Raiders reach Lon­don, still have ‘a ways to go’

Coach Gru­den ad­mits that his team is still in de­vel­op­ment

The Mercury News - - Sports - By Matt Sch­nei­d­man mschnei­d­man@ ba­yare­anews­group.com

LON­DON >> The Raiders landed in Lon­don early Fri­day af­ter­noon and got right to work at the Hilton Lon­don Wem­b­ley ho­tel, hold­ing a walk­through in the grand ball­room and speak­ing to a larger-than-usual me­dia con­tin­gent with a cou­ple dozen Bri­tish re­porters in at­ten­dance.

The Raiders will host a walk­through to­day at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium, the most fa­mous soc­cer sta­dium in the coun­try and the site of Sun­day’s game be­tween the Raiders (1-4) and Sea­hawks (2-3).

Jon Gru­den and sev­eral play­ers spoke on Fri­day. Here are five things we learned from the Raiders’ first day in Lon­don. GRU­DEN: NOT SO OP­TI­MISTIC ON THE NEAR FU­TURE >> The ever-op­ti­mistic Raiders head coach was asked how close his team is the turn­ing the fig­u­ra­tive corner. Given the Raiders could just as eas­ily be 3-2 as 1-4 — that’s flip­ping the re­sults against the Bron­cos and Dol­phins — you might think Gru­den would an­swer with some vari­a­tion of “quite close, as long as we fine-tune some de­tails and fin­ish out games.”

That was his out­look in the first quar­ter of the sea­son, at least.

In­stead, Gru­den re­sponded with “I think we have a ways to go.” He knows this sea­son is about

de­vel­op­ing the young play­ers he plays of­ten for the fu­ture. Sure, he’d like the vet­er­ans on one-year con­tracts to ex­pe­ri­ence play­off foot­ball now, but in all like­li­hood that won’t hap­pen. Gru­den has a 10-year deal, and he’s just be­ing re­al­is­tic. You can fault him for plenty, but not that.

“We have a lot to prove,” Gru­den said. “We’re play­ing eight rook­ies right now, and be­fore the sea­son’s over we might be play­ing more than that. We have a lot to prove. We need to see some peo­ple get healthy and help us.”

DEREK CARR: WHY HE DOESN’T VIEW TAR­GETS

SOLELY AS NUM­BER IN BOX SCORE >> Amari Cooper told Carr and Gru­den af­ter Carr’s costly in­ter­cep­tion last Sun­day that he was open in the end zone.

Cooper re­ceived a mea­ger one tar­get in a 26-10 loss to the Charg­ers, giv­ing him his third no-show of the sea­son. When Carr looks at the box score Mon­day morn­ings and sees low tar­get num­bers for his best wide re­ceiver, the quar­ter­back doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily see a num­ber like “one” in­di­cat­ing he needs to force more passes Cooper’s way, even if the wide­out nudges him to do just that.

While Carr ob­vi­ously wants his top threat fea­tured more ev­ery week, var­i­ous fac­tors pre­vent that from hap­pen­ing (see the Cooper sec­tion be­low). So asked what he makes of Cooper only get­ting one tar­get, Carr made sure to ex­plain why he’s not just ig­nor­ing his No. 1 wide­out.

“To be com­pletely hon­est, when I look at tar­gets I don’t look at ‘em as like ‘I only looked his way one time,’” Carr said. “There were mul­ti­ple times in the game when my eyes went straight to him, where I’m look­ing to see if it was gonna work or things like that. It just didn’t. He had a good corner on him also. There were a cou­ple times where maybe there could’ve been a flag, he got held up on a cer­tain route, you just can’t throw it and things like that. There were def­i­nitely mul­ti­ple times I was look­ing his way but they just didn’t end up work­ing out.”

JORDY NEL­SON: VET­ERAN-LADEN TEAM COMES IN HANDY AMID 1-4 START >> The Raiders are the old­est team in the NFL and cur­rently stock 13 play­ers on the ac­tive ros­ter 30 years or older.

While an in­crease in age of­ten means a de­crease in ex­plo­sive­ness (Mar­shawn Lynch a clear ex­cep­tion in 2018), it doesn’t mean a de­crease in wis­dom. And amid a rocky 1-4 start, the Raiders’ young­sters who shoul­der sig­nif­i­cant play­ing time — Kolton Miller, Ar­den Key, Mo Hurst and Bran­don Parker, among oth­ers — need all the vet­eran ad­vice they can get on how to han­dle los­ing four of five to start the sea­son.

Carr said ear­lier this sea­son he took Key aside to talk about nav­i­gat­ing a win­less start, and the 33-year-old vet­eran re­ceiver Nel­son ac­knowl­edged how the team’s bevy of 30-plus-year-olds come in handy when times are tough.

“I think if you’ve been in this league long enough you’re go­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence the ups and downs, the highs and lows and even if it’s in the mid­dle of the sea­son go­ing through a four-game los­ing

streak, which I ex­pe­ri­enced a cou­ple years ago,” Nel­son said. “There’s no rea­son to panic. There’s no rea­son to change ev­ery­thing you’re do­ing. You gotta trust in what you do and stay true to what’s go­ing on and you just gotta work. Even­tu­ally it’ll turn, and that’s what hap­pened then (in Green Bay), I think that’s what will even­tu­ally hap­pen here. You just gotta con­tinue on that grind, con­tinue to put in the time and ef­fort, stay pos­i­tive, stay fo­cused and just keep it week by week.”

AMARI COOPER: NO. 1 RE­CEIVER CON­FI­DENT HE CAN BEAT ANY DE­FEN­SIVE BACK >> The Raiders’ top wide re­ceiver has strug­gled with con­sis­tency this sea­son, stand­ing out in Weeks 2 and 4 with a com­bined 18 catches on 22 tar­gets for 244 yards and a touch­down but shut­ting down in Weeks 1, 3 and 5 with a com­bined four catches on nine tar­gets and 36 re­ceiv­ing yards with no touch­downs.

You can point out sev­eral rea­sons for Cooper’s duds — oc­ca­sional bad de­ci­sions by Carr, Cooper not be­ing the main op­tion on a given play and maybe even a hold or two that wasn’t called - but don’t tell Cooper he can’t cre­ate sep­a­ra­tion.

He’s faced some men­ac­ing sec­on­daries on the Rams, Bron­cos, Dol­phins, Browns and Charg­ers, and was asked Fri­day how he thinks he matches up against the Sea­hawks’ de­fen­sive backs that fea­ture no mem­bers of the orig­i­nal Seat­tle Le­gion of Boom that played in two straight Su­per Bowls in 2014 and 2015.

“I think I can get open on any­body,” Cooper said bluntly. “So yeah.”

TAHIR WHITE­HEAD: HOW TO FIX HIS OWN COSTLY MISSED TACK­LES >> On both Nick Chubb’s 63-yard touch­down run for the Browns and Austin Ekeler’s 44-yard catch-and-run touch­down for the Charg­ers, White­head’s missed tack­les were the most bla­tant mishaps en route to op­po­nent scores.

De­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Paul Guen­ther’s No. 1 pri­or­ity is pre­vent­ing big plays against his unit, some­thing he’s failed to do in sur­ren­der­ing gains of 63, 59, 48, 44 and 41 yards, just to name a few, in the last two weeks.

While there are a myr­iad of er­rors be­ing made across the en­tire de­fense, White­head’s whiffs stand out in par­tic­u­lar the last two games. He re­al­izes that, though, and here’s his out­look on how to not only fix his re­cent short­com­ings but the en­tire de­fense’s:

“I think we have a great de­fense. We have a great group of guys and as you stated, a missed tackle on any given play can ... the guys in this league can take it the dis­tance and that’s what’s hap­pened the past few weeks,” he said. “We just have to clean it up. You can go out there and do 1,000,001 tackle drills, an­kle tack­les, straight on and what­ever. It’s just a mat­ter of tak­ing that ex­tra step. For me per­son­ally, just watch­ing it over the last cou­ple games when I’ve missed a tackle, it’s a mat­ter of just lung­ing. Coaches al­ways tell you, ‘Run your feet. Run your feet. Get on the guy.’

That’s the best way to re­ally get ‘em to the ground and me ... I pride my­self on my tack­ling and I’ve been kick­ing my­self in the but giv­ing up those big plays. The most you can do is be mind­ful of it, go out there, get it fixed and keep it push­ing.”

MATT DUN­HAM — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Coach Jon Gru­den, in Lon­don as the Raiders pre­pare to face the Sea­hawks, ad­mits the team has a lot of work to do with a 1-4 record.

NHAT V. MEYER — STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Raiders quar­ter­back Derek Carr, left, tar­geted Amari Cooper just once last week.

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