ALAMEDA (AP) — When Oakland played Kansas City for the first time this season, NaVorro Bowman still didn’t know all his Raiders teammates’ names, much less a brand new playbook.
After stepping right into the full-time middle linebacker spot that week just three days after signing with the Raiders, Bowman has expanded his role each week and is making a big impact on the defense that has showed signs of improvement of late.
“He’s had a calming influence,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “He loves to play. You feel him on game day. He’s very much in control. I think he’s been a calming influence for some of our younger players.”
That calming effect goes beyond some of the younger players on the defense and even to the coaches, who appreciate his preparation and film work during the week to be ready on Sundays for whatever an opposing offense has to deliver.
Bowman made four All-Pro teams during his tenure in San Francisco before he was cut by the 49ers in October. He almost immediately signed with the Raiders on Oct. 16, and played all but one defensive snap three days later in a 31-30 win over Kansas City that ended Oakland’s four-game losing streak.
With the Raiders (6-6) set to play the Chiefs (6-6) again on Sunday in Kansas City with first place in the AFC West on the line, Oakland is glad to have Bowman patrolling the center of the defense.
Since joining the Raiders, Bowman leads the team in tackles, ranks second in snaps played on defense, is tied for third in tackles for loss and has become a leader of the unit.
“That calming influence starts with me when you’re communicating through the head set and you’re able to get guys calmed down,” defensive play-caller John Pagano said. “He’s very soft spoken, but a very hard-hitting type of guy. He tries to keep everyone calm out there to be able to focus and breathe and play the next play.”
While the Raiders won in Bowman’s debut thanks to a last-play TD pass from Derek Carr to Michael Crabtree, the defense still was spotty. Oakland allowed 30.3 points per game in the first four contests with Bowman on board, winning two of them, before firing coordinator Ken Norton Jr. after a lopsided defeat to New England in Mexico City.
The defense has improved the past two weeks under Pagano, although much of that success can be attributed to getting to face backup quarterbacks Paxton Lynch and Geno Smith in wins over Denver and the New York Giants.
But Oakland has also generated more pressure, caused more turnovers and allowed fewer big plays in those two wins that have put the Raiders into a three-way tie for first in the AFC West with the Chiefs and Chargers.
Bowman has been in the middle of the improvement, recording Oakland’s only interception of the season in the end zone in the win over the Broncos and then recovering a fumble last week after a Bruce Irvin strip sack against the Giants. No other Raiders player has more than one defensive takeaway all season.
“Anytime I see the ball, I have to go get it,” he said. “I gave the ball to Bruce because if he didn’t do what he did, I wouldn’t have gotten it. That’s just what it has to become, a team effort, everybody understanding we need all of those guys at all times.”
NOTES: WR Amari Cooper (left ankle) remained sidelined and didn’t practice. ... LB Cory James (knee), G Jon Feliciano (concussion) and RB Marshawn Lynch (rest) also did not practice. ... WR Cordarrelle Patterson (hip), DL Denico Autry (hand) and FB Jamize Olawale (ankle) returned to practice on a limited basis.
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