Special teams gets a boost

Ike Ekejiuba and Robert Thomas both returned to practice Monday and should be ready to play against San Diego this week.

That's good news for the Raiders special teams, which have struggled all season without the two key veterans. Ekejiuba suffered a cracked right ankle during Oakland's final preseason game against Seattle and had been in a walking boot since then. A back-up linebacker, Ekejiuba is considered one of the Raiders' top special teams players along with Thomas, another back-up linebacker.

Oakland also figures to get a boost on special teams with the addition of rookie Oren O'Neal, who has also been out with a hamstring injury.

"It's very important to get guys back and to get more competition and get guys in spots," Raiders coach Lane Kiffin said. "(They are) guys that were initially core guys for us going into the year. They'll be right back in there and we'll plug them in and we expect improvements."

The Raiders rank last in punt return and are 28th in kickoff returns. They're also 31st in kickoff coverage and 24th in punt coverage, numbers that have to improve if Oakland is to have a chance of holding onto its division lead.

"After practice today, I was a little sore but I feel like I'm ready to go," Ekejiuba said. "I just want to get out there and help the team win. We've got a long ways to go."

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