Guard Denver Kirkland
Lee Smith was regarded as an honorary lineman, so it makes sense that the player charged with replacing his productivity in the first game since the physical tight end was put on the reserve/injured list was actually an offensive lineman.
Rookie guard Denver Kirkland played 27 snaps in Sundays win over the San Diego Chargers, appearing almost exclusively as an extra lineman, helping aid in pass protection, and doing much of the work that Smith did during his time on the field.
"I just wanted to come in and contribute as much as I can for this team that I'm currently involved with," said Kirkland. "Lee is a guy you can't replace. He's special. He brings a lot to the table, just watching him, going against guys bigger than him, quicker guys than him, and he still managed to contain his blocks, and do what's best for the team. I have a lot of respect for that guy. I also watched him before I went out there on the field, tried to pick from his technique, and things like that."
Kirkland played his college football at the University of Arkansas, making 34-consecutive starts to finish up his career as a Razorback, before signing with the Silver and Black as an undrafted free agent in May.
The versatile lineman earned All-SEC Third Team honors as a junior, and believes that he has the ability to be a quality blocker in the NFL, both in pass protection, and in the run game.
"I try to contain my blocks very, very well," Kirkland said. "That's something I leaned on during the week, knowing the execution at practice. That's something I just took over to the game."
Kirkland spent the first three games of the regular season on the practice squad before being elevated to the active roster prior to the Raiders Week 4 matchup with the Tennessee Titans, and Head Coach Jack Del Rio was pleased with what he saw from the rookie following his first extended run.
"He [Kirkland] did well," Head Coach Del Rio said earlier in the week. "Denver Kirkland stepped in yesterday. He was the extra tight end, reporting as a big guy playing the tight end position. With the absence of Lee [Smith] it was a little bit of the example of what I was referring to when I said it would maybe be multiple people to play Lee's role, because you had a tackle do it, you had some tight ends do it and that's what you're going to do to kind of be able to duplicate what Lee would give us."
Throughout Sunday's game, Kirkland had to quickly come in and out of the offensive sets based on the personnel groupings, and for exactly that reason, the rookie had to remain locked in to what the coaches were relaying to him on the sideline.
"That's something – you can't go to sleep on basically," Kirkland explained. "You can have a five-play drive here, or a one-play drive here, but you still have to stay mentally in the game, no matter what happens. You never know, when your personnel is going to be called. I just stayed in the game the whole game."
Kirkland never played any skill positions during his younger years; he's been groomed to play the offensive line since he was a youngster, but as an eligible lineman, he's technically able to catch a pass, something that hasn't happened just yet, but the 340-pound rookie is prepared for if the situation arises.
"If my number is called, I'm going to do it," Kirkland said about catching a pass. "Whatever the team needs, I'm going to do it. That's what type of guy I am, and if they do design a pass for me, I guess they really like me and stuff like that."
G/T – Vadal Alexander – Ankle – Did not participate
S – Nate Allen – Quad – Limited
G/C – Jon Feliciano – Calf – Limited
RB – Taiwan Jones – Knee – Limited
T – Matt McCants – Knee – Limited
RB – Latavius Murray – Toe – Did not participate
LB – Malcolm Smith – Quad – Limited
TE – Clive Walford – Knee – Limited
T – Menelik Watson – Calf – Did not participate
-The Raiders signed tight end Cooper Helfet to the practice squad Wednesday, and just hours after his signing became official, the former Seattle Seahawk was out on the field with his teammates, wearing a No. 84 jersey.
-After missing Sunday's game against the Chargers, both safety Nate Allen and running back Taiwan Jones were back at practice; however, running back Latavius Murray and tackle Menelik Watson were still unable to participate.
-Long snapper Jon Condo is fully healthy and ready to go, but as we always say, depth is at a premium in the NFL, and as such defensive lineman Denico Autry was practicing his snaps during the stretching portion of Wednesday's practice. Is Autry likely to see action at long snapper during a game? Probably not, but having a contingency plan in case of injury is crucial.
-October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and during Wednesday's practice, a multitude of players, from Justin Ellis to Mychal Rivera and DJ Hayden, were all seen sporting pink cleats.
-Wednesday's session had an international flair, as several reporters from Mexican TV network Televisa were in the house to take in the Raiders day of work.
Quarterback Derek Carr talks about his favorite wrestler:
"'The Rock.' I love 'The Rock.' (laughter) Yeah, I love 'The Rock.' I grew up watching that… Brett Hart. I wanted the Brett Hart glasses, couldn't get them, so if anybody's got them out there, I'd love them."
Cornerback Sean Smith on playing against his former team, the Kansas City Chiefs:
"It's business, that's all. It's the NFL. It's not my first time doing this. I've switched teams before, so you put on a new helmet, line up, and go to work."