Justin Ellis’ return a boost to Raiders defensive line
ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) Justin Ellis is the first one to admit his absence along the Oakland Raiders’ defensive line the past two weeks has been hardly noticeable.
That’s because the Raiders’ run defense has gotten progressively better since Ellis went out with an ankle injury early in the team’s season-opening loss to Cincinnati.
”Those guys have been playing good,” Ellis said Friday. ”Stacy McGee, he’s been playing well, just as good as I could do it. Most of the (backups) on this line can do it just as much as the first string and sometimes better.”
Not that Ellis is considered a weak link.
If anything, the player commonly referred to as Jelly by his coaches and teammates is one of the best run defenders on Oakland’s roster.
Ellis returned to practice this week and is expected to be back in the starting lineup when the Raiders play the Bears in Chicago on Sunday.
The timing couldn’t be better for Oakland’s defense.
Linebacker Khalil Mack has been nursing a sore hip while defensive end Justin Tuck is dealing with a sore knee. Both are listed as probable.
Safety Charles Woodson is questionable with a sore shoulder, while defensive lineman C.J. Wilson has a calf injury and has already been ruled out.
”It’s always good to get people back,” coach Jack Del Rio said. ”It’s always good to have people healthy.”
Oakland heads into the Chicago game with the 13th-ranked run defense, giving up 275 yards on the ground in the first three games. Almost half of that (127) came in the Week 1 loss to the Bengals when the Raiders got down early then fell apart defensively.
Ellis, a fourth-round pick in 2014 who started 14 games as a rookie, was injured on the seventh play of the game when his foot got stuck in the ground during a goal-line play. A pile of players rolled up on his ankle, and Ellis initially thought his season might be over before it really began.
”I know it comes with the game but sometimes it throws you off a little bit,” Ellis said ”It makes you discouraged a little bit because you worked so hard during the offseason and then, bam, it’s gone just like that.”
He’s back and fully healthy to rejoin a defense that has given up just 83 yards in its last six quarters.
Ellis credits McGee and Wilson for holding down the fort in his absence.
”It’s a long season, run downs are tough and we’re going to need those guys,” Ellis said. ”They’re playing well.”
The Raiders will need all the help they can get against the Bears.
Chicago running back Matt Forte is the second-leading rusher in the NFL with 276 yards while the Bears own the league’s sixth-ranked running game.
”When you look at his stats, he’s running the ball well, he’s catching the ball well, he’s a high target for them,” Oakland defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. ”It’s good to have our good players back to match with their good players.”
Notes: K Sebastian Janikowski will tie Hall of Fame wide receiver Tim Brown’s team record for most games played on Sunday at Soldier Field. Brown played in 240 games during his career with the Raiders. … RB/KR Taiwan Jones (foot) was limited and is questionable, FB Jamize Olawale (ankle) was full and is probable, while LB Ben Heeney (hamstring) was limited and is questionable. DE Benson Mayowa (knee) and CB Keith McGill (foot) did not practice and are out.
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