Del Rio tight-lipped on injured Raiders’ progress

Injuries helped kill hopes of a successful 2014 Oakland Raiders team. There’s no questioning that.

Which is why head coach Jack Del Rio is glad players are rehabbing in May, and not September. But Del Rio wasn’t going to share much more:

“I’m not going to get in on where they are and all that. I just prefer not to get into specifics about it. We’ve got a couple of guys that are still being held out, that are doing the best they can to get back, and we think they’ll be back soon. So we’ll just leave it at that.”

Among the injured: Quarterback Derek Carr, linebackers Sio Moore and Curtis Lofton, and defensive tackle Dan Williams.

All are projected starters, but the injuries pave the way for players like rookie defensive lineman Max Valles and free agent addition Christian Ponder to get more practice reps.

Ponder said:

“It helps. It helps with getting to know my new teammates and being out there, getting used to how receivers run routes and how we call things. … it’s good to be out there and get more reps and get my feet wet.”

Ponder was not retained by Minnesota and signed with Oakland shortly after visiting. It was his only visit.

Carr was very limited in practice Tuesday, taking dry snaps and tossing the ball to quarterbacks coach Todd Downing after five quick steps backwards.

He was able to listen in on play calls through a radio, but isn’t expected back until training camp begins. This isn’t the best thing for an upgraded receiver group, nor the two new tight ends that may play a major role in Oakland’s offense.

In place of Moore, linebacker Malcolm Smith is getting more practice time, as are rookies Ben Heeney and Neiron Ball. And while Williams rests, Khalil Mack is practicing with the defensive line.

It’s tough to know whether Mack practicing there will become the norm, especially since he played defensive end in nickel and dime packages last season. But practice couldn’t hurt his development as a pass rusher, particularly because he typically rushed standing up in college.

As for Williams, Del Rio confirmed the injury isn’t serious, though he’s yet to be cleared for contact.

Moore, though, is falling behind after having major offseason hip surgery, though he too is expected back by the start of camp.

Moore, Lofton and Williams combined for 272 tackles in 2014, and four sacks. Guys you want on the field.

But the others who are getting extra reps are being previewed by coaches and getting much needed work that may help them make the roster.

Linebacker Ray Ray Armstrong and defensive tackle Stacy McGee are two players that may benefit most from the absence of presumed starters. McGee, drafted in 2013, was able to secure a role late in his first season after injuries got him some playing time, but he saw little action in 2014.

Armstrong is a similar player. Picked up off waivers from the Rams, the 26-year-old made his mark in Oakland starting three games late in 2014 and notching 18 tackles.

He is an athletic linebacker, faster than most, and could be a valuable special teams player if he makes the roster.

But the focus remains on Carr, and Ponder will lead the offense through practices until he gets healthy. It’s a crucial time of year, especially with a new system being installed and a group of totally new coaches.

Del Rio didn’t seem overly concerned about Carr’s recovery. Until he gets back to full strength, though, it’s difficult to be optimistic about the upgraded offense.

Until then, Carr will learn the system by watching and listening, and won’t have the opportunity to build a rapport with rookie receiver Amari Cooper or tight ends Clive Walford and Lee Smith.


Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.