ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) – Two defensive captains have been cut, a respected veteran retired and the team’s No. 1 receiver was traded away.
The losses for the Oakland Raiders have been mounting on and off the field in recent weeks as a season that began with optimism has fallen apart at the midway point.
After four straight losses, including a blowout by Bay Area rival San Francisco, have left the Raiders (1-7) tied for the worst record in the NFL, it’s time to start looking to the future.
To that end, coach Jon Gruden called in his rookie class Friday following the 34-3 loss to the 49ers and delivered a message to the group.
“He was just telling us he needs more from us rookies,” defensive end Arden Key said Monday. “He needs more, more, more. He said we’re doing pretty good but he needs more. We need to lead the league in effort and we’re not doing that as rookies. … It was a wake-up call and we answered.”
Little has gone right of late for the Raiders, who have been outscored by 85 points during a four-game losing streak. The team has also cut captains Bruce Irvin and Derrick Johnson during that span, watched cornerback Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie retire, and traded receiver Amari Cooper to Dallas for a first-round draft pick.
That follows the trade one week before the start of the season that dealt star pass rusher Khalil Mack to Chicago for a package of picks, including two first-rounders.
Oakland was last in the league with seven sacks before cutting ties with Irvin, who led the team with three. Only rookies Maurice Hurst (two sacks) and Key (one), along with Clinton McDonald (one) have sacks among players on the active roster.
That’s why Gruden wants more from his rookie class that also features defensive tackle P.J. Hall.
“I know right now the maturity level on this team has to rise up,” veteran defensive lineman Frostee Rucker said. “We just have to be a complete team and do the little things better. That’s what we’re starting with today, trying to do the little things better.”
The Raiders also added some reinforcements Monday, signing defensive linemen Jacquies Smith and Kony Ealy to contracts.
Ealy had 14 sacks in three seasons with Carolina from 2014-16, including three in a Super Bowl loss to Denver following the 2015 season. He was traded to New England in 2017, got cut by the Patriots and then signed with the New York Jets, where he had one sack in 15 games.
Ealy spent training camp in Dallas before getting cut by the Cowboys on Sept. 1.
Smith was originally signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012 and finally got his first chance to play in 2014 with Tampa Bay. He had 13 1/2 sacks in 27 games his first two seasons with the Buccaneers before suffering a major knee injury in 2016.
Smith has played just seven games the past three seasons with Tampa, Detroit and Arizona, recording three tackles and no sacks in seven games. Smith was released by Arizona in September.
Smith worked out for the Raiders in recent weeks and got the call Sunday, a day after Irvin was released. Smith said he feels as healthy as he has since before the injury and is eager for the chance to show what he can do.
“It’s been very frustrating,” he said. “Obviously, I have a ton of confidence in myself. Obviously, I’ve made a ton of plays in this league. Just getting back and getting that opportunity to do that. I’m very confident in my ability. Obviously, these guys see something in me to give me a shot.”
NOTES: The Raiders waived James Cowser. … LT Kolton Miller didn’t have a helmet at practice after re-injuring his right knee last Thursday. … LG Kelechi Osemele participated in practice despite injuring his knee again against the 49ers. … RB Marshawn Lynch stopped by practice for the first time since undergoing surgery on an injured groin last month.
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press.