Among the players the Raiders added in the 2015 offseason was veteran special teams player, Lorenzo Alexander. He was picked up off waivers from the Arizona Cardinals just prior to the start of the season, joined the team, and spent all 16 games that season plodding away on special teams just as he had done for 8 NFL seasons before that in Washington and Arizona.
Before joining the Raiders, Alexander had a career 16 starts at linebacker with 9.0 career sacks. Those numbers didn’t change in his season in Oakland.
It was a homecoming for Alexander, who is from Oakland and played at Cal. But that homecoming would last just one season before the Raiders moved on from him.
“I wanted to come back this year after last season,” said Alexander. “I enjoyed my time while I was there, but Reggie [McKenzie] and the coaching staff decided they wanted to go in a different direction. Obviously, they signed a guy like Bruce Irvin there. They had Khalil Mack and they drafted some young guys.”
And so, this offseason, at the age of 33, he was signed by the Buffalo Bills. Then, due to some injuries, he got his opportunity and over his first nine games, he had started every game at outside linebacker and was leading the NFL with 10.0 sacks. He remained the NFL’s leading sack artist until last week when Von Miller’s 3.0 sacks put him at 12.5, dropping Alexander into a tie for the second most sacks.
That’s pretty amazing for a guy who had spent all but one season prior to this one as a fulltime special teamer. Talk about coming out of nowhere.
“We did not see that in him or we wouldn’t have let Rex get him!” said Jack Del Rio. “I’m really happy for a guy like Lorenzo. He’s a consummate professional. This is a guy that busts his butt, does everything he can, every day to be a true professional. We had him around thinking that’s what we were getting is that, the leadership part of it and honestly, we missed on this part where he’s getting 10 sacks.”
“It surprised everybody,” said Bills head coach Rex Ryan.
“You can put him as an outside rusher, inside rusher. He can cover. He can play man coverage and he’s a super player, superstar-type player on special teams, so that’s really what we thought we were getting, but there’s no way that we thought he would put up the numbers he’s putting up and doing a great job on a consistent basis.”
One guy who is not surprised is Lorenzo Alexander himself.
“I know I’m capable of doing,” said Alexander of his skills as a pass rusher. But as it happens so often I the NFL, you become known for one thing, and that’s all most coaches see you. In Alexander’s case, that was as a special teams maven.
“Brad Seely, the special teams coach, brought me in because he knew what I was capable of doing on special teams and how I could lead there. It’s nobody’s fault or anything like that. It just happened to be what my role was at the time. Now I’m finally healthy and have the opportunity with other guys down. We made some roster moves and I’ve just been able to go out there and showcase my ability.”
Alexander will be returning to his native Oakland once more this Sunday when he comes to town with the Bills. He has a lot of friends and family who will be in attendance at the game to see him playing his best football in this his 10th NFL season.
He would have liked to have had this opportunity with the Raiders and be along for the ride as they go on their playoff run, and the Raiders certainly could have used his pass rushing abilities. But they let him go, he’s found himself in a great place, and now the Raiders must attempt to keep him from adding to his already double digit sack total.