Allen, who at 39 is the NFL’s youngest coach, to take over the team.

For a franchise that was closely ruled by Davis until his death, the Raiders are hoping a dose of NFL modern structure will pay dividends. Even though it has been 8-8 in the past two seasons, Oakland hasn’t had a winning record in 10 years and it is tied for the second-longest playoff drought in the league.

Perhaps McKenzie and Allen are the winning combination for Oakland.

“I think everybody is interested to see what happens,” said Oakland safety Michael Huff, who has been with the Raiders since 2006. “I’ve only known one way. To have this new structure is new to me.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Keep McFadden healthy: The Raiders’ best player is running back Darren McFadden. He has to stay healthy, but that hasn’t been easy for the fifth-year player. He has missed at last three games in each of his four NFL seasons. He missed the final nine games of last season with a serious foot injury. If McFadden can stay healthy, the Oakland offense will be dangerous and it will help quarterback Carson Palmer make a difference in his first full season in Oakland. If McFadden can’t stay healthy, the Raiders could be in trouble. They are not deep behind him and lose a major dimension with McFadden sidelined. McFadden has looked good so far, but the key is that he looks healthy.

2. Improve on defense: Allen is the first defensive-minded head coach of the Raiders since John Madden, who was hired in 1969. There is a reason McKenzie went with a defensive coach: the Raiders need the most help on that side of the ball. Oakland has been sloppy and has allowed too many big plays on defense. Allen helped change the defensive culture in Denver last year during his one season as the defensive coordinator there. His quest to improve Oakland’s defense begins now.

[+] EnlargeDarren McFadden
AP Photo/Derek GeeA healthy Darren McFadden is crucial for Oakland's success.
3. Cut down on penalties: The Raiders set NFL records for penalties and penalty yardage last season. It has long been a problem in Oakland. Now, it is up to Allen to get it figured out. Playing disciplined, correct ball is a focus of every camp. It has to be drilled into this team on a daily basis. To his credit, former coach Hue Jackson tried to fix penalties on a weekly basis last year and it didn’t work. It's now one of Allen’s greatest challenges. Allen stresses the importance of discipline every day and he will need to change this self-destructive trend.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

This roster has a lot of talent on it. The Raiders were on the edge of the playoffs last year, and there are lot players who think they are capable of taking the next step. Palmer has talked playoffs, and McKenzie says he thinks his team is headed in that direction.

The offense has the capability to score a lot of points, and the defense is loaded up front. It’s not like this team is going to be horribly overmatched on a weekly basis. You can watch training camp and you see good players on the field.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

This team is pretty thin at a lot of places because of the loss of several players through free agency, salary dumps and small draft classes the past two years. Again, there is talent assembled in this camp, but there are holes on this team. Positions such as running back, tight end, offensive line, linebacker and the secondary cannot afford too many injuries.

This camp is about keeping the top players healthy and hoping it all comes together. If injuries occur, Oakland will have to get creative to stay competitive.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The offense looks crisp. The pace of practice has been fast as the team adjusts to playing in the West Coast offense under coordinator Greg Knapp. The unit does not look behind.
  • Carson Palmer
    Harry How/Getty ImagesCarson Palmer threw for 2,753 yards in 10 games with the Raiders last season.
    Palmer throws a pretty deep ball. With the Raiders’ speed at receiver, they should parlay that combination into a lot of fast scores this season.
  • There is a lot of talent at receiver. I can see this team using five receivers in a game. There will be a lot of options.
  • Defensive lineman Tommy Kelly looks to be in good shape. He is one of the more underrated defensive linemen in the league.
  • Defensive linemen Matt Shaughnessy is looking good after missing much of last season with a shoulder injury. He is known as a stronger pass-rusher, but he can also stop the run. He is aiming for a big year.
  • I don’t anticipate a big adjustment period for second-year player Stefen Wisniewski as he moves from guard to center. He has played center before and he originally projected as an NFL center. He is a smart player who seems comfortable at the position.
  • Don’t expect too much from quarterback Terrelle Pryor right away. He is a work in progress and he will be up and down in camp. I think Matt Leinart has a pretty strong hold on the No. 2 job as of now.
  • Second-year cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke has a chance to make a push for a starting job. He opened camp as a starter with Ronald Bartell out with a hamstring injury. I could see Van Dyke pushing Bartell or Shawntae Spencer at some point.
  • The team is impressed with rookie linebackers Miles Burris and Nathan Stupar. Both players are instinctive and professional. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burris earns major playing time.
  • The team is high on third-round guard Tony Bergstrom. The game doesn’t look too big for him, and he is a mature player.
  • New defensive coordinator Jason Tarver has a lot of energy. Watching him operate with his lively personality and blond hair invokes memories of a young Jon Gruden wearing the Silver and Black. Like Gruden, the intelligent Tarver is a young coach to watch.
  • I think we will see tight ends Brandon Myers, David Ausberry and Richard Gordon all get ample playing time in the preseason. I think that can continue into the regular season if each player carves their own niche.
  • Safety Mike Mitchell is the early leader in the clubhouse to replace Rock Cartwright, now in San Francisco, as the punt protector.
  • Receivers Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford will get most of the camp looks at punt returner for now.
  • Undrafted rookie receiver Rod Streater has taken off where he left off in the OTAs. He has been an early camp star.
  • I could see a scenario in which the Raiders keep fullback Owen Schmitt in addition to Marcel Reece. The tough Schmitt and the versatile Reece offer different things to the offense.

Oakland camp notes

July, 31, 2012
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NAPA, Calif. -- Some impressions from Day 2 of the Raiders’ training camp:

A couple players were nicked up on a hot day. Backup running back Mike Goodson hurt his hamstring and tight end Richard Gordon suffered a hip flexor. Both are expected to be key role players and are day-to-day. There weren’t any indications that the injuries are serious, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Goodson is given a few days to heal since hamstrings can be tricky.

The Raiders were somewhat sloppy Tuesday. There were same dropped passes and there were some mental lapses. Coach Dennis Allen brought the team in at one point to regroup. Quarterback Carson Palmer said a sloppy second of camp is predictable since opening days are so emotionally charged. Allen thought the team was dealing with some soreness that affected the workout. Again, this is all normal early-camp happenings.

Linebacker Aaron Curry (knee), punter Shane Lechler (knee), cornerback Ronald Bartell (hamstring) and defensive tackle Travis Ivey (conditioning) all remained out Tuesday. Asked about Lechler, Allen said he did not think the injury was serious.

Some of the injury replacements looked good for the second day. Second-year cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke was good again in Bartell’s absence and rookie Miles Burris made some plays in Curry’s place.

Rookie punter Marquette King has quite the powerful leg. He boomed some punts and had excellent hang time. If he plays in the preseason some in place of Lechler, he may attract interest around the league. He has no chance to overtake Lechler, but he seems to have a NFL leg.

The defense seemed to make more big plays than the offense. Safety Mike Mitchell had a nice interception for a touchdown return on a poor pass from Palmer.
Weekend mail call:

Brad Seraphin from San Diego wants to know if I think San Diego Chargers linebacker Jonas Mouton will contribute this season after missing most of his rookie year with a shoulder injury.

Bill Williamson: He is a player the Chargers are excited about. I think he may be first looked at as a special teamer. The second-round pick last year missed a lot of time, so he is still learning. The future might be bright, but he is still a work in progress.

Derek from Oakland wants to know if I think Oakland Raiders safety Mike Mitchell is a bust.

BW: Bust is a harsh word. He surely was overdrafted. Al Davis stunned the league when he took Mitchell out of Ohio with the No. 47 pick in the 2009 draft. Many NFL teams had him rated as an undrafted free agent. There is no doubt he belongs in the league, but he wasn’t worthy of a second-round pick. He looks to be a career rotational guy and as a special teamer. He does have value, but he was overdrafted.

Michael from Sacramento wants to know what to expect from safety Atari Bigby in San Diego.

BW: I know the Chargers are really excited about him. They think he is going to be a good partner for Eric Weddle. Bigby, a free agent pickup from the Green Bay Packers, is a solid pro who knows how to play the game. The Chargers drafted LSU’s Brandon Taylor in the third round and they like him. But they are comfortable right now with Bigby.
We continue to do our positional rankings with a deep secondary group:

1. Champ Bailey, Denver: The future Hall of Famer continues to play at a high level.

2. Eric Berry, Kansas City: I expect him to be a star after injuring his knee in Week 1 last year.

3. Eric Weddle, San Diego: Weddle is becoming a premier playmaker.

4. Brandon Flowers, Kansas City: One of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. An unheralded standout.

5. Tyvon Branch, Oakland: He is a tackle machine. The Raiders will do what it takes to keep him for the long run.

6. Stanford Routt, Kansas City: Now that he is a No. 2 cornerback again, expect his play to increase.

7. Tracy Porter, Denver: The Broncos think they got a steal in free agency.

8. Quentin Jammer, San Diego: The Chargers need a bounce-back season from Jammer.

9. Michael Huff, Oakland: He makes a lot of plays and he gives up a lot of plays.

10. Antoine Cason, San Diego: A solid No. 2 corner.

11. Kendrick Lewis, Kansas City: Many scouts think he has a real future.

12. Michael Adams, Denver: He should be a solid addition to a solid secondary.

13. Ronald Bartell, Oakland: The Raiders have to hope his neck issues are a thing of the past.

14. Atari Bigby, San Diego: The Chargers like what they see from this veteran so far.

15. Drayton Florence, Denver: He brings solid experience to the nickel position.

16. Shawntae Spencer, Oakland: Let’s see if he can fend off the youngsters for the starting gig.

17. Quinton Carter, Denver: I think the safety has a real future.

18. Javier Arenas, Kansas City: There’s a place in this terrific secondary for Arenas.

19. Chris Harris, Denver: The undrafted free-agent find in 2011 is a fine player.

20. Matt Giordano, Oakland: He’s limited, but he can make some plays in a pinch.

21. Mike Mitchell, Oakland: I would like to see this former second-round pick make more of an impact.

22. Brandon Taylor, San Diego: The Chargers may have something in this third-round pick.

23. Rahim Moore, Denver: He has to regain his confidence after a shaky rookie year.

24. Marcus Gilchrist, San Diego: He has potential, but he’s still learning.

25. Darrell Stuckey, San Diego: He will have to compete for playing time.

26. Chimdi Chekwa, Oakland: I think he could push Spencer for a starting spot.

27. Jalil Brown, Kansas City: He has some potential.

28. DeMarcus Van Dyke, Oakland: he has to show he is more than just fast.

29. DeQuan Menzie, Kansas City: Late-round pick knows how to play the game.

Raiders OTA observations

May, 15, 2012
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Observation from the Raiders’ OTA day on Tuesday:

Oakland is opening up its OTA days with a four-man defensive front. New coach Dennis Allen is adamant the Raiders will use multiple sets and we will see some 3-4 sets.

Running back Darren McFadden practiced fully for the first time since last October. He missed the final nine games of the season with a foot injury. He looked good. Allen said McFadden is at full speed.

Even if the Raiders sign fullback Owen Schmitt (who is here on a tryout basis), don’t expect Marcel Reece to be moved to tight end on a permanent basis. Reece is versatile and he will line up at tight end in some packages, but I expect him to stay a fullback.

Reece has not signed his restricted free-agent tender and he was among the players who were not at the voluntary camp Tuesday. Defensive lineman Richard Seymour was not at this camp. Allen said Seymour was at a previous camp and he has been in contact with the coaching staff. Allen called missing this session a “tradition” for Seymour. Middle linebacker Rolando McClain also was absent from the session, instead dealing with legal issues in Alabama.

Safety Mike Mitchell has a knee injury and was not practicing. Among the other injured players are defensive end Matt Shaughnessy (shoulder), center Stefen Wisniewski (he had a minor shoulder procedure this offseason) and guard Mike Brisiel (hamstring). None of the injuries appear serious and Allen said Shaughnessy is doing well in his rehabilitation from the injury that prematurely ended his 2011 season.

Quarterback Carson Palmer looked good. Backup Matt Leinart looked so-so and third-string quarterback Terrelle Pryor was often off-target. Pryor very much remains a work in progress.

Allen said he likes his stable of running backs, but he is on the lookout (like at all positions) for more help if the situation is right.

Receiver-turned-tight end David Ausberry has bulked up to help him as a blocker. Allen said he still sees Ausberry as a pass-catching tight end.

Allen said the emphasis to cut down on penalties -- the Raiders set a record for penalties last season -- has begun in the meeting room and will continue to evolve.

The Raiders are one of six NFL teams to participate in the launching of a new helmet for youth football programs to promote increased safety.

Raiders missing several key players

November, 8, 2011
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Eleven Oakland Raiders did not practice Tuesday in the only real practice day of the week prior to their game at San Diego on Thursday.

Among the players who didn’t practice were running back Darren McFadden (foot), offensive linemen Samson Satele (knee) and Khalif Barnes (shoulder), defensive lineman Richard Seymour (ankle), cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke (hamstring) and Chris Johnson (hamstring), safeties Michael Huff (ankle) and Mike Mitchell (ankle) and kicker Sebastian Janikowski (hamstring).

Some of these players will likely play. McFadden, who hasn’t played since Week 7, isn't expected to be one of them, though. Each team will release their injury report Wednesday.

The San Diego Union Tribune reports receiver Malcom Floyd (hip), guard Kris Dielman (concussion) and linebacker Shaun Phillips (foot) will not play. They have been out. Running back Ryan Mathews, who missed the last week’s game with a groin injury, is expected to play Thursday.

In other AFC West news:
  • The NFL has honored Denver Broncos’ receiver/returner Eddie Royal as its AFC special teams player of the week for his efforts in the Broncos’ upset win at Oakland on Sunday. Royal had an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown to give Denver the lead with 5:53 remaining in the game.
  • I don’t see defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth being a fit in the AFC West. His reputation for being a troublemaker will likely preclude any interest from the team in the division, although Denver could likely use him. He was cut by the Patriots on Tuesday. He is now available through waivers.

Key players out in Oakland

October, 2, 2011
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OAKLAND –- The Raiders will be without three key players Sunday against New England.

Safety Michael Huff (concussion), defensive end Matt Shaughnessy (shoulder) and fullback Marcel Reece (ankle) are all inactive. They were all listed as questionable on the injury report Friday.

Trevor Scott and Jarvis Moss will likely help spell Shaughnessy. Mike Mitchell could play for Huff as the Raiders try to slow down New England quarterback Tom Brady.

As expected, receiver/returner Jacoby Ford is active. He ha missed the past two games with a hamstring injury.

New England is also dealing with injuries. Tight end Araron Hernandez (knee), defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth (back) and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back) are all out.

AFC West injury update

September, 28, 2011
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A Wednesday injury look around the AFC West:

Denver Broncos: Cornerback Champ Bailey was limited in practice Wednesday. He missed the past two games with a hamstring injury. Defensive end Elvis Dumervil was also limited with a shoulder injury. He, too, missed the past two games. Running back Knowshon Moreno (hamstring) and linebacker D.J. Williams (elbow) both practiced fully.

Kansas City Chiefs: Cornerback Brandon Flowers was limited with an ankle injury he suffered Sunday at San Diego. Receiver Jon Baldwin was limited for the fourth straight practice. He reportedly suffered a thumb injury in a fight with teammate Thomas Jones. It’s promising that Baldwin is working some, but until he practices fully, you must wonder when will he be able to make his NFL debut. The first-round pick is nearly six weeks behind.

Oakland Raiders: The Raiders received good news when receiver Jacoby Ford re-joined practice Wednesday. He has been out for the past two weeks with a hamstring injury. His presence should only make a potent offense even more potent. Safeties Michael Huff and Mike Mitchell were also back at practice. Cornerback Chris Johnson and receiver Louis Murphy remain out, and their chances of playing at New England may be affected.

San Diego Chargers: The San Diego Union Tribune reported that cornerback Quentin Jammer, tight end Antonio Gates, receiver Vincent Jackson and receiver Malcom Floyd were all not practicing. None of this news is surprising. The Chargers often keep players who are banged up out of practice early in the week. We will have to monitor each player’s progress later in the week.

Denver, Oakland injury updates

September, 21, 2011
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The Denver Broncos and the Oakland Raiders both saw some key players make progress toward getting back to the field; still they are also both missing some important pieces.

Paramount for Denver is that star cornerback Champ Bailey has not practiced after injuring his hamstring in Week 1 against Oakland. Bailey didn’t play against Cincinnati on Sunday.

Denver did get some good injury news. Defensive end Elvis Dumervil (shoulder), linebacker D.J. Williams (elbow), running back Knowshon Moreno (hamstring) and receiver Brandon Lloyd (groin) all practiced on a limited basis. There is hope they could all play Sunday at Tennessee. Williams has been out since the preseason and Dumervil, Moreno and Lloyd all missed the win over the Bengals.

In Oakland, receiver Jacoby Ford is out after injuring his hamstring in Week 1 at Denver. He left the game and hasn’t practiced or played since. With Denarius Moore coming off a big game at Buffalo, Ford could be a third receiver when he returns.

Receiver Louis Murphy, a starter for his first two seasons, is still not practicing. He’s been out since mid-August with a sports hernia. He had targeted Sunday’s game against the Jets for his return, but it will be delayed.

Starting cornerback Chris Johnson wasn’t practicing Wednesday and neither was reserve safety Mike Mitchell. Mitchell has been out for several weeks with a knee injury.

However, starting tight end Kevin Boss was back at practice and perhaps he will play for the first time in month after being shelved with a knee injury. Also, receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey returned to practice after missing Sunday’s wild game at Buffalo.

No stunners on MNF injury report

September, 10, 2011
9/10/11
10:45
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There are no surprises on the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos injury reports.

As expected, Oakland will be without receiver Louis Murphy (groin), tight end Kevin Boss (knee) and safety Mike Mitchell (knee). These players have all be out for an extended period and none of them have been expected to play Monday. Boss was brought in to replace Pro Bowl tight end Zach Miller, who bolted to Seattle as a free agent. But we’ll have to wait to see how Boss impacts Oakland’s offense. He will be replaced by Brandon Myers in the starting lineup.

Cornerback Chris Johnson, receivers Chaz Schilens and Derek Hagan and rookie running back Taiwan Joins are among the probable players for Oakland. Expected to see them all play Monday night barring a setback.

Denver didn’t have any surprises, either. Defensive starters Ty Warren (triceps), D.J. Williams (elbow) and Marcus Thomas (shoulder) all will not play. They’ve all been out awhile. Defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley and guard Chris Kuper are among the players Denver listed as probable. They both should play. One interesting note is receiver Demaryius Thomas had a finger injury kept him out of practice Friday. That, in the long term, is good news. Thomas started practicing this week after a suffering ruptured Achilles in February.

Meanwhile, Kansas City cut seventh-round pick Shane Bannon from the practice squad. The Chiefs replaced him with offensive lineman Lucas Patterson.

Pryor will start NFL career at QB

August, 23, 2011
8/23/11
12:30
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Oakland coach Hue Jackson said Terrelle Pryor will get his wish and he will start his NFL career as a quarterback.

There has been some talk that Pryor could play receiver, but it’s clear he will start out as a quarterback. Oakland took the former Ohio State quarterback Monday in the supplemental draft in the third round. Thus, Oakland forfeited its third-round pick in 2012.

"This young man is a quarterback,” Jackson told reporters Monday. “That’s where we’re going to start and we’ll go from there."

OK, it’s not a ringing endorsement that Pryor will stay a quarterback for his entire Oakland career. But he get the chance to prove he belongs as a quarterback. I think that’s fair. But also expect Oakland to be flexible and if it thinks Pryor -- who has blazing speed at 6-foot-6, 240 pounds -- can help in other ways, they will likely consider it.

Pryor said on ESPN’s preseason telecast of the Bears-Giants game on Monday night that he’d let the Raiders decide if they want him to appeal his five-game suspension to start the season.

Meanwhile, Jackson said he kept quarterback Jason Campbell out of Monday’s practice as a precaution and he believes he will be back on the field soon. Campbell left the loss at San Francisco early Saturday night. He has yet to pass all of his concussion tests.

In other AFC West news on Monday night:
  • San Diego linebacker Stephen Cooper tore his biceps Sunday night in Dallas and he will be put on the injured reserve. Cooper re-signed earlier this month to give the Chargers depth at inside linebacker. He has been battered in recent years and his career could be over. The Chargers like their young inside linebacker but they could look for veteran help in the next few weeks.

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