Ex-Alabama WRs take center stage when Raiders host Falcons
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) When Amari Cooper arrived at Alabama back in 2012, he immediately started studying film of an old Crimson Tide receiver he wanted to emulate.
Cooper took those lessons from watching Julio Jones and ended up breaking all the major career receiving records at Alabama and following him into the NFL as a first-round draft pick.
Now Cooper gets to share a field with Jones when the Oakland Raiders (1-0) host the Atlanta Falcons (0-1) on Sunday.
''When I got to Alabama he was like the guy, the receiver,'' Cooper said. ''I looked at a lot of his film and studied a lot of his film and said I want to do some of the things he did.''
Cooper is doing just that in his brief NFL career. After becoming the first Oakland receiver to record at least 1,000 yards receiving in his rookie season, Cooper is off to a fast start this year after catching six balls for 137 yards in a season-opening win against New Orleans.
''Amari is a fast, twitchy guy,'' Jones said. ''He's a great player. He's going to compete four quarters. Typical training you get from Alabama. He's been leaving everything out there on the line.''
The Raiders will have their hands full with Jones, assuming he isn't slowed by an ankle injury. Oakland was picked apart in the opener by Willie Snead, Brandin Cooks and the Saints, allowing Drew Brees to throw for 423 yards.
Jones is even better than those receivers, who had 1,871 yards receiving last season for the second-best total in NFL history.
''He's big. He's fast. He's strong,'' Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. ''He's good with the ball in his hands. He's become a much better route runner. I think when he first came in, he was a little raw in that regard, but man, he's become a really good route runner as well.''
Here are some other things to watch when the Falcons visit the Raiders:
NO SACKS: The lack of a pass rush has been a constant theme for the Falcons for years. Atlanta finished last in the league with only 19 sacks in 2015, the lowest total by the franchise since 1987 and the lowest by any team since Jacksonville recorded just 14 sacks in 2009, according to Pro Football Reference. They were held without a sack by Tampa Bay, leading to renewed questions about the chronic weak spot in the defense. The Raiders did not allow a sack in the opener.
LONG ROAD: Atlanta's home opening loss to Tampa Bay was painful because it was a division game. It also hurts because the team faces a challenging stretch of four road games in the next five weeks. Three of the four road games are against AFC or NFC West teams. The only home game in that stretch is against defending NFC champion Carolina.
''Honestly, you've just got to go with it,'' coach Dan Quinn said. ''You try not to look too far down into the future, it can kind of take away from your focus for right now.''
MACK ATTACK: Raiders star edge rusher Khalil Mack struggled to get to the quarterback in the opener against New Orleans as the Saints frequently used extra blockers to neutralize one of the game's best defenders. The Falcons figure to use a similar strategy against a player who was a first-team All Pro at two positions last season when he had 15 sacks.
''I think people have to do that,'' Del Rio said. ''When you're doing that then they're short other places and we have to make sure we're taking advantage of that.''
REUNION WEEK: The game will serve as a reunion of sorts for a quartet of former Seahawks, who helped Seattle win the Super Bowl following the 2013 season. Quinn was defensive coordinator for that team and had Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. as one of his assistants and Oakland linebackers Malcolm Smith and Bruce Irvin on the field. Smith even won the MVP in the win over Denver.
''Lots of respect for those guys,'' Quinn said. ''I'm looking forward to seeing all of them. I had a lot of fun with Kenny and Malcolm and Bruce, both in coaching and then just for those guys as teammates and being a part of it.''
DOWN IN THE DIRT: This will be the only game this season played with the dirt infield at the Coliseum. The Raiders are the only NFL team to share a stadium with a baseball team and they don't get to install the all-grass field until the Athletics season is done. With the A's out of the playoff race, the dirt will be gone when the Raiders return for their next home game Oct. 9 against San Diego.
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AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed to this report.