Oakland Raiders: What We've Learned Through Week 3 of Preseason
Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio dropped some interesting bits of insight on the evaluation of his players during a press conference after Wednesday’s practice.
Some of the choice words Del Rio used to address a certain category of players makes sense but possibly comes off as tongue-in-cheek to fans with favorites on the roster.
Del Rio made a clear statement with purporse—more on that in the forthcoming slideshow.
Along with a press conference chock full of quotable references, the team made a roster move, and one of the coaches on staff deserves a world of praise for his work in a short time.
Here’s what we know about the Silver and Black leading up to Week 3 of the preseason.
Injured Players “Running on Short Time”
The general message became clear during a press conference after practice Wednesday.
Injured players aren’t guaranteed a spot where they left off. Prior merit doesn’t qualify starters for the upcoming season.
So, you had a good 2014 campaign? Great. Prove your worth to the new coaching staff going forward. Del Rio wants to know what you’re going to do, not what you’ve done.
He clearly said two specific players are “running on short time,” but the message echoed to everyone nursing injuries, especially those who missed significant time during training camp.
Del Rio isn't holding a spot for players while they recover from injury in extensive cases, especially when the next man up plays well. He’s providing opportunities to compete when necessary—nothing more and nothing less.
For all the talk about prior loyalty and production to the team, save it. This is a production league first and foremost. If you’re injured, you’re not producing much of anything.
Sio Moore Not a Starter, Yet
Now that we’ve established the message coming straight from Del Rio’s mouth, what does it mean for one particular linebacker who’s expected to return to the starting lineup?
It seemed rather silly to question whether or not linebacker Sio Moore returns to the field as a starting outside linebacker Week 1, but it doesn’t seem likely according to Del Rio.
When asked about Moore, Del Rio said, “He’s competing to be a role player somewhere.” That statement must sting one of the most passionate leaders in that locker room, now facing a slight demotion to a backup.
Moore isn’t just going to slide back into the starting lineup when fully healthy. He must also produce while maintaining a clean bill of health to regain his starting spot. He’s yet to play in a preseason game as his surgically repaired hip slowly heals.
Del Rio also complimented linebacker Malcolm Smith’s play as a starter and acknowledged his growing capacity in a leadership role since arriving in Oakland.
This doesn’t indicate Moore cannot regain his starting job, but the head coach felt the need to light a spark in his competitive spirit. Del Rio went as far to say it’s “far-fetched” to think he’ll take the field as a starter in Week 1 considering his extended absences throughout the offseason.
I don't know what Moore thinks personally, but it sounds like an open challenge.
Roy Helu Jr. Must Create a Role for Himself
Running back Roy Helu sits in the same boat as Moore. The No. 2 role at running back remains a wide-open competition, but Helu sits way behind all the other running backs in terms of proving what he can do on the field.
Do you remember the Neuralyzer device (shown here) used to erase the human memory in the movie Men In Black? Well, use that device to forget whatever Helu accomplished with the Washington Redskins, because it means nothing in Oakland.
The Raiders brought Helu in as a third-down back capable of catching the ball out of the backfield, but he needs to refresh some memories.
The four-year running back missed roughly three weeks of training camp and must hit the ground running or prepare to get buried on the depth chart in September.
According to ESPN’s Bill Williamson, quarterback Derek Carr enjoyed Helu's return to practice. Carr praised the running back's multi-talented skillset, but it must translate during preseason action.
It’s one thing to possess a special set of skills, and it’s another to apply it to live action. Helu puts his lingering hamstring issue behind him as he heeds Del Rio’s words. Expect to see a lot of Helu on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals as he attempts to create his role with the team.
Raiders Sign S Taylor Mays and Release LB Chase Williams
Oakland made an overdue move to bring in another safety.
According to SilverandBlackPride.com writer Levi Damien, the Raiders signed safety Taylor Mays and released linebacker Chase Williams to make room for the acquisition.
Mays holds a connection with defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. when he served as the linebackers coach at the University of Southern California. Mays didn’t play directly play under Norton, but the Raiders felt comfortable placing him under Norton’s tutelage.
All of a sudden the safety position gets a bit crowded. Charles Woodson and Nate Allen will start Week 1, but who steps into the primary backup role for each position?
Brandian Ross made 23 starts in the last two seasons. Jonathan Dowling played well in the second preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings, coming up with an interception as a decent defensive back in coverage.
Larry Asante made stops all over the field in the first preseason game but suffered an injury against the Vikings, putting a screeching halt on his energetic play.
Now add Mays, who only started 10 games in the last five seasons as a second-round pick out of USC. The San Francisco 49ers traded Mays to the Cincinnati Bengals for a seventh-round pick before his second season. He’s yet to contribute as a consistent starter.
Mays’ ties to Norton and his ability to play physical against the run don't ensure him a spot on the active roster, especially with the backup talent already present.
Del Rio alluded to adding more capable bodies on special teams coverage, which performed horribly against the Vikings last week, allowing 78 yards in kickoff and punt returns combined.
Mike Tice: A Valuable Hire
It’s not a hocus-pocus situation with offensive line coach Mike Tice. Whatever he’s teaching in the film room and on the practice field, it’s working wonders for rookie guard Jon Feliciano and right guard J’Marcus Webb.
The guard position—once viewed as the Achilles' Heel of the offensive line, specifically on the right side—looked solid through two preseason games.
Neither Feliciano nor Webb allowed a quarterback sack or hurry, per Pro Football Focus, and the running lanes for Latavius Murray seem as wide as ever in his impressive showing as the lead running back.
Offensive tackle Menelik Watson looked primed to shed his label as a bust with improved play during the preseason.
The excitement must be contained because it’s only an exhibition.
However, all three of the previously mentioned offensive linemen made steps in the right direction toward vast improvement despite low expectations.
In 2014, Oakland’s offensive line kept Carr upright, allowing only 24 sacks. The addition of Tice on the coaching staff likely takes winning in the trenches onto a whole new level, assuming Watson, Webb and Feliciano continue to make strides.
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