Levi Damien of Silver and Black Pride was nice enough to answer 5 questions for us about the Oakland Raiders.
1. Tell me how much you love Amari Cooper because I love him with all of my heart. Has he been everything the Raiders hope he would be when they drafted him?
Not quite. While he has been a dynamic receiver and has all the speed you could ask for, he has had his issues as well. One of his issues has been drops, which was definitely not something anyone foresaw from him coming out of college. He had the second most drops last season. The other issue is toughness. He is not not an aggressive player. While some players are soft spoken off the field and monsters on it (Khalil Mack and Troy Polamalu come to mind), his off field demeanor is his on field demeanor. He won't fight for balls and lets cornerbacks push him around too much. Last season Pac Man Jones sat on Coop's chest and slammed his head into his own helmet and Coop didn't even fight back. Last week, he let Desmond Trufant just walk him out of bounds without fighting for his position and it ended up having what could have been a huge game-tying touchdown catch called back for illegal touching. The play was like his entire game in microcosm -- amazing abilities and talent, but no fire. If he had a little Steve Smith Sr in him, his game would be taken to the next level. All that said, he is a fantastic talent and the Raiders don't regret making him their top choice last year.
(Note from Jimmy: Levi makes Cooper sound like Justin Hunter here. We would be glad to take Cooper if the Raiders don’t want him.)
2. It was widely speculated that the Raiders defense would be much better this year. It hasn't been through 2 weeks. What has gone wrong and can it be corrected?
I could point to probably three main issues. First of all, they didn't really address the middle linebacker position this offseason. They decided to roll with last year's fifth round pick, Ben Heeney while adding Cory James in the sixth round of the draft. Second of all, they lost Mario Edwards Jr to a hip injury. The defense was playing terribly last season until he took over last season. Third, they lost Charles Woodson to retirement. They signed veteran Reggie Nelson, but Woodson is irreplaceable. His leadership and talent are sorely missed.
There is only so much they can do to try and right the ship right now. Edwards is out the first eight games, so there isn't anything they can do about that. Jack Del Rio is going to be more involved in the play calling on defense. If Ben Heeney isn't benched in favor of Cory James, he'll at least be splitting time. And rookie top pick Karl Joseph will finally see some time at safety. The team had been starting Keith McGill at strong safety the first two games.
3. Speaking of the defense, give us a player to watch on that side of the ball that we haven't heard of.
I don't think the Raiders would be ok with me just giving you a player. Even one you haven't heard of. I don't have that kind of authority. But if I were to tell you about one, I assume you would want it to be a guy who is a good player who will play in the game, so I'll mention Denico Autry. All the talk about the Raiders' front seven this offseason never included him. He had a tremendous last half of last season and was a big part of their improved play as the bookend opposite Mario Edwards Jr. He has a penchant for batting down passes at the line and blocking field goals. It's kind of his thing. He can also rush the passer pretty well. His one weak area is discipline against the run.
4. How good is Derek Carr? Are you sold on him as the franchise quarterback?
He is definitely the franchise quarterback. He still has his flaws like leaving clean pockets and supposedly "trusting his receivers" so much he throws into coverage, but he has improved in most areas and can make all the throws. Not to mention, his teammates love him. It remains to be seen how far he can take this team, but every indication is that he will be getting a second contract and the team will ride with him for the foreseeable future.
5. It seems that Latavius Murray's load in the offense has been reduced. Is that something you think will continue throughout the year? Is it a product of him not being as good or the guys behind him being good?
Jack Del Rio was asked this question after the game last week and I will answer it how he did: "This sounds like a fantasy question." I do see that continuing. It's mostly a product of him having good complementary backs to share time with him. He's at his best when he's fresh. He ran down late last season as basically the only option the team had. Now with the additions of rookies Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington, the Raiders can rotate backs to change up the pace and keep the defenses on their heels. You fantasy lovers out there will be happy to know that Murray is still getting his touches as a receiver and leads the team in rushing touchdowns (2). I would start him this week because I expect the Raiders to rely on the ground game more than they did last week when he saw just 8 carries.