NFL Nation: Kevin Burnett

Upon Further Review: Raiders Week 16

December, 23, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Oakland Raiders' 26-13 loss to the San Diego Chargers:

Penalties, again: If it did not sting enough that 15 flags were thrown at the Raiders and that a season-high 12 penalties were accepted (in fact, it is the most penalties ever levied at Oakland under second-year coach Dennis Allen, along with the dozen they had last year at Atlanta), consider this: Six penalties resulted in Chargers first downs. Talk about bad timing. “I really think it boils down to guys pressing to try to make something happen,” Allen said. “We’re not sticking to our fundamentals and technique like we’re supposed to. That’s what happens when you don’t stick to your fundamentals. ... Today a lot of the penalties were during the [run of] play.” The Raiders had 108 penalties for 939 yards in 2012 -- both figures ranked eighth in the NFL. This season, they have 114 penalties (ranking second) for 902 yards (seventh).

Streater shut down: Rod Streater entered Sunday needing to average 77 yards receiving over the Raiders’ last two games to become Oakland’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Randy Moss in 2005. And after catching one pass for 2 yards on Sunday, yeah, well, you can do the math -- Streater needs a career-high 152-yard receiving day against the Denver Broncos next week to join Moss. Not likely. But imagine the outrage if he finishes 39 yards shy of the milestone. That’s the distance of the pass he appeared to catch in the fourth quarter for a touchdown but was ruled incomplete. As for his lack of production, Streater said he was simply covered, opening up opportunities for the likes of Andre Holmes and Denarius Moore. “A lot of the downfield stuff was covered,” quarterback Matt McGloin said, “so you have to give them credit.”

A not-so-happy homecoming: Kevin Burnett spent only two years with the Chargers, but it was obvious from his several skirmishes the game meant a little something extra to the linebacker, who called San Diego home in 2009 and 2010. His thoughts, then, on returning as a member of the Raiders? “It’s good to be living,” Burnett said, “to have another day to come out here and play the game that I love. Other than that, it pretty much [stinks] right now. I don’t know how else to put it.”

Of explosive plays XV: 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, 12 yards on the ground. The Raiders had five such plays against the Chargers, all through the air. The Chargers had six explosive plays, four passes and two runs. In 15 games, the Raiders now have 109 explosive plays (80 passes, 29 runs), with eight passing TDs and four running scores. Oakland’s opponents, meanwhile, have 104 explosive plays combined, 81 passes (12 TDs) and 23 runs (three TDs).

Upon Further Review: Raiders Week 14

December, 9, 2013
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).

Raiders simply not ready for big stage

November, 28, 2013
DeMarco Murray, Charles WoodsonAP Photo/Tim Sharp"I think they've got some guys in here they can build with going forward," Charles Woodson said.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- At least four times following the Oakland Raiders' gut-punch 31-24 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Charles Woodson referenced the future and spoke of the Raiders as “they” in said tense.

As in, “they” will be without his services in the future.

Shocking? It should not be. Woodson is a 16-year veteran on a one-year contract in his second tour of duty with the Raiders. A future Hall of Famer who has to be just torn apart by Oakland's weekly meltdowns.

The Raiders (4-8) have dropped no fewer than five shockingly winnable games thus far -- the season opener at Indianapolis, the Matt Flynn game against Washington, the Terrelle Pryor knee-gate collapse at the New York Giants, the home pratfall against Tennessee last week and this Turkey Day flop against the Cowboys.

The rebuild continues in Oakland, and the Raiders, to be blunt, are just not ready for the bright lights and the big stage.

Paging Woodson ...

“I just don't think we're quite there yet, as a team, but we've got some guys that will fight,” he said. “That's great to see. Going forward they've got a lot to be happy about, as far as guys that they have, that they can build on, as far as the upcoming seasons to get this thing turned around.”

Did you catch it? Here's another ...

“Offensively, we feel like they gave us enough to win, early on,” Woodson said of the 21-7 lead the Raiders held with 1:56 to play in the first half.

“When you get leads, you've got to hold on to those leads to come out with victories. We haven't learned how to do that yet. Like I said, I think they've got a great group of guys, some guys here that they can build on and get better.”

OK, you had to see that one, right?

“We just ain't quite there yet, ain't figured out how to finish it off yet, you know?” Woodson added. “But like I said, we've got guys here, I feel like, they can build on, build with going into the future. I know what these guys go through every day to get out on that field before the game, just the pain that they've got to get through. It's fun to go out there and fight with guys like that.”

Alas, it was not simply a matter of the Raiders getting worn down by the Cowboys; it was also Oakland's lack of quality depth getting exposed.

Look, Woodson is no fool. The free safety chooses his words carefully, and if he has a point to make, he makes sure you get it.

And, really, the way coach Dennis Allen put it, the Cowboys simply beat the Raiders. No ifs, ands or buts about it, and the seeming lack of adjustments by Oakland's coaching staff after halftime was exacerbated by injuries.

“It's a challenge,” Allen said. “Listen, we made a lot of adjustments. We called everything we had in the [defensive] playbook. They were able to block us, and we weren't able to tackle as well as we needed to. So therefore, they were able to keep the ball.”

[+] EnlargeOakland's Matt McGloin
AP Photo/Brandon WadeMatt McGloin and the Raiders struggled after taking a 21-7 lead in the first half.
Consider: After the Raiders took that ill-fated 21-7 lead, they allowed touchdown-scoring drives of 73, 87 and 65 yards on the Cowboys' next three possessions. And in that time frame, Oakland's offense mustered but one first down.

Of course, the critics fillet Allen and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver for going into a passive zone defense after going up 21-7, the approach seemingly energizing the Cowboys while softening up the Raiders.

But Allen insisted they did not change, and if there was a switch, it was “nothing spectacular,” defensive end Lamarr Houston said.

Yet Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who started out just 6-for-13 before that last drive of the first half, finished 17-for-19, including 12-of-12 after halftime.

He carved up the Raiders with passes underneath. None of his second-half throws traveled more than 14 yards past the line of scrimmage, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Romo also diced Oakland up when the Raiders brought pressure, completing all seven passes when there were at least five pass-rushers in the second half.

“The excuses are everywhere; you don't have to look hard to find them,” said linebacker Kevin Burnett, a former Cowboy who nonetheless said he would not use an excuse and pointed to himself for missing a third-down tackle on Jason Witten during the Cowboys' game-winning drive.

Then maybe just take a look at Oakland's offense in the second half, or lack thereof.

The Raiders were 7-of-9 in converting third downs in the first half; 0-for-4 in the second half. Matt McGloin was 11-of-15 passing before halftime, 7-of-15 after the half.

“That was only one half of football,” Burnett said. “Great teams adjust. We didn't adjust when we had to. It's nothing that can be coached. The coaches put us in perfect plays and we didn't tackle. That's what it boils down to.

“We'll hit them in the backfield and we'll have six guys around him and we'll let him go. That starts with myself ... everybody has to be accountable.”

Burnett is one of just five current starters on defense who are under contract for next season, along with rookie defensive tackle Stacy McGee, rookie linebacker Sio Moore, linebacker Nick Roach and safety Brandian Ross.

Time for some more Woodson knowledge then, right?

“We don't want to sit and make excuses about anything,” Woodson concluded. “The opportunity was there ... trust is one thing you've got to figure out as a team, but like I said, I think they've got some guys in here they can build with going forward, and get this thing turned around.”

Just not at the moment.

Double Coverage: Raiders at Cowboys

November, 27, 2013
Romo-RoachAP PhotoTony Romo's Cowboys host Nick Roach and the Raiders in a Thanksgiving Day duel.
IRVING, Texas -- For the second time in five years, the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders meet on Thanksgiving at AT&T Stadium.

The Cowboys won the 2009 matchup 24-7 with Tony Romo throwing for 309 yards and two touchdowns and Miles Austin catching seven passes for 145 yards. Since that game Austin has had more yards in a game just twice.'s Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer bring you this week's holiday version of Double Coverage.

Todd Archer: The Cowboys are bad in most areas defensively, but they have given up 200 yards rushing in three games this season. The Raiders' strength, from afar, seems to be their running game. What makes it so good and how has it differed with Terrelle Pryor out?

Paul Gutierrez: Hey, Todd, it's not just Pryor being out, but also Darren McFadden, who has missed three straight games and four overall with a strained right hamstring. He said Monday night he hopes to play after practicing (limited) for the first time since Nov. 1. The run game, though, has not missed a beat with underrated Rashad Jennings picking up the slack. In the past four games, he has run for 413 yards while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. In fact, the running game has been so surprisingly solid without McFadden and Pryor that the play-action pass game has picked up with undrafted rookie Matt McGloin under center.

Speaking of passing games ... no doubt Tony Romo can rack up stats, but has he decided to assume more of a leadership role yet as the QB of America's Team, or is that just not in his makeup?

Archer: He has developed over the years as a leader, but there's no question that this has been "his" team the past three seasons. He is the veteran. He is the guy the Cowboys look to. The guys on this team now don't know of the Romo who burst on the scene in 2006 or had to deal with the Terrell Owens stuff. He's the guy who led the lockout practices and has been the big voice in the room. This year he has been given the added responsibility of being more involved in the game plan. The Cowboys' past two wins have come on last-minute drives led by Romo to beat Minnesota and the New York Giants. I don't think there's anybody questioning his leadership anymore. And if they did, well, the $106 million extension Jerry Jones gave him in the offseason should be more than enough proof to those guys that this is Romo's team.

Let's stick with the quarterback theme. Before the Cowboys lucked into Romo, they ran through a ton of guys after Troy Aikman's departure. Is there any reason to believe McGloin or Pryor can be a solution or do the Raiders need to go after one of these guys in next April's draft?

Gutierrez: Well, the way I put it earlier in the season, before Pryor hit his purported ceiling and sprained his right knee, robbing him of his greatest strength (running) while accentuating his biggest weakness (passing), if Pryor was not the Raiders' Mr. Right, he was their Mr. Right Now. McGloin is a pure quarterback, a pocket passer whom Dennis Allen prefers for what he wants to accomplish offensively. It's hard to give Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie much credit for their evaluation of QBs, though, what with their misses on Matt Flynn and Tyler Wilson, not caring much for Pryor early on and then, similar to the Cowboys with Romo, stumbling upon McGloin. But it's hard to see them going all in with the undrafted rookie from Penn State, too. At least hard at the moment. Unless McGloin continues to improve and wins a few games, it would behoove the Raiders to draft another QB if they see one as a can't-miss prospect. I know, I know, they really wanted USC's Matt Barkley but Philadelphia traded in front of them so they traded back and selected Wilson. Oops. There is no doubt, though, that this Raiders regime prefers McGloin as a prototypical QB over the more electric Pryor.

No matter who is under center for Oakland, though, the Raiders' QB is going to have to keep an eye on DeMarcus Ware. Is he rounding back into shape as a dominant pass-rusher, or is he more decoy as he rehabs from his quad strain?

Archer: I think he's still feeling his way through it. The fact that he made it through the Giants game healthy was a plus. He has been dinged up in just about every game with stinger and back strains earlier in the season before the quadriceps injury. We'll see how he fares on a short week, but the defense is a lot better with even the threat of Ware on the field. Jason Hatcher had two sacks against the Giants at least in part because of the attention Ware received. Ware has talked about wanting to make up for lost time. He has five sacks so far, his fewest this late in a season since his rookie year in 2005. Thursday would be a good time to look like the DeMarcus Ware of old.

This game is a homecoming of sorts for guys like Mike Jenkins, Andre Gurode, Kevin Burnett and Tony Sparano, but it's a real homecoming for Dennis Allen. How is he perceived in Oakland and will McKenzie be more patient with him than, say, Al Davis would have been?

Gutierrez: The jury, so to speak, is still out on Allen in the streets of Silver and Blackdom. Of course, when the Raiders win a game, he's the man. When he loses, the fans turn on him and start pining for Jon Gruden ... again. But isn't that the nature of the beast? Even Allen himself said this was a results-oriented business. Of course, he was referring to the quarterback position at the time, but it still applies. Make no mistake about it, Allen is McKenzie's "guy" and he's going to roll with him and have patience with him. The plan coming in was to give Allen at least three years to right this ship and really, the only thing that could damage Allen's chances of lasting another year would be if the team quit on him, like it did last November before playing hard again at the end. Then again, it might not be McKenzie's choice. Owner Mark Davis is a more patient owner than his father and wants McKenzie to handle all football-related decisions. But a year after stating he was fine with just about anything but regression, Davis wants progress. Stagnancy won't cut it, either. So, stay tuned.

Sticking with the coaching theme, is Jason Garrett in Jerry World for the long haul, or was Jerry Jones' support merely the dreaded vote of confidence?

Archer: Jerry has publicly backed Garrett, but he's also been a guy who's said, "Just because I say something, doesn't mean it's true." I do know this: He wants Garrett to be the guy. He desperately wants it to work. I really believe that. He believes in Garrett's approach and how he builds a team. Garrett will provide some blow-back to Jerry but not as much as, say, a Bill Parcells. Garrett knows what makes Jerry work and knows how to work around it to a degree or push Jerry in a certain direction. Honestly, Cowboys fans should want the Garrett deal to work out because it might be the best combination to mitigate the bad parts of Jerry and keep the good parts of Jerry.

Locker Room Buzz: Oakland Raiders

November, 17, 2013
HOUSTON -- Observed in the locker room after the Oakland Raiders28-23 win over the Houston Texans.

A house of redemption? Two years ago, the Raiders' locker room was filled with tears after Oakland’s last-second win the day after Al Davis’ death. This time, it was the scene of a raucous celebration. Undrafted rookie Matt McGloin was the last one in the locker room, and he was greeted with salutes, cheers and a game ball.

Holding court: McGloin had already spoken at the lectern in a side room, so who better to command the attention of the media than his former college teammate, center Stefen Wisniewski? Li’l Wiz waxed poetic about the former walk-on’s tenacity.

Oh we, oh we, oh: Rashad Jennings, fresh from his 80-yard touchdown run and career-high 150 rushing yards, rocked the suit of the year, a crushed velvet-esque purple (rain?) number. Or, as @SalSilva2 wondered, did he “raid morris day’s closet?”

What is bliss? Linebacker Kevin Burnett was the last one to conduct an interview and was expansive at times, unaware at others, like when he said he did not remember his key fourth-quarter tackle. Or when he did not know about the Al Davis game two years ago.

Midseason Report: Oakland Raiders

November, 6, 2013
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.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Dwayne Allen opened the season with the mind frame that he was one of the best tight ends in the NFL.

It was only a few weeks after those comments that the Indianapolis Colts’ second-year player spent almost two days being hard on himself because his season had come to an end due to a hip injury suffered in their Week 1 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

“Very tough, very tough,” Allen said. “I kind of had it hard on myself and took it very hard. Just had a hard time dealing with the fact I was going to be done for the season.”

The Colts and Allen were hoping his hip would heal on its own, but they decided surgery was the best option after getting a second opinion. Allen has about three to four months of recovery time ahead of him.

Allen came down awkwardly after Oakland linebacker Kevin Burnett tipped quarterback Andrew Luck’s pass across the middle of the field in the Sept. 8 season opener.

“I guess I came down too quick or something and I guess my leg got caught in the turf,” Allen said.” I immediately knew something was wrong, grabbed for [my hip], but my high school coach, who is like my father, always told me if it ain’t bleeding and the bone ain’t sticking out, you get up. I grabbed for it, stretched and went back to the huddle, but I knew something was wrong.”

The injury happened so early in the season that Allen will be ready to go by the time offseason workouts begin.

“The silver lining really is me injuring it, I was able to correct something that I possibly could have injured in high school,” Allen said. “I just didn’t have the proper care “

Tony Romo vs. the undefeated

October, 4, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- The last time Tony Romo went against an undefeated Peyton Manning-led team he had only three starts under his belt as the Dallas Cowboys' quarterback.

On Thursday Romo was asked what he remembered about the week leading into the game against the 9-0 Indianapolis Colts.

“Well, Bill (said to) me on Monday, ‘I’m going to turn this game over to you,’ and I said, ‘Let’s go,’” Romo said. “… And we ran it 36 times.”

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/Ben MargotTony Romo has some experience leading the Cowboys to victory against unbeaten teams.
Bill would be Bill Parcells, and the Cowboys' coach was not ready to hand the game over to Romo, but the quarterback did complete 19 of 23 passes for 226 yards. He did not throw a touchdown pass, but he did complete 10 of his final 11 passes for 130 yards to deliver a 21-14 win at Texas Stadium, ending the Colts’ perfect season.

Manning brings an undefeated Denver Broncos to AT&T Stadium. Romo will be making the 98th regular-season start of his career.

This will be Romo’s fifth start against teams that have started at least 4-0. He beat Manning’s Colts, lost to Tom Brady’s 5-0 New England Patriots in 2007, beat Drew Brees' 13-0 New Orleans Saints in 2009, and lost to Matt Ryan's 7-0 Atlanta Falcons last year.

“I think what you do is, you do what needs to be done throughout most of the football game, and as the game gets to a certain point in the game and the score dictates what you need to do to help your football team win,” Romo said. “Before then, I just think as a quarterback you need to do what gives you the best chance to be successful on that play. If that’s a deep ball, if that’s a dump off, that’s a handoff, whatever it might entail that gives your team the best chance to move the ball, that’s what you need to do."

The Cowboys beat the Colts by holding the ball for 33 minutes, 42 seconds, and running the ball 36 times for 117 yards. On the second play of the game the defense recovered a fumble. On the fifth play, DeMarcus Ware sacked Manning. On the 11th play Jay Ratliff had a sack-fumble. Roy Williams had an interception near the Dallas goal line, and Kevin Burnett returned an interception for a touchdown.

Against the Patriots, the Cowboys were matching Brady, and the defense scored a touchdown on a Jason Hatcher fumble recovery. Trailing 31-24 early in the fourth quarter a fourth-and-1 conversion was overturned by a holding penalty, forcing a punt. Five plays later, Brady threw a 69-yard touchdown pass and the Patriots went on to win 48-27.

Against the Saints the Cowboys scored touchdowns on their first two drives and took a 24-3 lead on the opening drive of the second half. Mike Jenkins intercepted Brees near the Cowboys’ goal line, and Ware, who was not supposed to play because of a neck injury, had two sacks of Brees and three hurries.

The Cowboys won 24-17, rushing 36 times for 145 yards and converting on eight of 15 third-down opportunities.

Last year at Atlanta, the Cowboys sputtered on their first two possessions inside the red zone and had to settle for two Dan Bailey field goals for a 6-0 lead. The Falcons took a 16-6 lead late in the fourth quarter, but Romo connected with Kevin Ogletree for a touchdown with 5:21 to play to cut the deficit to three points. The defense, however, could not get off the field on the ensuing drive (three third-down conversions) and Atlanta ate up all but 17 seconds on the clock.

“Teams get to 9, 10-0, 12-0 or whatever it might be, and they’ve obviously done a lot of good things right and Denver hasn’t really played in a football game yet,” Romo said. “It’s a testament to their players. They’re playing at a very high level. They deserve everything they’ve gotten. To beat a football team like this you have to play at a very high level, and you have to do a lot of things right. Saying that, there’s a certain recipe and certain way to go about the process, and we’re trying to do that.”
Oakland Raiders linebacker Kevin Burnett returned to practice Friday and was a full participant after being limited the day before, and left guard Lucas Nix, who missed the previous two days of practice with an ankle injury, practiced on a limited basis.

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

Raiders coach Dennis Allen said after practice that Brandian Ross would likely start at strong safety in place of Branch on Monday night in Denver.
ALAMEDA, Calif. – Oakland Raiders linebacker Kevin Burnett left practice early Thursday due to illness and was officially listed as “limited” for the day.

As for the rest of Oakland’s injury report, four players did not participate, and none was a surprise – tight end David Ausberry (shoulder), strong safety Tyvon Branch (ankle), left guard Lucas Nix (ankle) and left tackle Menelik Watson (knee). None of the four is expected to play Monday night in Denver.

A day earlier, though, Watson confirmed he had undergone surgery on his right knee, saying he initially injured it in the week before the final preseason game. The knee swelled and then locked up in practice on the Wednesday before the season opener at Indianapolis, he said, and surgery ensued.

“It’s not that bad,” Watson said on Wednesday. “It’s not an ACL or anything.”

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter had reported the procedure was arthroscopic surgery on a lateral meniscus and that Watson was expected to be out a month, but Raiders coach Dennis Allen would not comment on the exact nature of the injury.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Left guard Lucas Nix (ankle) remained an observer at Oakland Raiders practice Thursday, and the other known injured players -- strong safety Tyvon Branch (right leg), left tackle Menelik Watson (right knee) and tight end David Ausberry (right shoulder) -- were not on the field.

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

The official injury report will be made available by the Raiders following practice.
Dannell EllerbeRic Tapia/Icon SMILinebacker Dannell Ellerbe is excited about his chance to be a leader on Miami's defense.
DAVIE, Fla. -- Dannell Ellerbe had to travel more than 1,100 miles south to escape Ray Lewis' large and overwhelming shadow.

Coming off a Super Bowl victory, Ellerbe had a tough decision to make in free agency: He could either be heir apparent to Lewis -- the legendary Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker who retired in February -- or aim to build his own legacy at middle linebacker with the Miami Dolphins.

Ellerbe opted not to spend the rest of his NFL career trying to fill Lewis' shoes in Baltimore. Instead, he signed a five-year, $35 million contract with up-and-coming Miami, where he believes he can make a bigger impact on the field and in the locker room.

“I wanted to come to a team where I can be a leader, where they needed me, and I can be a voice on the team,” Ellerbe told’s AFC East blog this week. “Basically, [the Dolphins] showed me that they really wanted me. ... They want me to be a leader of this defense.”


Which Dolphins' free-agent signing will have the biggest impact?


Discuss (Total votes: 6,171)

Ellerbe, 27, is entering the prime of his career and brings much-needed championship experience to the Dolphins. Although he chose not to replace Lewis in Baltimore, Ellerbe learned a lot from the future Hall of Famer and plans to bring that knowledge and leadership to Miami.

He is already making a good first impression with the Dolphins' coaching staff during the start of organized team activities.

“I like a lot of things that I see. He’s a bright guy,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. “He’s very business-like in the building. He comes in, gets his work done and very, very attentive. You’ve got to be strong down the middle, offensively and defensively, and he’s a guy that we’re looking for to help coordinate that front seven. We like what we’ve seen thus far.”

The Dolphins had a near-complete makeover at linebacker this offseason. Miami spent a combined $61 million on Ellerbe and former Oakland Raiders linebacker Philip Wheeler, 28. They will replace aging veterans Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, who were released. Miami’s 2010 second-round pick Koa Misi, 26, is the other starting linebacker. He's playing out the final year of his rookie contract.

The Dolphins had the NFL’s 27th-rated pass defense in 2012 and struggled defending tight ends and slot receivers over the middle. Linebackers Ellerbe, Wheeler and Misi are much more athletic and have the potential to grow together.

According to NFL analyst Matt Williamson, the Dolphins certainly got “younger and faster” in the middle by replacing Dansby with Ellerbe.

“He can play 4-3 middle linebacker or 3-4 inside linebacker with [rookie first-round pick] Dion Jordan on board,” Williamson explained. “Ellerbe is best coming downhill. He’s a good blitzer and runs well in a straight line.”

Ellerbe is part of a strong free-agent class for the Dolphins that also includes Wheeler, former Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes, tight end Dustin Keller, and receivers Brandon Gibson and Mike Wallace, who was a former rival of Ellerbe.

Wallace and Ellerbe had some heated battles the past four years as members of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ravens. Pittsburgh-Baltimore is one of the league's most intense rivalries. Wallace joked during his introductory news conference that he doesn’t like too many Ravens but must get along with Ellerbe now that they are teammates.

“I’m with him every day and we speak every day -- it’s not anything personal,” Ellerbe said with a smile. “It’s a business. The only way it would be a problem is if we were still with the Ravens and Steelers. As long as he didn’t go to Georgia Tech, I don’t have any problems with him.” (Ellerbe starred at Georgia.)

This is an important year for the Dolphins, who haven’t made the playoffs or won the AFC East since the 2008 season. On paper, this is the strongest roster Miami has had in recent memory.

It is also a good year for the Dolphins to try to make a push in the AFC East. The New England Patriots are the perennial favorites but may have taken a step back, particularly on offense with the loss of 2012 starters Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd and injuries at tight end. The Buffalo Bills and New York Jets also have significant changes on their rosters and coaching staffs. It could take another year or two for the Bills and Jets to get their franchises back on track.

Ellerbe will be an important factor in the Dolphins' success this season. He never missed the playoffs in four years in Baltimore and does not want his streak to end in Miami.

“The sky is the limit,” Ellerbe said of Miami’s potential. “I haven’t been around here long enough to see exactly what’s going on. But from what I see in the film room and the statistics the coaches are putting up in the first week of OTAs, I feel like the sky is the limit for us. ... It’s a lot of good things we have to build on around here.”

AFC West checkpoint

March, 23, 2013
Free agency is 11 days old and the heavy lifting has been done. The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs were among the busiest teams in the NFL this offseason. Elsewhere in the AFC West, the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers have taken more measured approaches because of salary-cap constraints.

There are still bargains out there, and I expect both Oakland and San Diego to cherry-pick the remaining scraps in free agency to bolster their rosters. And then there's the draft, coming up in a little more than a month.

Let’s do a late-March checkpoint for each team thus far:

Denver Broncos

Where are they strong? Denver doesn’t have many holes, and its offense got more potent with the addition of slot receiver Wes Welker. His signing was one of the stories of the offseason. He is a perfect addition and a new toy for quarterback Peyton Manning. Pair Welker with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and Denver has arguably the best group of receivers in the NFL. Denver added cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and middle linebacker Stewart Bradley to a defense that finished 2012 rated No. 2 overall in the NFL.

Where are they weak? The Broncos could use a safety, some clarity at middle linebacker, perhaps another pass-rusher and a running back.

Biggest remaining question: Where is Denver going to go with the No. 28 pick in the draft? The John Elway regime is known for taking the best available player. If there is a safety such as Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro or a running back like Alabama's Eddie Lacy available, I can see Elway pouncing. Either could come in and play a major role.

Kansas City Chiefs

Where are they strong? The new regime has done a nice job of beefing up, making the Chiefs better in a lot of spots. They were already good at linebacker; now they are strong in the secondary after adding cornerbacks Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson. Along with Brandon Flowers, this might be the best group of cornerbacks in the NFL. Throw in young safety Eric Berry and this is a powerhouse.

Where are they weak? You never want to go too crazy about a team coming off a 2-14 season, but the Chiefs don’t have a ton of holes. They have improved in key spots and don't have glaring holes. The biggest improvement, of course, was at quarterback, where Alex Smith takes over for Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn. Smith is not elite, not even close. Still, he is far from terrible. With that problem fixed, the Chiefs might look to get stronger on the offensive line and could also use another inside linebacker and another body on the defensive line. But that’s average stuff. Pretty good for a 2-14 team.

Biggest remaining question: Will the Chiefs trade left tackle Branden Albert? The franchised player could command a second-round pick in return. That would make up for the second-round pick Kansas City lost in the Smith trade. The Chiefs could be interested in such a move. If that deal happens, the team would probably take Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel with the No. 1 pick and find an answer elsewhere for the hole at right tackle.

Oakland Raiders

Where are they strong? This team has talent despite the exodus the last two offseasons. I think the most interesting group right now is the linebackers after the addition of free agents Nick Roach, Kevin Burnett and Kaluka Maiava. The Raiders also have second-year player Miles Burris, who started as a rookie. The front seven will vary, but the Raiders are expected to remain a 4-3 base defense -- so there is some versatility on this unit.

Where are they weak? The Raiders have holes on both sides of the ball as they rebuild after years of wild spending by the previous regime. They need big help on the secondary and must continue to work on the defense as a whole. Tight end and offensive line are other positions of need.

Biggest remaining question: Second-year general manager Reggie McKenzie has added some nice pieces at bargain rates in free agency after seeing several good players leave. Can McKenzie continue to find more help? This team still needs six to nine starters.

San Diego Chargers

Where are they strong? This is a good team on defense. It was underrated last season, especially the front seven. The Chargers also have quarterback Philip Rivers. Yes, he has had some issues the last two years, but new coach Mike McCoy has often said the key is to build around Rivers.

Where are they weak? OK, well, the Chargers have to continue to build around Rivers. The offensive line still needs two or three starters, and another skill-position weapon is a must. Cornerback Derek Cox was a good get, but the Chargers need Shareece Wright or Marcus Gilchrist to take the next step at cornerback. Another safety may be needed as well.

Biggest remaining question: How are the offensive line holes going to get fixed? The team will probably draft a left tackle with the No. 11 pick, but this unit needs to get better or Rivers will have no chance to succeed.
In another reminder that the Al Davis era is over, punter Shane Lechler is a former Oakland Raider.

Lechler's signing with the Houston Texans is the end of a long, solid run with the franchise.

The Raiders have lost several players this offseason as the new regime tries to control contracts and start fresh. But the reality is that one of the greatest punters ever to play in the NFL is a former Raider.

Lechler was with Oakland since 2000 and was a dominant weapon for the team. Davis paid Lechler a premium because the owner wanted the best at the position.

The Raiders are undergoing a total makeover and decided not to pursue Lechler. It is curious because ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Lechler signed with Houston for three years for a total of $5.5 million. Davis made Lechler the highest-paid punter in NFL history, at the rate of $4 million a season. This deal is much more reasonable, but the new Oakland brass would still rather spend elsewhere.

Lechler is 36 and coming off an injury. Still, he is a solid player.

Oakland will likely take a long look at the young Marquette King. He was stashed on injured reserve last season after an impressive training camp and preseason. King has a booming leg but is inconsistent. It would be premature to think King will be a suitable replacement for Lechler because it often takes young punters a long time to become solid NFL players. But King does have potential.

It is a new world in Oakland and potential outweighs legacy -- just the way it is for a team in transition.

In other AFC West news:

The Denver Post reports that the Broncos think they will host a "Monday Night Football" game in Week 1 and not the Baltimore Ravens in the season-opening Thursday game.

The Raiders re-signed linebacker Kaelin Burnett, an exclusive-rights free agent, in a procedural move. He is the younger brother of new linebacker Kevin Burnett.
Via the great John Clayton, I have some updated NFL salary cap numbers for each AFC West team. Remember, the salary cap is always fluid, so this is more of a guide of where each team stands as free agency moves to the second phase.

Denver Broncos

Cap room: $8.44 million

Comment: This is a result of the Elvis Dumervil fiasco. Denver needs to find a pass-rusher whether it’s Dumervil or another player.

Kansas City Chiefs

Cap room: $5.48 million

Comment: This does not include the deal for lineman Geoff Schwartz. The Chiefs can find some more room, but they’ve done a lot of heavy lifting so far.

Oakland Raiders

Cap room: $7.54 million

Comment: This does not include the deals for Nick Roach, Pat Sims and Kevin Burnett. The Raiders can find some more room by restructuring or cutting Carson Palmer and Tommy Kelly.

San Diego Chargers

Cap room: $9.95 million

Comment: This does not include the deals for Derek Cox and Ronnie Brown, so the number is closer to $7 million.




Sunday, 2/2