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ALAMEDA — The Raiders’ road to resurgence was clear from the season opener for general manager Reggie McKenzie.
“The guys felt like there were going to win the game,” McKenzie said Thursday. “Being in the locker room afterwards, it felt like they were supposed to win.”
That opener, of course, was the dramatic 35-34 win over the New Orleans Saints that included coach Jack Del Rio’s bold and successful decision to go for a game-winning two-point conversion with 47 seconds to play.
“It set a tone,” McKenzie said of that call. “It set a tone for the confidence that the coaching staff had in the players and the players had in each other.”
McKenzie spent 30 minutes Thursday chatting with the Raiders’ beat writers. Here are the highlights from that session.
— While Friday marks 60 days from when outside linebacker Aldon Smith reportedly applied for reinstatement from his league banishment, McKenzie has yet to hear from the league.
“Those guys, they’ll let us know in due time,” McKenzie said of the NFL. “I’m sure they’re in communication with each other with that. But they don’t fill us in on anything in that process.”
There’s a long list of requirements Smith must complete to be reinstated from his stage three banishment for substance abuse. That includes details on his treatment, any use of substances during his banishment and meetings with commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL’s medical personnel.
Should he be reinstated, McKenzie wouldn’t rule out him making an impact this season.
“If he’s cleared, we’re going to go through the proper channels and see where he’s at physically and mentally and all that,”McKenzie said. “So to totally discount this year, no, we wouldn’t do that.”
— Defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. finally did some on-field work Thursday morning, his first such activity since injuring his hip in the exhibition opener Aug. 12.
The injury has lingered on much longer than the initial 4-6 week estimates and even exceeded the eight games he was required to miss when placed on injured reserve. McKenzie said there weren’t any setbacks or surgeries, “it was just a slower process.”
The key now is to see how Edwards feels when he comes to the facility Friday morning. If he can handle some on-field work two or three days in a row, they can ramp up his activity and should have a better feel for his timeline to return next week.
— McKenzie said “that’s the plan” when asked if he would like to get quarterback Derek Carr and defensive end Khalil Mack signed to extensions before they hit free agency. Both have one year remaining after this season, although as a first-rounder, the Raiders do have a fifth-year option on Mack.
Both players figure to command annual salaries in excess of $20 million, but McKenzie feels good about the team’s salary structure that he’s built that should allow him to retain those players and the majority of the core that he’s drafted.
“We know we’re not going to be able to keep everybody, but it won’t be due to lack of effort,” McKenzie said. “There are some players we may not be able to pay the premiere dollar that team X, Y, Z will pay, but we’ll be able to at least offer something to make the player feel like we tried.”
— On the Raiders’ 2016 free agent class of linebacker Bruce Irvin, guard Kelechi Osemele, cornerback Sean Smith and safety Reggie Nelson, McKenzie said, “So far, so good. You want them to be available, healthy and available, then to function within the system and jell with the players around them and that starts with the people that they are, and that helps. So yeah, we feel good about what they’re doing so far.”’
— On investing so heavily in the offensive line, “That’s where it all starts,” McKenzie said. “Little people can’t play unless the big people are there to help.”
— His biggest gem was saved for Carr, the quarterback who’s taken command of the locker room in just three seasons, when asked how he’s accomplished that despite having such a contrasting personality from the typical NFL player (for example, he does not curse).
“He has a personality to him,” McKenzie said. “It’s not like he’s a dork. … Derek is very personable. He’s witty. He’s got charisma. He has what all good quarterbacks need.”
— Carr’s right pinkie appears to be doing better. He practiced Thursday without the glove that he wore following his injury in Sunday’s win over the Carolina Panthers.
Carr had tape on the finger, which was dislocated in two spots, but the ditching of the glove indicates he’s able to grip the ball well enough and he seemed to be throwing the ball strong and accurately during the brief portion open to media.
— Defensive tackles Stacy McGee (ankle) and Darius Latham (ankle) and cornerback DJ Hayden (hamstring) remained out of practice along with linebacker Shilique Calhoun (knee).
— Mack was named the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Month for November. He was a two-time winner of the AFC’s weekly award.