Cornerback DJ Hayden
There was a surprise participant back on the field during the Oakland Raiders Thursday afternoon practice.
After playing just two defensive snaps in last week's win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before exiting early with a shoulder injury, cornerback Sean Smith didn't practice Wednesday, but did return to the field Thursday, albeit in a limited capacity.
However, just under 72 hours out from the Silver and Black's Sunday night matchup against the Denver Broncos, No. 21's status for the game is uncertain, but regardless of whether or not he's able to go, cornerback DJ Hayden said the Raiders secondary is ready for the upcoming challenge.
"They're a great team, we just have to go out there and play our defense," said Hayden. "Not let their speed dictate to us, but let our speed dictate to them."
With or without Smith roaming the secondary, the Raiders defensive backs will most certainly have their hands full Sunday night at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, as they match up against Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, particularly with Thomas, who at 6'3" provides a challenging matchup for many cornerbacks in the NFL.
"I think those are some great athletes, man," cornerback TJ Carrie said when asked about Sanders and Thomas. "I think the tandem that they have there is pretty sound and savvy. They definitely have some knowledge of the game. They've been in the game for a long time, so they know how to play off of each other, and I think what they're doing as an offense has been pretty good."
Thomas is taller than all the Raiders cornerbacks save Smith, so what's the key to stopping a wide receiver who has a physical advantage?
Carrie thinks it all comes down to preparation.
"You really have to just study the film," Carrie said. "You have to know that some plays you're just going to have to beat him [Thomas] to the position, because the way he is – he's big, he's strong, he's physical – so you're going to have to be in a position a lot of the times, to beat him almost to where he's going, so that you can get position in order to try and make a play, but he has all the intangibles, all the abilities, and so does Sanders."
Hayden is now in his fourth season in Silver and Black, while Carrie is in his third, and although Sunday's matchup will likely be the most-high profile game either has played in their brief careers, both are attacking the Week 9 contest with the same approach they usually do.
"It's just another game, man," Carrie explained. "I think every game is important. Every game is big, and I think we think we take that approach in every game we go into because we wouldn't be in the position that we are now, so this game is just as important as the last game was, and we have to continue to play sound football."
However, while that approach remains the same, that doesn't mean the gravity of a primetime game against not only a division rival, but the reigning Super Bowl champion as well, has been lost on the players.
"This is the game we've been waiting for," Hayden said. "This is going put the stamp on letting the whole world know what we've been working so hard for. We're tied with Denver right now, and we have to get through them to win the division. I'm looking forward to this game, and I'm just ready to go out there and just put it on them."
G/T –Vadal Alexander – Ankle – Limited
WR – Amari Cooper – Back – Limited
C – Rodney Hudson – Knee – Limited
RB – Taiwan Jones – Knee – Limited
DT – Stacy McGee – Ankle – Did not participate
FB – Jamize Olawale – Ankle – Limited
G/T – Kelechi Osemele – Knee – Limited
CB – Sean Smith – Shoulder – Limited
T – Menelik Watson – Calf – Limited
-The accolades just keep getting heaped on Derek Carr; after being named the AFC Player of the Week Wednesday, the Raiders signal-caller was also voted the FedEX Air NFL Player of the Week, the NFL announced Thursday.
-While Sean Smith's return to the football field earned most of the fanfare Thursday, he wasn't the only player to get back to work, as tackle Donald Penn, center Rodney Hudson, and lineman Kelechi Osemele also returned to practice.
-Also, for the second-consecutive day, wide receiver Amari Cooper was listed as limited participant dealing with a back ailment.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was impressed by tight end Mychal Rivera's fourth quarter touchdown pass against the Buccaneers:
"Unreal catch. Unreal catch. Still really don't know how he caught it. It's hard to see on the film, but he definitely caught it, secured it, stood up with the ball in his possession to satisfy all the requirements of a catch. Incredible play. We definitely needed it, obviously."
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