HOUSTON -- As chairman of the finance committee, Texans owner Bob McNair's opinion will impact any team's move. With the Oakland Raiders reportedly considering a move to San Antonio, Texas, he said Tuesday he is withholding judgment until he knows all the facts.
"I wouldn't oppose it just because it's in San Antonio," McNair said. "I'm in favor of doing what strengthens the league where it makes sense. We need to have strong franchises. We want it to be a competitive league for a long time. To do that you've got to have strong franchises wherever they are."
According to a report in the San Antonio Express-News, Raiders owner Mark Davis "and two top lieutenants" met with several city officials earlier this month about the "potential" of moving his team from Oakland to San Antonio.
Davis released a statement on Tuesday afternoon in response to the newspaper's report.
"I was in San Antonio to honor Cliff Branch on his induction into the PVILCA [Prairie View Interscholastic League Coaches Association] Hall of Fame," Davis said in a team-released statement.
"Former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros is a friend, and Henry suggested I take the opportunity to meet with some of the city officials while we were in town. I have nothing further to discuss on the topic."
Cisneros was behind the Alamodome project when he was San Antonio's mayor. Davis also talked with San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt and Red McCombs, "who both showed interest in having a stake in the team if it were to move here," according to the report.
No even close. The next time he touched the ball, Sheets broke off another long gainer.
“This is my last shot,” Sheets told me after practice. “As a 29-year-old unproven running back in the NFL, you don’t really get too many chances to mess up. So whenever you do get the ball ... the opportunity to make a play, you’ve got to go out there and make it.”
Sheets, who played at Purdue, has been on the practice squads of the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers and has appeared in two games with the Miami Dolphins since 2009. He spent 2012 and 2013 in the CFL with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, rushing for a combined 2,875 yards and 23 touchdowns on 516 carries.
His 197 rushing yards, on 20 attempts, against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Nov. 24, 2013, were a Grey Cup record.
After signing with the Raiders on Feb. 12, Sheets is trying to impress Oakland’s staff enough to warrant inclusion on its 53-man roster.
“I’m seeing some nice run skills,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “Kory’s a guy that, he’s still got some work to do from the protection standpoint.
“But as far as (being) a turn-around, hand-him-the-ball-and-let-him-go-run-with-it (running back), he’s got some very good run instincts and he’s got an exceptional burst when he gets into open space.”
Allen said the battle to make the team as a running back is one that intrigues him. Because beyond veterans Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, there is also Latavius Murray, who was drafted last year but spent the season on injured reserve, Jeremy Stewart and undrafted rookie/legacy George Atkinson III, whose calling card is returning kickoffs.
That is why Sheets was excited he was asked to field some punts after a recent practice; he knows special teams might be his key to winning a roster spot. And “getting the opportunity to show the coaches that I can make those blocks in those pressure situations” without having to be told his assignment is another of Sheets’ training camp goals.
Still, running the ball is his forte, and he is getting more comfortable in his own skin.
“There’s less thinking involved, so now I’m able to move fluidly without hesitation,” he said. “In the springtime, I was hesitant to move because I wasn’t sure what I was doing.”
In Canada, Sheets said he ran mostly between the tackles and there were not many “outside stretch plays” so the narrower NFL field should not negatively affect him. Unless ...
“When you’re breaking a run, you’ve got an extra five, 10 yards on the sidelines,” in Canada, he said. “There’s a little more wiggle room.”
True, Sheets is hoping for just enough room to make the Raiders roster.
It is no surprise that Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis was recently in San Antonio. In fact, the teams's official website posted a photo of him there on July 20, along with former San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros and former Raiders receiver Cliff Branch.
What is somewhat surprising is that it took so long -- nine days in the 24/7 news cycle supported by citizen journalists -- for this rumor/report to go viral: Are the Raiders looking to potentially move to the Alamo City?
"I was in San Antonio to honor Cliff Branch on his induction into the PVILCA [Prairie View Interscholastic League Coaches Association] Hall of Fame,” Davis said in a team-released statement Tuesday afternoon.
“Former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros is a friend, and Henry suggested I take the opportunity to meet with some of the city officials while we were in town. I have nothing further to discuss on the topic.”
According to the report in the San Antonio Express-News, Davis “and two top lieutenants” met with several city officials about the “potential” of moving his team from Oakland to San Antonio. Among said officials: Cisneros, who was behind the Alamodome project as San Antonio mayor, mayor Julián Castro, city manager Sheryl Sculley, Mario Hernandez of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, and both Richard Perez and David McGee, the president and chairman of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, respectively, per the report. Davis also talked with San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt and Red McCombs, "who both showed interest in having a stake in the team if it were to move here,” according to the report.
The Raiders need a new stadium -- the current lease at O.co Coliseum expires at the conclusion of this upcoming season -- and had previously, in a roundabout way, been linked to San Antonio, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon, as well as nearby Concord and Dublin in the East Bay.
According to the San Antonio Express-News, Davis took an aerial tour of the city by helicopter. The Alamodome would be considered a temporary home as it is 21 years old and Davis had repeatedly talked of building a stadium fit for the Raiders, its history, fans and his late father's legacy. In fact, the report said Davis wanted “a small, intimate” stadium in front of which he could place “a statue of his father” Al Davis.
Still, San Antonio is considered Dallas Cowboys' turf, and the Houston Texans might want to have a say as well.
- Has Matt Schaub regained his mojo? It looked like that was the case, at least during the end-of-practice red zone drills. Schaub showed off his arm with two absolute lasers on in-routes for touchdowns on consecutive passes. The first score came to receiver Andre Holmes, who was slanting in from the right side and beat cornerback Carlos Rogers. The second pass was a beauty down the middle that hit tight end David Ausberry in stride in the end zone, just in front of cornerback Tarell Brown.
- As impressive as Schaub's throws were, so too was running back Kory Sheets, who is trying to stick after winning Grey Cup MVP honors in the CFL last year. Sheets, behind Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden and Latavius Murray, broke off a pair of long runs in the fully-padded 11-on-11 drills. “This is my last shot,” Sheets said. “As a 29-year-old unproven running back in the NFL, you don't get too many chances to mess up. So whenever you do get the ball ... the opportunity to make a play, you've got to go out there and make it.” Coach Dennis Allen said he liked Sheets' “run skills,” though there was room for improvement in his pass-protection game.
- Before practice began in earnest, there was a walk-through, of sorts, for the kick return team. And there was undrafted rookie George Atkinson III leading the way, along with Taiwan Jones, McFadden and Jeremy Stewart. But when the team went back to the drill later in the day, Atkinson was replaced by veteran Maurice Jones-Drew. And if you're wondering about McFadden's purported ball security issues as a kick returner, one kick did bounce off his chest with a thud and roll out of bounds.
- Two days of pads and no unbelievable hits from rookie linebacker Khalil Mack. That's probably a good thing. Allen wants to save his guys for the real thing, and that makes sense. Besides, Mack had a golden opportunity to absolutely blow up running back Jeremy Stewart 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage and merely wrapped him up. Good move. I will say this, though, Mack, who has been compared to Von Miller and now Clay Matthews, is all over the field.
- Pro Bowl fullback Marcel Reece's physical transformation is very noticeable. He told me he played last season at 250 pounds and was up to 255 during the offseason workuts. Reece said he's now at 238 pounds. “Everything is going to be better,” he said. “That's why we started this process.” It should mean he will be more involved in the Raiders' passing game.
- The Raiders receiving corps were shorthanded. \Greg Little (hamstring) did not finish practice, Rod Streater, who suffered a concussion Sunday, sat out and is “day-by-day,” Allen said, while Juron Criner (hamstring) was also a spectator. Safety Shelton Johnson and linebacker Kaluka Maiava both missed practice with hamstring issues. Linebacker Marshall McFadden (hip) and tight end Jake Murphy (head) also sat out.
NAPA, Calif. -- At the end of each evening, before his unit breaks for the night, Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver calls a player to the front of the room. He then gives the player the floor, allowing him to address his teammates about whatever is on his mind. Sometimes the speeches are about football. Other times they are about life. The subject isn't as important as the fact that the player has an opportunity to show a personal side to the men alongside whom he will battle for the next seven months.
"They can say whatever they want," Tarver said. "They can even tell the coaches to get out. I just want them to be able to say whatever is on their heart. Everybody will get a turn here in the next month. ... You learn something about the player. You learn something about the group."
It's also a way to accelerate the bonding process on a team that will have at least 11 new starters from the 2013 season opener, including seven on defense. It's a continuation of what the Raiders did during the offseason, when head coach Dennis Allen arranged for players and coaches to attend a Golden State Warriors game, new quarterback Matt Schaub organized a dinner for the offense, and the offensive linemen attended a baseball game together.
After nine years with the New York Giants, the Raiders brought in defensive end Justin Tuck to provide leadership as well as big plays. But Tuck didn't say much during offseason workouts. Instead, he observed his new teammates and took notes.
But rather than bring in another cornerback, the Raiders signed a converted safety in Rutgers product Jeremy Deering, who originally signed as an undrafted free agent with the New England Patriots in May before being waived.
The 6-foot-1, 209-pound Deering began his college career on the offensive side of the ball for the Scarlet Knights as a running back and receiver, rushing for 578 yards and two touchdowns on 130 carries while catching 21 passes for 415 yards and a TD in his college career. He also returned 41 kickoffs for 1,100 yards with a score.
Deering transitioned to safety as a senior and finished with 39 tackles (22 solo) and an interception.
The signing brings the Raiders’ roster to the camp limit of 90 players, after the team cut linebacker Kevin Burnett last week.
RUNNING BACKS (4)
In order to keep both McFadden and Jones-Drew healthy, expect the Raiders to dole out a healthy dose of Murray and CFL Grey Cup MVP Kory Sheets in the exhibition season. Atkinson's best shot at making the roster remains as the kickoff returner.
Neither Reece, a two-time Pro Bowler, nor Olawale are the prototypical fullback, but both has skillsets that are fits for the Raiders offense.
Little has flashed enough in the early days of camp to supplant last year's draft pick, Brice Butler. At least for our purposes here.
TIGHT ENDS (2)
The job is Ausberry's to lose, it would seem.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
- Donald Penn
- Gabe Jackson
- Stefen Wisniewski
- Austin Howard
- Menelik Watson
- Khalif Barnes
- Tony Bergstrom
- Matt McCants
- Kevin Boothe
No changes here, though it's no secret the Raiders are hoping the rookie Jackson wins the left guard spot for a line that would average 6-foot-4, 326 pounds.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
- Justin Tuck
- Antonio Smith
- Pat Sims
- LaMarr Woodley
- Stacy McGee
- Jack Crawford
- C.J. Wilson
- Justin Ellis
No changes here either, even if McGee and Wilson might be behind a tad dealing with injuries.
Dennis Allen likes this group. A lot. So much that veteran Kevin Burnett was expendable enough to cut.
An early, ahem, doomsday prediction that's not reflected here yet? Hayden to Injured Reserve, with Chimdi Chekwa taking his roster spot.
Usama Young being on the PUP list to start camp keeps him in the danger zone .
Dennis Allen believes Janikowski's "trust" issues with King as his holder are a thing of the past.
“From the standpoint of who we have and going to training camp feeling good about being competitive and winning some games -- you ask yourself can you go into games knowing you’ve got a defense that can pressure the quarterback, cover receivers and stop the run?” he said. "On offense, you ask do you have guys who can protect, run the ball, throw the ball and catch the ball? The answers are, yes. Now, we’ve got a lot of new guys who have to adapt to each other, but I feel like we’re right where I thought we’d be.”
The first two years of the rebuild were painful, with back-to-back 4-12 seasons. McKenzie had to get a bloated salary cap under control, overcome the absence of draft picks in Year 1 and listen to the frustration of a fan base that hasn’t seen a winning season in Oakland since 2002.
The key to this season will be good health, he said. Some of the free agents being counted on the most arrived with a recent history of injuries that caused them to miss games or negatively impacted their performances on the field. Among them, defensive end LaMarr Woodley hasn’t played a full season since 2010; cornerback Carlos Rogers ended last season with a hamstring strain that limited his play; and running back Maurice Jones-Drew was sidelined for 10 games in 2012 with a bad foot and was slowed by an assortment of injuries last year.
McKenzie says he’s not concerned by the lack of a true No. 1 receiver.
“Do we have a Larry Fitzgerald, a Calvin Johnson, a top-five guy that everybody knows the ball is going to go to him? No,” he said. “We have a spread-it-around type receiving group, and it’s a group with a lot of good receivers. Do we have that bona fide guy? No one has established himself as that, but we have some guys who are stepping up. We have proven, good football players who we are going to go to.”
He’s also not anxious about his situation at cornerback, with 2013 first-round pick D.J. Hayden out indefinitely with a foot injury.
“That fact that it’s a foot, it’s a bone, the bone is going to heal,” McKenzie said. “When it does, he has to get comfortable planting and rolling the foot. How long is that going to take? How long is it going to take for him to, not get comfortable, but get to that level he was at before he hurt it? We don’t know. But I can say this: We have some competitive guys at that group. I feel better about that position than I did last year, even with the injury. We have some other guys who are competing.”
The addition of Rogers and Tarell Brown from San Francisco were major, and the team is high on draft picks T.J. Carrie, who has looked good in workouts and the first few days of camp, and Keith McGill. Plus, a defensive back’s best friend is a good pass rush, and the Raiders have upgraded in that area with the drafting of Khalil Mack and the free-agent signings of Justin Tuck and Woodley.
Whether the moves translate into better than 4-12 remains to be seen, but for now McKenzie believes the Raiders are right where they’re supposed to be.
The current starters, from left to right, are tackle Donald Penn, guard Khalif Barnes, center Stefen Wisniewski, guard Austin Howard and tackle Menelik Watson. The staff also is high on rookie guard Gabe Jackson, who ideally would start at left guard so the versatile Barnes could be used in an utility role. Free-agent guard Kevin Boothe also brings experience after spending the past seven seasons with the New York Giants.
“We’ve got seven, eight guys competing for five spots -- and they’re really competing,” Jones-Drew said. “It’s a good, young unit. It’s definitely one of the better ones I’ve played behind.”