Ex-Raiders coach Jack Del Rio looking forward to facing former team

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Ex-Raiders coach Del Rio looking forward to facing former team originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

It's Jack Del Rio's turn for a reunion on Sunday in what's been a season full of them for the Washington Football Team.

When Washington travels to Las Vegas this weekend, Del Rio -- who's now in his second season as Washington's defensive coordinator -- will coach against the Raiders for the first time since the club fired him following the 2017 season. 

The Raiders are no longer in Oakland, where Del Rio is from and where he coached the team. But Del Rio did admit on Thursday that there is a bit of extra motivation for Sunday's game facing his former club.

"It always means something," Del Rio said. "I enjoyed my time there and you always look forward to competing against people that you know."

It's only been three and a half seasons since Del Rio departed from the Raiders, but the Black and Silver only have three holdovers on its roster from the coach's time there. But one of those players that remain from Del Rio's tenure with the Raiders is quarterback Derek Carr (RB Jalen Richard and LB Nicholas Morrow are the other two).

Carr, now in his eighth NFL season, is currently enjoying one of the best -- if not the best -- seasons of his career. He currently leads the NFL in passing yards and is coming off a fantastic Thanksgiving performance in Vegas' upset victory over the Cowboys.

"Derek's a good player," Del Rio said. "He's having a good year, probably as good a year as he's had since year two of our time being there when he really tore it up. So, he's doing a nice job directing the offense, making a lot of throws, and he's got some good weapons and they're doing a nice job with him."

Carr's best year as a pro came in 2016 under Del Rio. He finished that season 12-3 as a starter, throwing for nearly 4,000 yards, and 28 touchdowns to just six interceptions. Unfortunately, Carr suffered a broken fibula in Week 16 that season, an injury that ruined his chances of winning MVP. Yet, he still finished third in MVP voting behind Matt Ryan and Tom Brady.

When studying Carr this week, Del Rio has not noticed much of a difference in the quarterback's game now from when he coached him. 

"The same guy. He was good when we had him and he's good now," Del Rio said. "He's doing a nice job. I think he's leading the league in passing right now and they have weapons and they do a good job of getting them open and him delivering the ball to them."

When looking at the Raiders offense as a whole, the team lacks a true No. 1 wideout. Yet, Las Vegas has a collection of talented pass-catchers, headlined by star tight end Darren Waller and the ever-reliable Hunter Renfrow.

It's worth noting that although the Raiders lost speedy wideout Henry Ruggs III earlier this season, the team signed arguably the perfect replacement from him in longtime standout DeSean Jackson, one of the best deep threats in NFL history. Jackson made his presence felt heavily last week against the Cowboys, hauling in three passes for 102 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown.

"They've got a good group. DeSean adds some speed over the top that they lost with Ruggs. DeSean has been a good player for a long time in this league. You look at Waller or you look at Renfrow, they've got some weapons," Del Rio said.

Having coached Carr in the past, one thing Del Rio is surely aware of is the quarterback's love for throwing the deep ball. Carr was exceptional at it in 2020 and for this season, he currently leads the league in deep pass attempts. 

Washington's secondary has struggled at preventing the big play this season. Even though the group has been playing better as a whole, they still allowed a pair of deep completions from Russell Wilson to Tyler Lockett on Monday. Stopping Carr and the Raiders' deep passing attack will certainly be a point of emphasis for Del Rio as he prepares Washington's defense for Las Vegas this week.

"We don't want anybody to catch a long one," Del Rio said. "[DeSean Jackson is] definitely a guy that can go vertical. We recognize that they have several players that are capable. [Bryan] Edwards gets vertical. I mean, [Zay] Jones gets vertical. They've got a good group and they got a quarterback that's getting the ball to them, so we gotta be on top of it."

As a whole, Del Rio did not get into whether he has any ill will towards his former organization. All the defensive coordinator is focused on now is having his unit as best prepared as possible for the Raiders come Sunday.

"I've always enjoyed competing against them when I'm there," he said. "And I enjoyed the time when I was the head coach and thought we had a good solid run while I was there, but it's unique. I think the fans there are tremendous and this will be a great experience for our guys to go into that atmosphere."