While the Raiders’ special teams unit remains a strength, it’s also a work in progress.
Even during the Oakland Raiders’ “Dark Age,” one of the beacons of hope that continuously shined was the special teams unit. Led by Sebastian Janikowski and punter Shane Lechler, the Silver and Black had one of the most talented and efficient special team’s groups in the NFL. In fact, the team always ranked near the top of the kicking game thanks to the sturdy sets of legs these two brought, regardless of the record.
Flash forward to the present, and while much has changed from top to bottom in the organization, the “Sea Bass” persists. Now joined by walking meme Marquette King, the Raiders still boast two of the biggest and best legs in the game.
An area with much left to be desired, though, could be found in the underwhelming kick return game. The Raiders finished 22nd last season in yards per return and did not locate the end zone, extending the drought to five straight seasons. To remedy the inadequacy the Raiders went to the open market, acquiring perhaps their most valuable gun for hire entering the 2017 campaign in Cordarrelle Patterson.
Patterson finished 1st in average yards per return, 3rd in overall yards, and struck gold on a 104-yard return for the Vikings last season. While the hope may be Patterson can also push Seth Roberts for the third receiver spot, the biggest reason number 84 is in Oakland remains clear – improve the kick return game.
Special Teams Coordinator Brad Seely certainly likes what he has seen so far from Patterson.
“There’s a guy that has a ton of talent. Like we were just talking about, his work ethic is outstanding,” Seely said in a recent media session. “He works hard. He wants to be really good. Those guys are fun to coach. Fun guys to coach because you can see them come out here and try to do what we ask them to do, and he’s really good at it.”
Another player looking to make his mark on special teams is Jalen Richard. While Richard made a name for himself with his big play ability out of the backfield, he also displayed a prowess for returning punts. Last season, the undrafted rookie finished 9th overall in yards per return and made several momentum swinging plays to set up easy possessions for the offense.
Jalen Richard was working as the punt returner in camp yesterday, wonder why. pic.twitter.com/ckRTLqGxQZ
— Chris Reed (@LVRaidersreview) August 6, 2017
Despite the successful special team pieces the Raiders have in place, there are still plenty of question marks heading into pre-season play. With the losses of Darren Bates, Andre Holmes, Brynden Trawick, and Taiwan Jones, several huge holes continue to be vacant.
“That’s what’s always exciting about a new season, we have to find some new guys,” Seely said. “We have suspects and prospects. It’s early, so we’ll see what happens when the games start. That’s why we have these preseason games, to find out what guys do when the lights come on because sometimes they change.”
Just who those suspects and prospects are is starting to become apparent through the early days of camp. Johnny Holton, Jayden Mickens, and Shalom Luani have all impressed and look to see some serious time. However, practice and games run at vastly different speeds. Finding out which players separate themselves will be an exciting development as we inch closer to the season.