ALAMEDA, Calif. — Listen closely enough and you can make out the rising sound of a bugle, coming from the top of Mt. Davis.
Beset by injuries throughout the defense, here comes the cavalry for the Oakland Raiders.
But instead of soldiers on horseback, there’s a linebacker in Will Compton, fresh off recording a podcast from a broken-down bus in a Nashville warehouse and hawking “merch” in a Nissan Stadium parking lot. There’s safety D.J. Swearinger, who spent the past month-plus reading books, working out and gearing up for another shot. And there’s edge rusher Dion Jordan, a former No. 3 overall draft pick who just finished serving a 10-game suspension for taking Adderall, a violation of the NFL’s policy against performance-enhancing drugs.
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Street free agents all of them, sure. But also key pieces for the surprising Raiders — who, at 5-4, are a half-game behind the Kansas City Chiefs for first place in the AFC West. And while they don’t necessarily need to save the season, these players have to help maintain the Raiders’ momentum starting Sunday against the winless Cincinnati Bengals.
“It’s big having people like that come in at this time, when people say rookies hit the rookie wall,” rookie edge rusher Clelin Ferrell said while making air quotes with his fingers.
“These are guys that don’t just fit athletically, but guys that have seen a lot of things in this league. They’re looking for a home and we’re welcoming them with arms wide open. … They aren’t coming here to lose; they’re coming here to thrive.”
On one hand, Compton, Swearinger and Jordan were unemployed for a reason. On the other, they are more than motivated. And each have a specific skill set the Raiders need.
Compton, 30, is a special-teams menace who played 12 defensive snaps four days after signing with Oakland, which is thin at linebacker, having lost Vontaze Burfict to a season-long suspension and with Marquel Lee spending time on injured reserve (he would be eligible to play Dec. 1 at Kansas City).
“I was sitting there with my girl, literally the night before [signing with Oakland on Oct. 30], saying, ‘If somebody does call, I want to be on a winning team,'” Compton said. “I want to be on a team that’s going after a run for the Super Bowl. So coming here and the surge we’ve had recently, we’re right there. Everything’s right in front of us, so it definitely plays a factor and the excitement and energy is there and you’re trying to do what you can with the role you’re in.”
Beating the Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Chargers got the Raiders over .500. But they lost safety Karl Joseph for the season with what has been described as a foot injury suffered on his game-sealing interception of Philip Rivers.
Enter Swearinger, who, like Compton, played for coach Jon Gruden’s younger brother in Washington before playing for the Arizona Cardinals and getting released this season after four games.
“Jay is more laid back and Jon is more in your face with it,” Swearinger said. “And I’m a more in-your-face guy as well. So I think I fit him better.
“[The Raiders] got grit, and it starts with the head coach. I love the head coach. I’ve always loved Coach Gruden from way back in college, from him doing [Monday Night Football]. I like what he brings to football, being on a team with a coach like that, I know we’re going to bring it every time we step on the field.”
Swearinger, 28, signed with Oakland on Saturday and has 14 career interceptions. He acknowledged there are a lot of “young guys” in Oakland’s locker room.
“But they’re talented,” he said, “and they want to go to work.”
Jordan, 29, might be the most intriguing new Raiders cavalry officer, though.
A physical specimen at 6-foot-6, 275 pounds, Jordan has not lived up to expectations but flashed with four sacks in five games for the Seattle Seahawks in 2017. He has served four NFL-mandated suspensions. He said he has a built-in support system with family and friends in the San Francisco Bay Area to help keep him on the straight and narrow.
Gruden said it might be asking too much for Jordan, who practiced for the first time Wednesday after signing Saturday, to suit up against the Bengals.
“But we’re going to keep an open mind,” Gruden said. “We’re at that point in the season where you know we’re going to have to get somebody ready to play. So we’re going to try to fast-track him and get him out there as soon as possible.”
“I’m ready to go, man,” Jordan said. “I’m just going to do whatever I have to do mentally and physically, and I’m just going to leave it up to them to pull the trigger. But I’m just going to prove it on the field and in the film room that I’m doing my best. After that, the rest will fall in place.”
“A lot of young guys who just know how to go,” Jordan said. “I feel like I fit right in with these dudes. That’s how I play — I just go.
“I’m just happy I found an organization that kind of fit me, personality-wise.”
Kind of sounds like a bugle playing “Charge,” no?