AFC West: Sio Moore

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Khalil Mack falling into the Oakland Raiders' lap at No. 5 overall in last month's NFL draft perhaps affected no one already on the team more than Sio Moore.

As a rookie taken in the third round a year earlier, Moore was somewhat of a revelation. He started 11 games and played in 15. (The lone game he missed came after he suffered a concussion in a car accident.) He led the Raiders' first-year players with 55 tackles (33 solo), 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble.

But Mack joining the team has forced Moore to switch positions, at least for the time being, as Mack has settled in at strongside linebacker and Moore has flipped over to the weak side in Oakland's base 4-3 defense.

And really, that's just fine with Moore.

[+] EnlargeSio Moore
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports"I just try to use my versatility and continue to show our coaches and my teammates that I can do anything on the field," said Sio Moore.
"I did this in college," he said of his time at UConn this week, at the onset of organized training activities (OTAs).

"I started out as a Will and then moved to Sam, where the Sam was an outside linebacker and a down free safety. Moving from Sam to Will here again, it's nothing that's abnormal. I just try to use my versatility and continue to show our coaches and my teammates that I can do anything on the field and I want to continue to work at it, no matter the position."

Of course, being on the weak side will mean Moore's pass-coverage skills will be under more scrutiny, right?

"Based on what the call is," coach Dennis Allen said. "All of our linebackers are going to have to be able play the run. All of our linebackers are going to have to be able to play the pass. All of our linebackers are going to have to rush the passer.

"We'll find ways to get guys that can do those things. We'll find ways to get them on the field."

Besides, while the Raiders' base defense is a 4-3, the personnel may actually suggest a 3-4 is a better fit and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver has promised to show even more multiple looks this season.

"We believe in versatility," Allen added. "When you get into games, the more things guys can do, the better you are going to be able to adjust, change the game plan, make the defense work based on what the offense is doing to you. There will be times where you need more linebackers on the field based on what the offense is doing. Sometimes, you may not need as many.

"Yes, (Moore) has the skill set for that (Will) position and we'll continue to work with him throughout the rest of these OTAs and training camp. Again, we're going to put the best three guys on the field. Whoever those best three guys are, we're going to put them on the field and we're going to go play."

If those best three are indeed Moore, Mack and middle linebacker Nick Roach, the odd man out would be last year's starting weakside linebacker, Kevin Burnett, who is working through an ankle injury.

But Moore has developed a kinship with Roach, one that goes beyond the field.

"Nick has been one of those guys for me that's been a big brother and like a father figure-type role," Moore said. "I've never had a father and to hear a lot of wisdom and guidance that he provides as a friend, and as somebody who I really look [at] as family and a brother, it means a lot to you."

It means almost as much as, if not more than, Moore's on-field objective. Remember, this is the guy who famously said the Raiders drafted the best linebacker in college within an hour of Oakland tabbing him in 2013.

"Right now, my goal is not to be just a linebacker," he said, "it's to be the best linebacker there is. The more that I can do, the more that I can learn, and the faster that I can learn it and the faster that I can produce and be a part of something, then we have a situation."

A positive one, at that.

Upon Further Review: Raiders Week 14

December, 9, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- An examination of four hot issues from the Oakland Raiders' 37-27 loss to the New York Jets:

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesTerrelle Pryor helped get the Raiders on the board with a 14-play drive that resulted in a field goal.
One more time again: Sure, we hit this hard in the aftermath of the game, but it's such a tongue-wagger, it deserves more discussion. Terrelle Pryor replacing Matt McGloin at quarterback for the Raiders' third possession of the game was part of the game plan. And no, McGloin was not thrilled with it, even if he knew it was coming. But here's where it got sticky: Pryor moved the offense, racking up five first downs in driving Oakland downfield for the Raiders' first points of the game on a Sebastian Janikowski field goal, and he did it after McGloin stalled. And yet coach Dennis Allen said there was no thought of going back to Pryor later, because McGloin found a rhythm. Get it? But what if Allen had been so impressed with Pryor he had left him in?

More SeaBass issues: We already knew that Janikowski was enduring his roughest season kicking field goals since 2005 -- his 2013 percentage was 11 points below his career percentage entering the season -- but he again had a costly miss on which the game turned. The left-footed Janikowski pulled his 52-yarder wide right in the first quarter from the right hashmark, his second miss from the right side this season. It essentially negated Kevin Burnett's interception and, helped with a short field, the Jets scored a touchdown three plays later for a 10-0 lead. "Those are momentum builders," Allen said, "and momentum killers. We thought field position in this game was going to be a critical factor." Janikowski has now missed eight field goal attempts this season, after missing seven the previous two seasons combined. His current season field goal percentage of 69.2 would be the third-lowest of his career (68.8 in 2000 and 66.7 in 2005).

Injuries: Three players did not finish the game for the Raiders: rookie linebacker Sio Moore (neck), defensive tackle Vance Walker (concussion) and rookie tight end Nick Kasa (concussion). Plus, the Raiders were already without three running backs in Rashad Jennings (concussion), Darren McFadden (ankle) and Jeremy Stewart (ankle/knee). Jennings took part in limited practice all week but never passed the NFL's concussion protocol. "It was kind of apparent yesterday that he wasn't going to be cleared to play," Allen said. "But it was official this morning."

Of explosive plays XIII: And now for our weekly tracking of "explosive" plays. As deemed by Allen, such a play is one that gains at least 16 yards through the air or 12 yards on the ground. The Raiders had eight such plays against the Jets: five passes and three runs, with a touchdown each way. New York had seven explosive plays: five passes and two runs, also with a touchdown each way. In 13 games, the Raiders have 94 explosive plays (67 passes, 27 runs), with eight passing TDs and four running scores. Oakland's opponents, meanwhile, now have 91 explosive plays combined, 71 passes (eight TDs) and 20 runs (two TDs).

Upon Further Review: Raiders Week 12

November, 25, 2013
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An examination of four hot issues from the Oakland Raiders23-19 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

Porter
Playing soft: The defense the Raiders were in with the Titans facing a third-and-goal from the Oakland 10-yard line with 15 seconds to play? Try a zone. “If I had to do it all over again,” mused Raiders coach Dennis Allen, “I would have been more aggressive right there and come after them.” Instead, with only a three-man rush coming after him, Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had enough time to find Kendall Wright in a soft spot inside the 5-yard line, between slot cornerback Tracy Porter and cornerback Phillip Adams, and Wright plowed in for the game-winning score. “It was a great read and also the position I was in in zone coverage,” Porter said. “Great throw by Fitz right between me and the corner, and it was difficult for both of us to make the play in such a short window.” Said Allen: “Tracy was fine. It’s a tough route versus the coverage that we were in ... put that one on me.” It was a tough ending for the Raiders' defense, which allowed an 80-yard drive in 14 plays and six minutes after the offense had taken a 19-16 lead. Rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden being placed on season-ending injured reserve last week and starting cornerback Mike Jenkins leaving with a concussion early in the fourth quarter did not help matters.

Get off the field: A strength of the Raiders' defense had been its ability to get off the field on third down. Not against Tennessee, though. The Titans picked up 175 yards on third-down conversions for the game, including four that were third-and-10 or longer. The Titans were 7-for-9 in the second half and 10-for-18 overall on third down. “I’m just going to say it: It was one of those days,” said safety Charles Woodson. “It wasn’t like they were giving us anything we hadn’t seen before on film. You just have to credit it to not making the play.” The Titans had a field day with passes across the middle.

Judging talent: For what it’s worth, the Raiders' "new" regime had more of its undrafted free agents starting the game (QB Matt McGloin, LG Lucas Nix, WR Rod Streater) than its rookie draft picks (DT Stacy McGee, LB Sio Moore).

Of explosive plays XI: And now for our weekly tracking of “explosive” plays. As deemed by Allen, such a play is one that gains at least 16 yards through the air or 12 yards on the ground. The Raiders had nine such plays against the Titans, one run and eight passes, including McGloin’s 27-yard TD pass. Tennessee had six explosive plays, one run and five passes, including a touchdown. In 11 games, the Raiders have 79 explosive plays (24 runs, 55 passes), with three TD runs and seven passing scores. Oakland’s opponents, meanwhile, also have 79 explosive plays: 17 runs (one TD) and 62 passes (seven TDs).
ALAMEDA, Calif. – The improvement of the Oakland Raiders' defense has been as stunning as it has been rebuilt.

With 10 new starters, the Raiders just a few weeks ago had the 10th-ranked defense in the NFL (the anomaly that was the blowout loss to Philadelphia has them at No. 17 overall now), and they currently have the No. 6 rushing defense. Last year, Oakland was 18th against the run.

Roach
At the center of this Raiders revival is their new middle linebacker, Nick Roach. A year after Oakland finally gave up on a failed first-round draft pick in Rolando McClain, Roach has been a model of consistency. And calm.

"Nick is amazing in how fast he can go to the next play," Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said. "He's just onto the next play. He will align guys and use his rules.

"The guys that can focus in the moment like that are special, and he's special that way. He can just flush whatever has happened [and] go onto the next play, which allows you to do those things. It really does."

Roach spent his first six seasons with the Chicago Bears, where he was primarily a strongside linebacker. He signed a free-agent deal with the Raiders in March and moved to the middle, and he now leads the team with 68 tackles (48 solo) and has two sacks.

Perhaps more impressive is the fact that he has yet to come off the field, having played all 688 snaps this season, per Pro Football Focus.

Roach shrugged.

"I feel like that's just part of the job description," he said. "I wouldn't like to come off the field at any point. I realize that it's a blessing to be able to play all the snaps because things happen that are out of your control all the time. So hopefully I've been able to take advantage of it to the fullest so far."

There have been no complaints.

“Beyond being a good player, Nick's a good person," said rookie linebacker Sio Moore. "I think that's what correlates to his field play and, really, how he prepares, how he goes about his business on the field. I sit next to him every day, so I try and take something from him every day.

"He doesn't say much. He just goes out there and is effective."

Indeed. In last week's win over the Houston Texans, Roach got his first career interception when he picked off Case Keenum with about four minutes to go in the first quarter. The takeaway set the Raiders up at the Texans’ 16-yard line, and one play later, Matt McGloin hit Rod Streater for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

"Every dog has his day," Roach said. "I'll put it that way."

Especially if said dog plays every snap.

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.

 
OAKLAND -- The thing with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is he is more ridden down than actually blasted whenever he is sacked.

There’s a reason he is known as Big Ben and, at 6-feet-5, 241 pounds, he is hard to take down.

Moore
But the Oakland Raiders' defense did just enough to knock him around and, by the time Oakland’s 21-18 victory was official, the Raiders matched a season-high with five sacks ... even if Roethlisberger simply shook off at least two others.

"Yeah, you have to hold on for dear life a little bit with Ben Roethlisberger," said Raiders rookie linebacker Sio Moore, who led Oakland with two sacks. "He’s a good quarterback, and he knows how to escape guys. Half the time you think he’s sacked.

"The biggest thing we were saying throughout the week was when he’s down, he’s not down, so keep going."

The five sacks also equaled a season high for Roethlisberger as the Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings also got him five times.

Roethlisberger had a passer rating of 70.1, his worst since last Dec. 23 against the Cincinnati Bengals. He threw for 275 yards on 29 of 45 passing with a touchdown and two interceptions, one each by Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter.

“They’re good, good defense,” Roethlisberger said of Oakland. “They got after us and they were better than us.”

It was also the third time in his career Roethlisberger lost in Oakland.

"This is a great place to come play," he said. "The fans are passionate, and they just beat us."

The Raiders' defense, which also had five hits on Roethlisberger, limited the Steelers to 35 yards rushing, eight yards in the first half.

A year ago, in the Raiders' 34-31 comeback win, Roethlisberger lit the Raiders up for 384 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions on 36 of 49 passing for a 123.2 QB rating.

The difference this time around?

"We are better in the secondary," Allen said. "We do a better job of covering. We do a better job of keeping the ball in front of us."

All of which allows the front seven to get more of a rush on the quarterback. Besides Moore, defensive end Lamarr Houston and defensive tackles Daniel Muir and Vance Walker had sacks.

"It was important that we were getting him down on the first try," Houston said. "That was one of the goals of our defense."

Added safety Charles Woodson: “For the most part, when we got hands on Ben, we got him down. If he was escaping, somebody else would get him down, and that’s huge against Ben, because he makes so many plays, shedding guys off him, spinning out of tackles, and today our guys got him to the ground."

Pryor, Olawale upgraded for Raiders

September, 26, 2013
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ALAMEDA, Calif. – Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor eventually put on his helmet and took some reps during practice Thursday, but he was listed as a limited participant three days after suffering a concussion and 24 hours after not practicing.

Pryor
Pryor's availability for Sunday’s home game against Washington remains in question, though.

“There’s still some hurdles that he has to clear, but he was cleared to go ahead and [participate] in a non-contact practice,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said.

Earlier, during the media window, Pryor was on the field without a helmet.

Fullback Jamize Olawale (ankle) also was upgraded, from limited practice to full, though starting left defensive end Jason Hunter (quad) missed his second straight practice.

The rest of the Raiders' injury report: linebacker Sio Moore (concussion), left guard Lucas Nix (ankle) and cornerback Tracy Porter (concussion) were limited, while left tackle Menelik Watson (knee) and strong safety Tyvon Branch (ankle) did not participate.

Porter, Moore return to practice

September, 25, 2013
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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.

Moore
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.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Raiders left tackle Menelik Watson's tweaked knee kept him out of practice Thursday, putting the rookie’s availability for Sunday’s season opener at Indianapolis in jeopardy.

Watson
As such, the Raiders have only two healthy offensive tackles on the roster in Khalif Barnes and Tony Pashos, who was signed Monday. And if Watson, who is just learning to protect the quarterback’s blind side, cannot go against the Colts, Barnes will slide from right tackle to the left and Pashos will start on the right side.

It all makes for an interesting development for purported starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who may have to rely on his legs even more than expected against the Colts.

“I don’t know how significant it is, I mean, obviously he injured himself yesterday in practice and wasn’t able to go in practice today,” said Raiders coach Dennis Allen. “We’ll find out more tomorrow as far as whether or not he’ll be able to go in the game. But it is what it is and we’ll know more tomorrow, probably.”

Allen said he would not get into roster specifics the Raiders “might” make if Watson is a no-go, but it’s obvious they would need another tackle.

“We probably would have to look at potentially bringing somebody up off the practice squad,” Allen said. “That’s a situation that we could consider.”

The lone offensive tackle on Oakland’s practice squad is Matt McCants.

The good news on the Raiders’ injury front? A day after sitting out practice, place-kicker Sebastian Janikowski (right calf) was limited but worked on the side during the open media window with new holder/punter Marquette King.

Quarterback Matt Flynn (right elbow) practiced full again, even as Allen remained steadfast in his desire to not publicly name a starting QB.

Tight end David Ausberry (shoulder) and left tackle Jared Veldheer (left triceps) did not practice.

Rookie strongside linebacker Sio Moore (foot) was added to the injury report as he was limited.

Raiders add more O-line depth

September, 2, 2013
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The Oakland Raiders continue to try to improve a weak offensive line.

The team announced it has signed veteran tackle Tony Pashos. The team cut Alex Barron to make room for Pashos. Barron struggled in the preseason.

Pashos, an 11-year veteran, was cut by Washington on Saturday. He didn't play last year. Pashos is being brought in for depth purposes.

The right tackle is currently the only backup tackle on the roster. Pashos does bring experience, starting 67 games in his career. Oakland also added Antoine McClain off waivers from Baltimore on Sunday as it tries to improve a thin unit.

Meanwhile, rookie linebacker Sio Moore is back at practice and should play at Indianapolis on Sunday. However, tight end David Ausberry is still out with a shoulder injury. His status for the opener is murky.
Charles WoodsonAP Photo/Matthew HintonDefensive back Charles Woodson is the Raiders' lone representative on ESPN.com's top-100 list.
Today, the Raider Nation rejoices.

One of its beloved players is getting due respect. For the first time since our 100 top offensive and defensive players in the NFL project began Monday, there is an Oakland representative.

To commemorate his return to Oakland, venerable safety Charles Woodson checks in as the 68th-best defensive player in the league. Yes, Oakland gets the love its rabid fan base so hungers. Congratulations.

Don’t get used to it.

Hate to play the spoiler role, but Woodson is the first and only player to appear on either list. He is the only Oakland defensive player on the list, and there will not be any offensive players from Oakland on the top-100 list. Oft-injured running back Darren McFadden had some momentum, but he did not make the list.

One Oakland player in the top 200? Here’s a little perspective: The Raiders’ Bay Area rival, San Francisco, has three defensive players in the top 11. All four of Seattle’s defensive backs made the top 100.

Is this Raider hating? I’d doubt that’s the case. ESPN enlisted 63 voters, including former players and reporters (I was one of the voters). We graded more than 500 NFL players and the results were tabulated. I can assure you there was nothing sinister at work.

Woodson stands alone because a large group collectively thought he was the only Raider who was deserving.

It’s no shock Oakland doesn’t have much representation on this list. These have been hard times for the Pride and Poise. Oakland hasn’t had a winning record since 2002, and it is tied for the second-longest current playoff drought in the NFL.

Oakland is considered to have one of the weakest, thinnest rosters in the NFL heading into the 2013 season. General manager Reggie McKenzie, in his second season as the replacement to the late Al Davis, is basically starting over. It hasn’t been easy for McKenzie.

He inherited a terrible salary-cap situation and a dearth of draft picks because of poor decisions made in the Davis era. The result is a bare-bones team. And, yes, a roster not worthy of getting much top-100 recognition.

“It is as bad as it looks in Oakland,” ESPN analyst Matt Williamson said.

Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. agrees. He was not shocked to see Oakland nearly get snubbed.

“I liken them to a Triple-A baseball team right now,” Horton said. “They lost so many players to free agency because of the cap restrictions and all they have replaced them with are bargain-basement free agents. It’s going to be rough there.”

Still, both Williamson and Horton believe McKenzie’s plan of starting over is the right thing to do, because he has no choice.

While the recent past has been bleak and the immediate future doesn’t show much promise, McKenzie’s plan could help infuse some more talent on the roster. The Raiders may have a surplus of $69 million in salary-cap room next year.

That doesn’t necessarily mean McKenzie will spend wildly and build an instant Pro Bowl roster. His front-office roots are in Green Bay, and he has said he will subscribe to the Packer way as he reconstructs Oakland’s roster. That means keeping his own players first. McKenzie has shown that philosophy this summer by locking up potential free agents kicker Sebastian Janikowski and long-snapper Jon Condo to long-term deals. Other players, such as injured left tackle Jared Veldheer, defensive end Lamarr Houston and fullback Marcel Reece, could also be candidates to be re-signed before they hit free agency.

While the program is clearly in tough shape, it would be inaccurate to portray this roster as talentless. There are about 1,900 players in the league, and some of the good ones do don Silver and Black.

There is promise. In addition to the above-mentioned players, Oakland building blocks include center Stefen Wisniewski, young receivers Rod Streater and Denarius Moore, safety Tyvon Branch, cornerback D.J. Hayden, offensive tackle Menelik Watson and linebacker Sio Moore.

The cupboard is not bare. But the truth is there are few established stars currently playing in Oakland. McKenzie knows it is his job to develop them.

“When I first got to Green Bay, there wasn’t a bunch of studs there,” McKenzie said. “Then we got Brett Favre and then we got Reggie White. And things started to look a little better. Right now, we have to turn some of these guys into studs and keep building. That’s the only way this thing is going to work.”

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Progress being made in Oakland

August, 10, 2013
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Random thoughts from the Oakland Raiders’ 19-17 home win over Dallas:

This season is going to be all about progress for this rebuilding program. And the first step has to be looked at as positive progress.

Dennis Allen has raved about how much this team loves football. It was easy to see Friday night. The Raiders were very spirited and fought to win this game. Every unit worked hard. This is one of the more interesting teams in the league this preseason because there is competition virtually all over the field. Competition breeds fighting spirit.

That’s the best thing Oakland has going for it right now. It wants to get better. I also think that is a credit to coach Dennis Allen and his staff. This game showed the coaching staff’s message is sinking in.

Now, let’s not get too crazy. The Raiders were far from perfect against Dallas and have a long way to go. But they seem like they are on the right track as a program.

The quarterback position is intriguing in Oakland. All four quarterbacks are a question mark.

Starter Matt Flynn was decent. He wasn’t great or terrible, although losing a fumble early was not good. Flynn will be the Raiders’ starting quarterback to start the season. The question is can he keep the job all season?

And, is anyone ready to take it from him?

Backup quarterback Terrelle Pryor was interesting Friday. He clearly has improved some and that’s a testament to his major work ethic and want-to attitude. But he has his inconsistencies. He forced an interception in the red zone and still seems raw. But he also made some things happen with his feet. Pryor is exciting and there will be a place for him.

Undrafted quarterback Matt McGloin continued to impress. He and fellow rookie Brice Butler connected on a beauty of a touchdown. McGloin received pro-style coaching at Penn State from Bill O‘Brien last year and it’s paying off. McGloin was much better than fourth-round pick Tyler Wilson. Wilson was previously considered an option to start this year. Now, he’s just trying to make the roster. While McGloin is doing well, it would be difficult to think an undrafted rookie could be in the starting mix in his first year.
  • Rookie linebacker Sio Moore had a huge sack of Tony Romo. The third-round pick from Connecticut is an exciting player. The Raiders hope he can give them a much-needed pass-rush burst.
  • Taiwan Jones, who converted to cornerback from running back this year, had a solid game and worked to solidify his status on the roster.
  • There were some issues as the offensive line. The pass rush and pass defense suffered at times.
  • Marquette King closed in on veteran punter Chris Kluwe, but Kluwe still remains the favorite to win the job.
  • The running back stable looks deep, which is a nice change from last year. Rashad Jennings, Latavius Murray and Jamize Olawale all looked good.
  • None of the tight ends separated themselves in the chase to be the starter.
  • Undrafted rookie defensive back Chance Casey built on a strong camp with a good game Friday night.
NAPA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders are basically starting over.

In the second year of the Reggie McKenzie-Dennis Allen era, the team has hit the reset button. The Raiders kept several high-dollar players at start of the post-Al Davis era in 2012 and saw their decade-long malaise continue. Oakland, which has not been to the playoffs since 2002, lost eight of its final nine games last season and finished 4-12.

McKenzie flushed several players in an attempt to get control -- finally -- of a salary cap that got away from the previous regime. The result is that Oakland, which will be in fine salary-cap shape next year, has questions throughout the roster heading into this season.

Yet, Oakland isn’t ready to give up on another season, waiting for better fiscal times. Oakland is beginning the rebuilding process with several players handpicked by McKenzie and Allen.

The theme of these newcomers is the same: “They love football,” Allen said.

Almost every time I’ve heard Allen talk in 2013, he has mentioned the will and desire of his team. Allen doesn’t dwell on the past, but it is clear he didn’t believe some of the players on his first Oakland roster would totally sell out for the game.

McKenzie said it was crucial to get high-character players in the building.

“This is the only way we are going to get this thing going,” McKenzie said. “We need to get guys who want it. I think this team, as a whole, wants it. You need talent but you need high-desire players. Sometimes, that is more important than talent. Now, we have talent, but the key is to find guys who have both. We think we have the kind of guys who can be here when we turn this thing around.”

It is doubtful Oakland will be a factor in the AFC West this season, but it’s all about the building process. Having players whom McKenzie and Allen believe in is a start.

“We have to build a swagger,” Allen said. “This team has to have a vision and a belief that this is going to be a good football team.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. The quarterbacks: Like most positions in Oakland, there is flux at the most important position on the field. The Raiders became a mystery at quarterback when Carson Palmer declined a pay cut. With a sudden hole, McKenzie turned to Matt Flynn in a trade with Seattle. Flynn was with McKenzie in Green Bay. He has two NFL starts under his belt, and he is 28. He has been the most consistent of the Oakland quarterbacks this summer, but he is far from dynamic.

[+] EnlargeOakland's Matt Flynn
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsMatt Flynn, who has started two games in a five-year career, has been the most consistent quarterback for the Raiders this summer.
The Raiders hope he can be a solid game manager and a short-term answer. He must show that in camp. The Raiders also have Terrelle Pryor and rookies Matt McGloin and Tyler Wilson. I get the sense that the Raiders have higher, long-term hopes for Wilson, although he has struggled some in camp. If Pryor can find some consistency and Flynn falters, he or McGloin could get a chance. But the same goes for Wilson, a rookie, if there are no better options later in the season. For the immediate future, the Raiders hope Flynn can show he can be an effective starter.

2. Will McFadden have an impact? Running back Darren McFadden has long been Oakland’s best player. The Raiders need him to regain form to ensure this offense can be competitive. If McFadden and the running game don’t take off, there will be immense pressure on Flynn.

McFadden is looking for a bounce-back season. Oakland scrapped the zone-blocking scheme and will employ a power-blocking attack under new offensive coordinator Greg Olson. McFadden has had success in the latter scheme but must remain healthy regardless of scheme. He has missed at least three games in all five of his NFL seasons. If McFadden, who is in his contract year, can play at a high level again, Oakland’s offense will have a fighting chance. This training camp is about getting him prepared to do so.

3. Where’s the pass rush? Defensively, camp is about trying to find a pass rush. Oakland had little pass rush last season, and the team did little to improve in that area in the offseason. The team’s best pass-rushers are veteran Andre Carter and Lamarr Houston. But they are far from elite. Oakland has to find some pass-rushers to emerge in camp, and it also needs improved play in the secondary to help with the pass rush.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM: The back seven on defense appears to be improved. Oakland may have as many as nine new starters on defense and six in the back seven. Oakland feels better about its overall depth at linebacker and in the secondary.

In fact, I get the sense that the team’s brass is most excited about the linebackers and defensive backs.

The exact linebacker rotation is not clear, but the team is really high on middle linebacker Nick Roach and rookie outside linebacker Sio Moore. Roach has been a leader and has shown high intelligence. Oakland thinks Roach will set the tone for an improved defense. Moore, a third-round pick from Connecticut, has the look of a player who can make an instant impact.

Last season, Oakland’s secondary was one of the worst in the NFL. That doesn’t appear to be the case now.

The cornerbacks are much improved with veterans Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter and rookie D.J. Hayden. The addition of safety Charles Woodson gives Oakland hope on the field and in the locker room.

REASON FOR PESSISISM: The roster is not deep, and there are holes and questions all over.

There are some talented players, and some of these young players will emerge. But getting them ready in this camp is daunting.

The key in the NFL is depth. Injuries can occur at an alarming rate. The teams that survive are the teams with the deepest rosters. Oakland doesn’t seem to have a deep roster. McKenzie acknowledges this.

[+] EnlargeOakland's D.J. Hayden
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsFirst-round pick D.J. Hayden has the want-to attitude his coaches are looking for.
“I can’t afford to get too many injuries,” McKenzie said. “We have to stay healthy. If we do, I think we can be OK. Guys will emerge as camp goes on.”

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The Raiders love Hayden’s attitude. The No. 12 overall pick has the type of want-to attitude the team is looking for.
  • Cornerback Taiwan Jones, who switched positions from running back in the offseason, is a long shot. But because he plays so well on special teams, he has a chance to make the 53-man roster.
  • It is no sure thing that wide receivers Rod Streater and Denarius Moore will be strong starters this year, but both have big potential. Streater, an undrafted fee agent last year, looks particularly comfortable.
  • I love how center Stefen Wisniewski and left tackle Jared Veldheer are looking. These are two of the better young offensive lineman in the game.
  • I get the sense Allen is very pleased with this staff. This group seems like it is working well together.
  • The punting job probably will go down to the wire as Oakland looks to replace Shane Lechler, now in Houston. As expected, veteran Chris Kluwe has shown consistency, but Marquette King has a stronger leg. King has a chance if he can find consistency in the next several weeks.
  • Seventh-round pick and pass-rusher David Bass has shown some nice burst. He has a chance to develop.
  • The tight end position continues to be in flux. The team’s four tight ends are David Ausberry, Richard Gordon and sixth-round picks Nick Kasa and Mychal Rivera. I’d say Ausberry is the favorite to win the job. Still, it is a work in progress.
  • The team likes what it sees in returner Josh Cribbs. He has a great attitude and is a good influence in the locker room.
  • Journeyman offensive lineman Alex Barron has looked good. Once considered a longshot to make the team, Barron has a chance to play a lot.
Monday, we looked at the interesting battle brewing between rookie quarterbacks Tyler Wilson and Matt McGloin in Oakland.

[+] EnlargeOakland's Tyler Wilson
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsRookie quarterback Tyler Wilson, a fourth-round draft pick, appears to have slipped to fourth on the Raiders' depth chart.
Tuesday, the story took another turn when the Raiders released their first depth chart. McGloin actually is listed ahead of Wilson as the third-string quarterback. McGloin is an undrafted free agent out of Penn State, whom the team did not sign right away. Wilson is a fourth-round pick out of Arkansas. In the offseason, there was much speculation that Wilson could vie for the starting job as a rookie.

This latest news, though shows Wilson is far from making that a reality. Wilson now must overtake Matt Flynn, Terrelle Pryor and McGloin if he wants to be the starter this year. That’s a long road. Wilson’s biggest problem has been his consistency.

Still, it’s will difficult to fathom Wilson not on the Raiders’ 53-man roster, even if the three other quarterbacks play well. Cutting him and trying to stash him on the practice squad would be difficult.

There are a couple of depth-chart moves that stand out: Rookie Sio Moore is a starting outside linebacker. It looks like the Raiders are going to show Moore the field and hope the instinctive, talented third-round pick never leaves it.

The Raiders have Richard Gordon listed as the top tight end. But that is a fluid situation. David Ausberry and sixth-round picks Nick Kasa and Mychal Rivera are also in the mix.

As expected, veteran punter Chris Kluwe is holding off young Marquette King. Things can change, but Oakland is impressed with Kluwe’s consistency more than King’s at this point.

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