Ray Ray Armstrong rises to Raiders starter

ALAMEDA — Two years ago, Ray Ray Armstrong was preparing to make the transition from safety to linebacker, something teams spoke to him about during the NFL draft interview process.

Armstrong is now a starting NFL linebacker, and one of several players who fit the ‘next man up’ philosophy for the Raiders, replacing the sixth starter to land on injured reserve. Oakland claimed Armstrong on waivers from the St. Louis Rams Oct. 7.

The Raiders have 13 total players out for the season, still a far cry from the New York Giants’ league-leading 22, or Seattle’s 16, but have taken their toll nonetheless. Sparano said:

“It’s just the next-man-up mentality for us and we’ve been fortunate that some of these young guys that have gone in there and done a good job. That’s the good news, is that you’re not going to have to sit here at the end of the season and wonder whether or not so-and-so can play. What is Denico Autry like? We know that. We’re getting a chance to see it every single week right now. These kind of guys – Ricky Lumpkin now getting a chance to play in there and do some things.”

Sparano, though, sees the glass half full and the Raiders front office will get a glimpse of what they have:

“We’re talking about a lot of guys playing a lot of snaps right now that are young players. I think that’s very, very valuable and I think there’s huge carry-over. I think that that provides a real easy transition into Year 2 for them. The game doesn’t surprise them. … More importantly, they kind of know these opponents.”

Armstrong got some of that experience last week against Kansas City, displacing linebacker Sio Moore, who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday afternoon and inactive on Sunday.

Still learning the nuances of playing linebacker — finding a spot in the box and learning the fits along the defensive line — Armstrong isn’t the ideal candidate to start as the Raiders finish their worst season since 2006.

What he brings is speed, coverage ability and a body. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. For a team with little to lose, and everything to gain, though, Armstrong has a chance to be a hidden gem.

On getting a chance to develop as a pro, Armstrong said:

“It’s very beneficial. It’s always good to get game reps, so I’m just going out there and trying to take every game in and get better off of each mistake.”

The Raiders will face a team Sunday that was in a similar position two seasons ago, a losing record, a struggling offense, but young playmakers on defense.

The Bills are looking for their ninth win, one that would keep them in playoff contention. Buffalo can’t win their division, but can win out and have a shot at one of two AFC Wild Card seeds.

Coming off of a win against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, the Bills defense has become one of the most-feared units in the league. The Raiders, on paper, have the potential to get there with another good draft and their first impact free agent crop.

For now, though, they’re just a group who’s gotten better against the run and still has pretty large holes in pass coverage. And the numerous defensive injuries continue to hurt them.

Notes

Cornerbacks Tarell Brown (foot) and Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring), receivers Vincent Brown (groin) and Denarius Moore (hip and ankle), offensive lineman Menelik Watson (foot), tight end Brian Leonhardt (concussion) and defensive end C.J. Wilson (knee) did not practice Wednesday. … Quarterback Derek Carr (thumb) and cornerback T.J. Carrie (ankle) were limited. On Carr’s thumb injury, Sparano said that he was not concerned and that his practice was satisfactory. There is little doubt that Carr will be available Sunday, and Carr was upbeat as always Wednesday afternoon.


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