Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dennis Allen Faces Decisions on Offense in 2012

In his first press conference, new Raiders head coach Dennis Allen surprised me a bit. Maybe I had pie in the sky expectations but I was sure Allen would bring a completely new approach to the head coaching position. Instead, I heard the exact same thing we always hear when any new coach is hired. It never ceases to amaze me that so many new coaches talk championship immediately. To me, that is promising the moon and sets yourself up for disappointment.

Why go on a limb so soon? Give yourself some time to work into the role before the word championship or super bowl is mentioned.

For Dennis Allen to say that the Oakland Raiders defense has the talent in place for a championship is outright pipe dreaming. As noted, there are a vast array of holes to fill of defense. You have at least half the starting 11 of 2011 up for free agency and a questionable secondary on their very best day. With no high draft picks this year you have to wonder if Allen has really looked at what he has or if he is spouting what he thinks people want to hear.

On offense, it's hard not seeing them go with a proven commodity in Carson Palmer as number one QB. If Palmer stays healthy, we know we are getting an excellent QB. You need a capable backup so keeping Jason Campbell makes sense too if they can re-sign him for the right price. Though, personally I would like to see what Terrell Pryor can do. I think we have seen enough of Kyle Boller to know he is not an answer. Rhett Bomar is an intriguing prospect if he makes it into training camp. You always need guys to play through preseason.

Tight End Kevin Boss and WR Chaz Schillens are brittle and unreliable in the receiving corps. Though Boss is due 2 million and will therefore be counted on to make his presence felt. There's no question Darrius Heyward-Bey has finally developed as a professional receiver. Jacoby Ford is an excellent third option but with the regression of Louis Murphy, Denarius Moore stands as the only solid number 2 receiver on the roster.

Who will be at RB seems less clear, despite the encouraging development of Darren McFadden at the beginning of last season and the ability of Michael Bush to pick up good yardage totals (256/977). McFadden simply cannot remain healthy and therefore, is unreliable as a number one back. Michael Bush is a free agent and just might be done in Oakland.

Worse news is dynamic FB Marcel Reece is a free agent. Oakland will need to pay him to stay around. I hope they do.

It would be nice if Taiwan Jones emerged to replace McFadden as a number one back. Well, Jones has shown some flashes of ability at the pro level but he needs open space to be effective. Once he found his game, McFadden found ways to bang through a D-line. Maybe that is what makes him get injured so much but that's what it takes to rack up yards in the NFL. Taiwan Jones is not a Darren McFadden clone. I don't see Jones being able to break lots of tackles up the middle.

What makes the offensive effective will be the offensive line. This has been a weak spot of the Raiders for years while Al Davis overspent on fruitless defensive talent (DeAngelo Hall anyone?). While the O-line has played much better than in season's past, it is still a suspect unit, proven by leading the league with 24 offensive holding penalties, most of which were called on the O-line:

Veldheer 7
Wisniewski 4
Satele 4
Barnes 3
Carlisle 2

Despite the penalties, I'm in favor of Jared Veldheer continuing to develop. He is turning out to be a solution at left tackle. Stefan Wisniewski is certainly a keeper either at guard or center (we all could have predicted that but it is nice to see actually happen). Khalif Barnes? Is that really the best we can do at right tackle?

Coach Allen has lots of roster considerations to make on offense. I'm just not sure handing Greg Knapp the keys to the offense is a good idea.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Rebuilding the Raiders - Where do you start?

Thankfully, a new sheriff has FINALLY arrived at 1220 Harbor Bay Parkway, Alameda California. Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie has tapped a bright, young talent to be head coach and assemble a staff to re-shape the product we see on the field. Now the hard part. Where do you start? Just about every aspect to the roster needs tweaking and some big decisions need to be made. My guess would be resolving the defensive woes is the best place to start. The defense has been decimated by Al Davis aimless tinkering and needs an overhaul.

It should be interesting to see what kind of defense Dennis Allen will build. It is well known Reggie McKenzie likes a 3-4 defense. Last year, Allen built a 4-3 defense with the Bronocs. We have to assume the two men have reached an accord on direction they will take with the Raiders since the personnel they select will be critical to the defensive scheme they put in place.

We know that Dennis Allen likes fast, athletic guys on the defensive line. This is in contrast to what the Raiders currently have with the exception of Richard Seymour. Fortunately, Big Dick has played in the 3-4 scheme before and seems an ideal fit to build a defensive line around as far as skills. However, Seymour has shown less than stellar team play with his abundance of penalties (11/95 yards), fines, suspensions and ejections. Seymour is due $7.5 million plus a $7.5 million roster bonus so if they keep him, my guess would be this would be the place for Dennis Allen to begin his disciplinary approach. If Big Dick falls in line, chances are the rest of the defense will follow.

The rest of the defensive line is a wild card since they are neither fast nor athletic. We don't know how Matt Shaughnessy will bounce back from injury. He has shown flashes of strong play but you never know if a player can regain the same form he had prior to injury. Shaughnessy has one year left on his contract. My guess would be the Raiders will keep him.

Trevor Scott is athletic and fast but did not fully rehab from injury last season and got mimimal playing time. He used to be a monster sackmaster and could switch to linebacker. However, he is a free agent and may not be back. Other free agents on the D-line include Desmond Bryant, Jarvis Moss and John Henderson. These are all very big dudes but only Henderson is still under contract. McKenzie and Allen need to be careful here not to let all these guys go without backfilling for depth.

Tommy Kelly is still playing out his monster contract and will likely be kept. It is unknown what to make of Lamarr Houston who has been invisible after a promising preseason as a rookie.

Linebacker is a bit of wildcard as well. You have to figure they will keep first round pick of two years ago Rolando McClain, provided he does not go to jail or is suspended by the league for off the field issues. McClain has not lived up to the top billing Raider fans would have hoped but the potential is there. Maybe Dennis Allen is the right guy to straighten things out with the linebackers. The only consistency has been Kamerion Wimbley who is a beast. It is safe to say Wimbley will be kept around along with his $48 million contract with $29 million guaranteed. He is an ideal fit in the 3-4 scheme and should continue to pile up sacks.

Aaron Curry on the other hand is due almost 6 million and has not demonstrated the aptitude to play at a high level in the NFL. If anything, he has been a liability. This is a disappointment and it would be surprising if Allen and McKenzie did not seek to find a more solid replacement at weakside LB as well as backup at strongside. Quentin Groves is likely gone.

Speaking of liabilities, the entire secondary is in sorry shape with the exception of Michael Huff. It is likely Huff and his big new contract will stick around and contrary to Hue Jackson's plans to move him to CB, I would expect Huff to stay where is at FS where he has excelled. His replacement while he was injured, Matt Giordano, played well at times, leading the team with five INTS. He just might also stick around for depth.

When it comes to discipline, that means nothing to Stanford Routt who has shown a remarkable lack of team first attitude. This guy is on an Al Davis scholarship and carrying a grotesquely large contract which makes it impossible to trade him. It is doubtful any team would want such a player anyway. This is a guy who led the league in defensive holding with 8 and also led the entire league with 17 penalties for 167 yards. That is embarrassing. Naturally, Routt could care less about that. If any player deserves the axe it is Routt so it will be interesting to see if McKenzie chooses to eat Routt's contract for the good of overall team performance. We are not going to win with Routt. End of story and everyone knows that. Besides which he is only a marginal player. If the guy was a shutdown player making good penalties, I would say keep him but his penalties hurt the team and lose games, as they have for 8 seasons now.

The other veteran corners are shopworn and not really worth keeping. Chris Johnson and Lito Sheppard should be gone next season. It remains to be seen if Demarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa can raise their level of play to become solid starters. Both guys have shown good ability.

If Tyvon Branch's body holds up, he is likely to stick at strong safety. It would be surprising if Mike Mitchell stuck around. Mitchell hasn't done much and doesn't seem to have the skills set to get any better. He does have one year left on his generous Al Davis contract so that may be reason enough to try and squeeze something out of him.

I will take a look at the offense in a separate post.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

McKenzie's Bold Hire Just Might Pay Off

You have to admire the gumption of new Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie hiring a guy to be head coach who has no head coaching experience and just one year experience as an NFL defensive coordinator. In checking under the hood however, Dennis Allen is not so much of an unknown. In fact, he is a football "lifer" as Al Davis would say. Allen was a star in high school as a defensive back. He was a four year starter at Texas A&M. You know a guy is pretty good if he starts all four years at a DI program. He had a very brief stint in an NFL training camp. Then Allen proceeded to work up the coaching ladder ever since.

You don't just get NFL jobs so Allen must have been recommended and had a great network of contacts to even get interviews along the way, never mind landing the jobs (which he did with the Falcons, Saints and Broncos). Then of course it's not just who you know but how well you say it. Allen is clearly an excellent communicator both to players and during the coaching interview process.

Reggie Mckenzie is not an easy man to impress. You can tell right away McKenzie is a no bullshit type of NFL executive. He walked into Raiders HQ, cleaned house with just a single command. Once Hue Jackson was fired as head coach that left every other coach on staff in limbo as to their fate, essentially letting them go without having to tell them so.

As for what he had in mind for a head coach instead of Hue, I am now seeing the logic of McKenzie. It's all about the defense. This has been the nagging flaw of the Raiders since the Super Bowl XXXVII hammering by the Bucs in 2003. This is the Achilles heel that wouldn't heal. Al Davis was the architect of the defense every year. In Raiders tradition, it was carefully worded by coaches and observers to try and disguise this reality but having no control of the defense was one of the conditions of being offered the head coaching job. The D was all up to Al and what he dictated to his defensive coordinator. This is a key reason that made it so hard to succeed as head coach of the Raiders as well.

Now, we have a defensive-minded head coach with fresh ideas and a direct, in your face demeanor to his players along with a soft spoken Texas drawl to the media. I think we can expect player accountability across the board. No more scholarships. Just this fact alone changes everything about the previous Raiders culture.

I'm willing to keep an open mind with Dennis Allen. For now, I have faith that McKenzie knows what he is doing. I have no reason not to believe it. Reggie was mentored by Ron Wolf during his tenure with Green Bay. Long time Raiders fans know Ron Wolf was the player personnel architect who built the great Raiders teams of the 70's (including the 1976 Super Bowl team) and put the pieces in place for more Raiders Super Bowls in the 80's. It was Ron Wolf's drafting recommendations to Al Davis that got it done, not Al. Look it up. Ron Wolf was one of the best personnel men in the business and now his influence has come full circle with the hiring moves of his protégé, Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie.

Of course now I have to admit Al's hiring of Ron Wolf to begin with was a stroke of genius. To that I agree.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Man Named Smelley Pt II

Unbelievably, there is another man named Smelley. This guy is playing for Alabama or at least did. I thought Chris Smelley was the only unfortunate lad with such a distinction.

I don't quite understand why these smelley folk are both from the south. Is there a problem down there? Hey dumbass, CHANGE YOUR NAME. You have got to be kidding.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fox Sports Dumps on Hue

The dismissal of Hue Jackson by the Raiders organization was a bit of a disappointment to the Raider Nation. We all knew Hue was full of bluster but he was a likeable and effectual head coach, despite the team losing down the stretch. We blame that on the ghost of Al Davis and his pathetic personnel decisions in building the defense, not Hue.

We also don't blame Hue for triggering the Carson Palmer trade. Palmer is a much better QB than Jason Campbell and who are we going to win with, Kyle Boller?

So, Jason Whitlock's article at FoxSports.com has got it all wrong. Whitlock pulls the race card which, quite frankly is horseshit. There was no racism implicit in the decision to fire Hue.

What is true is there are residual elements of Al Davis flunkies at Raiders HQ. So a good housecleaning is an excellent idea. But Hue is far from an Al Davis flunkie. The simple fact is the new Raiders brain trust wanted their own man as head coach. There is no reason to believe any different. But, it is apparent dolts like Mike Silver and Jason Whitlock just like to kick up dust for the sake of meeting their quota for writing articles. This way they give the impression they are earning their salary.

I'm even surprised at Rich Gannon's comments. He contradicts himself in the same breath, “What a stunner...I’m not surprised with the change.”

What is ridiculous about Whitlock's comments is it is obvious he does not even know the first thing about Hue. He cites Hue's "enablers" needing a reality check. If you look at the career of Hue Jackson you will see a guy that came out of obscurity. He played and then coached at the University of the Pacific. They don't even have a football program any more. The guy ascended to the NFL from that. His only enabler is a blue collar work ethic. Hue knows offense and as stated numerous times, Al Davis built the defense. The defense lost the games.

Nice try Jason Whitlock of FoxSports.com but you are just a minuscule step up from pansy ass Mike Silver and his lame Cal Bears who can't win a damn thing since Aaron Rodgers has moved on.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mike Silver Starts the Mark Davis Era Off With Unwarranted Criticism

Mile Silver, currently of Yahoo Sports, is an experienced NFL writer. He's also a Bay Area resident and therefore, has had more than ample opportunity to get a read on the operations at Oakland Raiders HQ, specifically the demeanor of Al Davis.

I'm wondering why then, Silver saw fit to unleash abuse directed at Al's successor, his son Mark Davis. Silver targeted Mark Davis as being "in over his head" as the new CEO of an NFL franchise.

Considering the fact that Mark is a 50 something year old man and has been part of the Raiders organization his whole life, it should be obvious to anyone following the Raiders that Mark is not a football man. Mark has said nothing at all publicly on football operations his entire career until this past week. His duties within Raiders HQ are business-related. If he was a football man then we would have heard a lot more from him by now, don't you think?

Silver pokes fun at Mark based on a former employee's account of Al embarrassing his son in front of Raiders staff. I'm willing to lay odds the source that informed Silver of Al's harsh treatment of Mark was Randy Hanson. You may recall Hanson is a humiliated figure himself. The former low level Raiders coach had his jaw broken ostensibly by either former head coach Tom Laying Cable or furniture, depending on which account you believe.

Silver seems oblivious to the fact that Mark has never claimed to be an expert in football operations regardless of what his relationship with his father was. We don't know anything about the father and son relationship. Perhaps Al did try to mold Mark into a football man and just maybe, Al was disappointed in his progeny's lack of "can do" energy. Therefore, choosing to humiliate his son in front of others as a result. Who cares?

It's not for us to say and frankly, it's not very interesting. Mark is his own man, period. Mike Silver took journalistic liberties usually reserved for freewheeling bloggers like myself. Though Silver has a vaster audience and therefore showed irresponsible and underhanded tactics for a supposed professional.

We do know Mark is honest in his approach, relying on people like John Madden and other people close to the franchise for advice.

I'm not too impressed with Silver or Yahoo Sports in general. I'm surprised Yahoo has any budget at all to pay writers. I've always wondered where they get their money from since they gave nearly 6 billion away to Mark Cuban for technology they never used. Do you remember that Yahoo believed Cuban's broadcast.com was going to enable them to stream sports across the web? I do and it was as much of a joke then as it is today. All it served to do was make Cuban ultra wealthy.

We all know Cuban is laughing at Yahoo now as well he should. Yahoo sucks immense donkey balls.

Yahoo has no products to sell so where do they have the funds to pay Mike Silver whatever meager salary he makes? I wonder if he scrapes enough to pay his mortgage and stock up on PB&J to make it through each month.

Here's a photo of Mike wearing sunglasses, perhaps inspired by his role model, gossip extraordinaire Paris Hilton.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mark Davis One Ups His Dad In His First Press Conference

Various people associated with the Raiders organization who have met Mark Davis all have said he is a nice guy. I never had any reason to doubt any of them. I was curious why he remained in the backdrop of the organization all these years (he's in his mid 50's now), never even a hint of him being involved in football operations. Clearly, he was no chip off the old block. Not only does he look nothing like his father, he does not share the same demeanor. Though, Mark does have an odd haircut.

It never seemed to me Mark had even the slightest interest in football period. I mean, imagine growing up around pro football but never caring enough to get involved except in a perfunctory sense. But now, with the hiring of a GM, his hand was forced into the limelight. For the very first time, the Semi-Reluctant New Mr. Davis has spoken to the media at large and fielded questions. This is indeed a new era in Raiders history.

Imagine Al Davis fielding questions in a polite, engaging manner. I think Al has tried hard at times to do that but it comes off as awkward. Al had an on again, off again contentious relationship with the media. I recall an interview he did with Paul MaGuire who was an old friend from the AFL days where Al was smiling and happy to be there. Otherwise, I think he dreaded talking to the media. Even when he spoke to Ice Cube in his documentary on the LA Raiders, Al was stiff lipped.

Mark Davis on the other hand showed right away he wants to be an ally to the fanbase.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

DHB earns his keep with help from a man named Sanjay

A few years ago I openly questioned Undead Al's selection of Darrius Heyward-Bey in the first round of the 2009 draft in addition to giving him so many reps in games when he clearly was not ready for the pro level.  The guy looked horrible as we all know and we all labeled him DHBust.

Now of course, we all look foolish because not only is DHB producing, the guy was 20th overall in receiving yards in the entire NFL in 2011, outranking guys like Percy Harvin, DeSean Jackson, Dez Bryant, etc.  See for yourself.

I'm not saying DHB is great by any stretch. He has a long way to go as far as consistency and polishing his game but it answers a fundamental question I had in 2009.  Undead Al demoted Fred Biletnikoff from WR coach (maybe Freddy was just not cut out for the job any more), then for some odd reason Al decided James Lofton was not the answer either.  But to replace these hall of famers with some guy named Sanjay Lal did not make any sense.  Lal had very little in the way of an impressive resume.  He was however, a quality control assistant on the Raiders staff already.  Apparently he impressed Al who bumped him up the ladder.

Lal has survived three coaching changes and clearly has gotten Heyward-Bey on the right track.  Who would've thunk it?  Not me.  I was in favor of the Raiders taking a much needed left tackle in that year's draft.  As it turns out, the highly regarded Eugene Monroe taken by the Jaguars in the first round that year has been a resounding disappointment.

Hey, at least I can admit when I am wrong. 

Now all the Raiders need is a few more decent receivers.  I have just about had it with Chaz Schilens.  Some guys are just snakebit with injuries.  It's time to cut our losses with Chaz.  I also don't think Louis Murphy has progressed and it seems pretty obvious T.J. Houshmandzadeh is out of fuel.

I really don't think Kevin Boss was worth all that money to play TE.  He's ok but now he's damaged goods and he really didn't do too much this past season.  Neither did Brandon Meyers who seems less and less important after a decent pre-season as a rookie backup TE.

Some more depth at WR and TE and another breakout season from DHB will have me believing in our offense for a change.  I'm still not sold on Jared Veldheer at LT but the OL as a whole has played a lot better than it has in years past and who can argue with having a QB as experienced as Carson Palmer.

So to sum up my impressions, nice job, er, uh, Sanjay and congrats to DHB for earning the respect of the Raider Nation.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Everyone Wants to Blame Bresnahan

Raiders coaches, fans, haters and Raiders players themselves can all agree on one thing.  The defense just does not get the job done.  This has been a problem for many years.  We can talk alignments and strategy all day but it comes down to personnel decisions of years past catching up with reality.

Al Davis signed several players to big money deals that did not work out.  I have written about this in an article Raiders Defensive Line By the Numbers.  We don't even half to rehash all of the horrible signings Al is responsible for.  DeAngelo Hall, Gibril Wilson, the list goes on.  There is no denying all of that spending to marginal players (with the exception of Richard Seymour) has hurt not only the Raiders spending ability but their flexibility in bringing in good players to backfill the mistakes.

With just a few exceptions such as Tyvon Branch and a resurgent Michael Huff, there has not been any real consistency on defense. What happened to Lamarr Houston?  He was an animal for a while and is now invisible.  Injuries have taken their toll no doubt.  Matt Shaughnessy was doing well and has been out.  Trevor Scott has not gotten the playing time after showing promise as a sackmaster.  I will also admit Tommy Kelly has lived up to his contract after all.  I doubted his big money signing when it happened as did most everyone else but I will eat some crow.  He has played well.

But Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour is not enough.  Signing a flameout in Aaron Curry is not going to cut it.  A shutdown corner like Nnamdi was not enough.  Bringing in a great former player in Rod Woodson to coach the secondary was not enough to salvage a crumbling defensive backfield.  You'll get some decent plays here and there from guys like Matt Gioradano and (ugh) Stanford Routt when he is not negating his successes with penalties. I'm not so sure Mike Mitchell is anything but a bull in a china shop.  You can change defensive coordinators and alignments.  You can blitz more.  None of it will change the lack of depth and talent to compensate for bad personnel decisions by Al Davis.

What is worse is no matter how hard the front office has tried to fix this such as drafting Rolando McClain in the first round, there are just too many holes to fill on defense every year. So if you are looking for someone to blame, don't point the finger at Chuck Bresnahan.  The guy is as adequate a defensive coordinator as there is in the business.  The problem is/was with Al Davis.  Just as it always has been.

The franchise has a chance to fix this but not in next year's draft.  The Raiders have sparse picks to be had there. They have no choice but to mine the waiver wire and see what they can haul as far as trades and free agency.

Is that really a tattoo...?

I've seen some really clever Raiders tattoos over the years but I don't think I have ever seen one of the...Oakland Coliseum.
Is that for real?

Wow, from the look of those grilling tongs, I am going to guess the guy had the tat done to memorialize all of the great tailgating he has experienced in the parking lot. He doesn't look old enough to have lived through the glory days of the franchise but who knows. I applaud him for his devotion to the Raiders. Though, I wonder if he realizes the Coliseum is actually run by the City of Oakland and Alameda County, not the Raiders.

Photo credit to Al Reyes of Bay Area Sports Drive.