Here is a link to my Saturday column. The full text runs below:
OAKLAND — It’s so obvious what the Raiders are doing. I use “obvious” in the most flattering sense.
They are trying to establish rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper as a key player. Maybe THE key player on offense. And it’s exactly what they should do.
I base this analysis on a small sample size — the Raiders involved Cooper in only five plays. So, Cooper didn’t exactly carry the team on his back. And it was, after all, a mere exhibition game. I already forgot the score. Never knew it. Not good for your health to remember exhibition-game scores.
This is what the Raiders did with Cooper.
On their second play on offense, quarterback Derek Carr hit Cooper over the middle for 12 yards. As easy as you please. On the next play, Carr hit Cooper at the left flat for two yards. Two plays later, Cooper ran a reverse for three yards.
That means the Raiders used Cooper — featured him — on three of their first five plays. They went to him again a few plays later, an-eight yard completion from Carr to the left. The Raiders went to Cooper four times in an 11-play drive.
This is not what most teams do with rookies. Teams break in rookies slowly, gently, with care. Introduce them to the league with minimum mess. Don’t want to blow rookies’ minds.
But the Raiders are so star-deficient, so talent-depleted, they are using Cooper right away, establishing him right away. Like he’s already a Pro Bowler.
Why do all this emphasis on Cooper? Because the Raiders have to do it. And something else. Cooper is an absolutely unique talent — appears to be. He could be the Raiders’ next great player and they need him right away. They are getting him prepared in the preseason so he’s ready to go — ready to shine — in Game 1 against the Bengals at home on Sept. 13.
In the interest of balanced reporting, you should know the Raiders featured running back Latavius Murray on four of their first 11 plays — three runs and an incomplete pass. Murray and Cooper shared the load, established a balance. A rational plan when you consider Murray is another amazing talent, another young Raider who is special — appears special.
You should also know this. On Murray’s second run, Cooper threw a killer block downfield allowing Murray to gain extra yards. Murray’s run went for 17 yards. Which means Cooper is no shrinking violent — not that I’ve ever seen a violet shrink.
Now we come back to Cooper, to his fifth play. To the bad play. It was on the Raiders’ second series. They drove to the Rams’ 6-yard line. Everything was looking snappy, economical and sort of wow. Carr was efficient to the max.
He threw to Cooper at the goal line. Pick. Drive killed. Bad all around. The Raiders had forced the ball to Cooper in their obsession with going to him, with making him the big man on the field.
But there was something good about the play. The thought behind it was good. The idea was superb. The Raiders failed on the play in the preseason. Maybe they failed on Friday so they can succeed when it counts. So they can make “Carr to Cooper, touchdown!” a league catchphrase. We’ll see. The Raiders did right to force that pass. Absolutely correct.
One other thing. Some people are making a big deal about Michael Crabtree being a Raider. And maybe it is a big deal. Crabtree played OK in limited action. He caught two of three passes. On one pass he even gained yards after the catch. He has soft, good hands, but he is slow and has lost his demon — his fight.
On one pass — a deep sucker — he ran downfield. Never got separation from the defender. Stared at the ball like a spectator. Didn’t make the catch. We’ve seen that many times about 40 miles south of here. On the radio they said the defender interfered with Crabtree. The officials didn’t see it that way — no flag.
Crabtree may be an adequate second receiver to Cooper, although it’s doubtful. He is a 49ers castoff for a reason. The Raiders must move past the Crabtree level as they strive to surge forward, strive to get better. Cooper is the living proof the beyond-Crabtree level exists.
That’s why the Raiders featured Cooper in their first exhibition game — to establish the Cooper level. And the Raiders will feature Cooper in the real season. Just feature him.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn firstname.lastname@example.org.