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Raiders new returner looks to provide a spark
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ALAMEDA  (AP) — Walt Powell is hoping to give a needed spark to Oakland’s struggling return game.

The return specialist officially reported to the Raiders on Tuesday after signing a contract over the weekend with hopes of providing a consistent returner after the team has rotated players in those roles through the first five weeks.

Powell was signed off Buffalo’s practice squad late last week when the Raiders were on their bye. He had played four games the previous season as a rookie with the New York Jets.

“Whenever I get the ball in my hands, I try to make a play,” Powell said. “Hopefully just get some opportunities and make the best of them.”

Powell had eight kick returns for 233 yards last season, averaging 29.1 yards per return with a long of 61 yards. He also returned 12 punts for 48 yards.

But Powell was cut by the Jets after the preseason despite a 54-yard return for a score in an exhibition game against the New York Giants. The former sixth-round pick out of Murray State then spent time on the practice squads with the Jets and Bills before being signed by the Raiders.

He hopes to fit right in with his new team.

“All teams are different so you just have to study and get a feel for the guys who are blocking for you,” he said. “At the end of the day, those are the guys you run behind.”

The Raiders have been sharing punt return duties, with starting safety TJ Carrie getting most of the opportunities. But Carrie hurt his chest on a return in Chicago on Oct. 4 and is too valuable on defense to risk another injury.

Rookie receiver Amari Cooper has had four returns, including one adventure that lost 9 yards, and is also so valuable on offense that Oakland would like to keep him there exclusively if possible.

Taiwan Jones began the year as the primary kick returner but has been nursing a sore foot that has sidelined him the past two weeks. Running back Roy Helu Jr. and fullback Marcel Reece have taken over the past two games.

None of the returners have been able to break one in what has become a long-standing problem for the Raiders.

 Oakland last returned a kick for a touchdown when Jacoby Ford did it against Cleveland on Oct. 16, 2011. The team has had 181 kick returns since then without a score.

It has been even longer since the Raiders brought a punt return all the way back. Johnnie Lee Higgins was the last to do it on Dec. 21, 2008, against Houston. There have been 236 punts returned since then without a TD.

Powell said his approach as a returner is simple.

“The first thing is just fielding the ball,” he said. “You can’t do anything without the ball. Then you just have to have a good feel for your blockers and when the holes open up and just make a play.”

NOTES: The Raiders held a walkthrough Tuesday after returning from four days off for the bye week. ... Oakland officially placed DE Justin Tuck on season-ending injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle and brought back S Taylor Mays to take his roster spot.