Raiders Could Use Van Dyke Now

The Raiders are scouring the street for cornerbacks while their most recent castoff is helping the Steelers.

PITTSBURGH – Too bad the Oakland Raiders lost their starting cornerbacks to injuries in the first two games of the season.

Too bad the Raiders had to beat the bushes to pick up a couple of practice squad players, a cornerback off waivers, and another off the street.

Too bad the Raiders don't have their third-round draft pick from a year ago, a guy they cut 17 days ago.

Too bad that guy, DeMarcus Van Dyke, has been making plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers since the start of the season.

Yep, the Raiders cut Van Dyke prior to the start of the regular season. In Oakland it was spun as a move that signaled a departure from the Al Davis era because the late Davis loved speed and probably overdrafted Van Dyke, the fastest timed player at the 2011 combine.

Van Dyke ran a sub 4.3 40 (4.25 on some watches) at the combine, but the 6-0¾, 176-pounder wasn't highly regarded because of his skinny frame and lack of strength (only 5 bench reps of 225 pounds). His instincts were also questioned and his run-stopping skills were said to be non-existent.

But at least two people liked him coming out of the University of Miami: Davis and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

"We thought that he was a long, fast kid with man coverage ability," Tomlin said. "We compared him very favorably to Cortez Allen and really took a similar approach to those guys. He was in that draft class with Cortez and Curtis Brown and we're thankful to have three young corners from a draft class just a couple of years ago in our program that are working to improve on a daily basis."

So, why did Oakland cut Van Dyke?

"They wanted me to return punts," said Van Dyke. "That's something I hadn't done since high school. So they brought in a punt returner to replace me. I guess they just want their own guys in there."

The Raiders claimed punt returner/cornerback Phillip Adams off waivers on Sept. 1 and then signed 31-year-old Philadelphia Eagles castoff Joselio Hanson on Sept. 3. The Raiders cut Van Dyke that day, and after he cleared waivers – teams would have to take on the third-rounder's contract if claimed off waivers – he met with Tomlin, with whom Van Dyke had developed a friendly relationship. The Steelers signed him on Sept. 7.

"I really wasn't that upset about getting cut," Van Dyke said. "I kind of wanted to be closer to home (Fort Lauderdale). Coming out me and coach Tomlin had a great meeting at my pro day. God works in mysterious ways."

A decorated special-teams gunner and jammer in college, Van Dyke was used as a gunner in the Steelers' opener and after the second series he downed Drew Butler's punt at the 1-yard line. It eventually led to a Steelers field goal.

Against the Jets, Van Dyke – who says he likes to race the ball to the return man – nearly did beat the punt to return man Jeremy Kerley.

No doubt Kerley felt Van Dyke's presence because Kerley fumbled just before Van Dyke hit him. The Steelers recovered at the New York 42.

"I thought he also showed awareness as a punt return guy, pushing a gunner into the end zone who was trying to down a ball," said Tomlin. "Obviously he's been an asset to us in that area."

As for the Raiders, their starting cornerbacks, Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer, are injured and out. They still have free-agent acquisition Patrick Lee, Adams and Hanson, and promoted Coye Francies from their practice squad. Yesterday they signed Brandian Ross off of the Green Bay Packers' practice squad.

"That's crazy," Van Dyke said of the Raiders' woes. "Well, they're putting in their own guys. (New general manager Reggie) McKenzie is a great guy. I guess he has a new idea."

NOTES – Missing Wednesday's practice were RB Jonathan Dwyer, RT Marcus Gilbert, OLB James Harrison, TE Heath Miller, SS Troy Polamalu, WR Emmanuel Sanders and WR Mike Wallace. Rookie OT Mike Adams left practice with back pain and ILB Stevenson Sylvester worked on a limited basis. Most should return for Thursday's practice. … RB Rashard Mendenhall took part in Wednesday's practice in pads, but wasn't hit.

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