WASHINGTON — Lost in the shuffle of the NFL’s highest-scoring offense after the first two weeks, of a defense holding its own, of the franchise’s first 2-0 start since 2002 has been the Raiders’ output on special teams.
The club entered 2017 reliant on new, young faces. That hasn’t been an issue.
And now, veteran help is coming.
Fullback Jamize Olawale (quad) and safety Keith McGill II (foot) were cleared Friday to make their season debuts Sunday against the Washington Redskins (5:30 p.m., KSNV-3). They were the Raiders’ busiest special teamers in 2016 of anyone still on today’s 53-man roster.
Neither was on the team’s final injury report Friday. Cornerback Sean Smith (neck/shoulder) is the only player whose status is uncertain because of medical issues; he was listed as questionable.
Last year, in order of highest snap count, the Raiders leaned on such special teamers as linebacker Daren Bates, safety Brynden Trawick, Olawale, wide receiver Andre Holmes, McGill, safety Nate Allen and running back Taiwan Jones. All were injured or elsewhere to begin the season.
So, it was rookie safety Shalom Luani, safety Erik Haris, defensive end James Cowser, rookie linebacker Nicholas Morrow, cornerback Antonio Hamilton, rookie linebacker Xavier Woodson-Luster and wide receiver Johnny Holton.
Despite the changes, protection has been sound. Kicker Giorgio Tavecchio received a game ball in Week 1 and proved steady in Week 2.
A Marquette King-led punt unit has been an asset. King is averaging 51.3 net yards per punt, best in the NFL. On Sunday, Holton recovered a muffed punt at the Jets’ 4-yard line to set up a Marshawn Lynch touchdown.
Had the Raiders struggled, Olawale and McGill would be considered needed reinforcements Sunday.
The team hasn’t. So, the duo instead will fortify an overlooked early strength.
— Linebacker Bruce Irvin, center Jon Feliciano and tight end Lee Smith were flagged for unnecessary roughness Sunday. Upon reviewing the infractions, the NFL elected not to fine any of them, a source said. The same goes for rookie linebacker Marquel Lee, who was flagged 15 yards for taunting in the first quarter.
— Olawale’s return should be a boost to the Raiders’ rushing offense. Then again, this area hasn’t struggled, either. The team totaled 289 rushing yards in the first two weeks while averaging 5.2 yards per carry despite lacking a true fullback. Feliciano took a snap at the position in Week 2 near the goal line.
— The Raiders have chosen to receive the opening kickoff in each game this season. Previously, coach Jack Del Rio deferred possession on 19 straight occasions. He declined Friday to detail the shift in his approach. “I just don’t really spend a lot of time discussing strategy and my thoughts going into it,” Del Rio said. “Astute observation. I’m not locking in on anything. I don’t really discuss the strategy, but I appreciate and I understand where you’re coming from.”
Contact reporter Michael Gehlken at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.
Most special teams snaps for Raiders
Safety Shalom Luani: 47
Safety Eric Harris: 47
Defensive end James Cowser: 37
Linebacker Nicholas Morrow: 36
Cornerback Antonio Hamilton: 30
Linebacker Xavier Woodson-Luster: 29
Wide receiver Johnny Holton: 27