As the Oakland Raiders prepared for their Week 7 matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars, you had questions. Now, we have answers.
Check out this week's Raiders.com Mailbag, presented by BART.
From John C: Do you see the team staying in Florida for an entire week as a distraction or a benefit for the players?
EP:To be quite honest with you, I see it as a benefit. So much of playing football is having trust and confidence in the guy lined up next to you, so what better way to do that than hunker down for 10 days in Florida, and have football as the only thing your agenda? While the team's stay in Florida will be a little different than training camp – it will be less restrictive, and there's far fewer players than in training camp – there will certainly be a training camp-type feel to the stay in the Sunshine State. Players and coaches alike will be away from the distractions of home, and don't discount the fact that staying in Florida means that the team will be subjected to one less cross-country trip.
From Preston P: Do you expect the running game to get a big boost this week with the return of Latavius Murray if he's back and ready to go?
EP:If No. 28 is healthy, and ready to rock, I certainly see his addition back into the lineup as a big boost for the Raiders running game. The rookie tandem of Jalen Richard and DeAndré Washington played well in Murray's stead, but both the rookies bring a very different set of skills to the table compared to the Pro Bowl back. Standing at 6'3" and tipping the scales at 225 pounds, Murray is unquestionably the biggest, most physically-imposing of the trio of running backs, which is something the Silver and Black's offense certainly looked to need last week in the wind and rain against the Kansas City Chiefs. As much as having Murray back in the mix will help the running game, I anticipate both Richard and Washington staying in the mix offensively, and benefitting as well from Murray's return.
From Bill G: Do you still view Denver as the biggest challenge for the division title this season?
EP:In short, yes. The Broncos – although they're a retooled group compared to last season – are not only the division champions, but they're the reigning Super Bowl champs too. Derek Carr said a few weeks ago that the division goes through Denver, and I'm inclined to agree with him. Now, that's not to say that the Kansas City Chiefs – or even the San Diego Chargers – should be taken lightly. Andy Reid's group has now beaten the Raiders three games in a row, and the Chiefs are the only AFC West team that Jack Del Rio has not beaten since taking over the helm of the Silver and Black. In recent weeks the Chargers have also shown life, and with Philip Rivers under center, the Bolts almost always have a chance to win a game. All that considered though, until the Broncos are knocked off their throne atop the AFC West, I'll consider them the biggest threat to the Raiders bid of winning the division.
From Nathan A: Is the team relieved to be back on the road where most of the success has come so far this season?
EP:It seems odd that we're talking about the team being excited to get back on the road and play in raucous, road environment, doesn't it? But, with a 3-0 record on the road, and a 1-2 record at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, it's a reasonable question to ask about the 2016 Raiders. Nathan, I don't know if relieved is the right word, but there's no doubt something is a little bit different about this team when they hit the road. The success on the road is great, and if the Silver and Black are able to take care of business the next two weeks, they'll fly home with an astonishing 5-0 record in hand, but this group knows that they if want to make a serious push towards the postseason, they must hold serve at home in front of Raider Nation.
From Marty M: Which player has surprised you the most through six games:**
EP:This is going to sound like it's coming out of left field, but the player who has surprised me the most thus far has been Marquette King. The Raiders punter put together an impressive season in 2015, but No. 7 has taken his game to the next level this year. Not only is he averaging an impressive 49.9 yards per punt, but he's also drastically cut down on his touchbacks, and has really blossomed as far as his touch with his directional punts is concerned. It might sound kind of odd, but in 2016, King has shown to be a legitimate weapon for the Silver and Black, and his ability to flip the field at a moment's notice is a luxury that many teams in the NFL are not fortunate enough to have. King has been spectacular through six games, and if keeps it up, he very well could find himself kicking in Orlando during the 2017 Pro Bowl.
From Chris S: Jacksonville has some really talented wide receivers – how are we planning to stop them given our defensive struggles this year?
EP:Chris, you're right, the Raiders secondary will have its hands full Sunday afternoon as they square off against Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and the Jaguars offense. Yes, the Raiders defense hasn't yet put together the type of outing they'd like just yet, but defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr., and the players in his group believe that the team is just a few, minor adjustments away from righting the ship. In times like this, I think it's important to return to the fundamentals. While Robinson and Hurns are certainly talented wideouts, David Amerson and Sean Smith have also proven to be top-flight cornerbacks in the league that are up to the challenge of trying to stop the Jaguars offensive weapons. If the Raiders are sound in their assignments, communicate well, and can cut down on some of the missed tackles, I think that they'll be able to effectively limit Robinson and Hurns.
**From Kyle P: Have any backups or players on the practice squad stood out to you lately as candidates for bigger roles?
EP:One guy who has intrigued me since his arrival in the Bay Area is wide receiver Johnny Holton. The former Cincinnati Bearcat still doesn't have a lot of actual football under his belt, but regardless of his relative inexperience on the gridiron, the man can fly. Holton has rare speed, and the undrafted free agent has flashed that ability primarily on special teams throughout the first six games of the regular season. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has also used Holton sparingly on offense, primarily on reverses, but I'll be interested to see if he gets more touches as the season wears on. Admittedly, finding more of a role on offense might be difficult with the team's four established wide receivers, but he's definitely one player to keep an eye on.
From Peter S: What will it take for Derek Carr to bounce back against the Jaguars? How is their secondary?
EP:Look, Derek Carr just had a bad week last week. Nothing more, nothing less. He's still one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, and even with his uncharacteristic performance last weekend at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the Raiders signal-caller still ranks in the Top 10 in the NFL in completion percentage, passing touchdowns, and total yards. Getting back on track won't be a walk in the park for Carr though; the Jaguars boast a stoat pass defense, allowing just 321.4 yards per game through the air. I firmly expect Carr to get back on track Sunday afternoon at EverBank Field, but I'm sure the Jaguars secondary will try to make life difficult for the offensive leader of the Silver and Black.