Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Raiders Defense - Where Did It All Go Wrong and Can it be Salvaged?

The Raiders defense always seems to earn fan consternation. Like clockwork, just about every season in recent memory, the Raider Nation is calling for the firing of whoever is Defensive Coordinator.

We know much of this was due to Al Davis hiring "yes men" to implement his preferred designs.  Meaning, man to man coverage as a staple with a bull rush up front to try and "dominate" the line of scrimmage.  It's a simple formula for opposing teams to strategize against.  Al Davis was not an innovator to the extent that he ever saw his way out of this hole.  The days of Al having the upper hand in drafting and recruiting talent to give bite to his bark was long gone.

I go into much of that in my article Everyone Wants to Blame Bresnahan.

If you have been a Raiders fan long enough, the name Dave Adolph rings a bell.  Coaching is an unforgiving vocation.  You can be a good coach and know your stuff but that does not always translate to success.  Dave Adolph is a perfect example of that.  He was Raiders Defensive Coordinator from 1989-91 and his reign was forgettable.

A more recognizable name, Gunther Cunningham, succeeded Adolph from 1991-1994.  He lasted about as long as it takes to learn you really can't run your defense the way you want to with an Al Davis team.  Cunningham went on to have much more success with the rival Chiefs afterwards.

Wouldn't you know it, an equally talented John Fox succeeded Cunningham and lasted almost as long (1994-1996) only to quit at the beginning of the '97 season.

The pattern is easy to follow.  You can only disguise the obvious in so many ways until your defense gets hammered. You can't win without adapting.  So stubborn was Al Davis that he maintained the same failed defensive framework, imposing it on every defensive coordinator he hired.  Whenever he let good talent walk away, he tried to replace it with a yes man, only to find the impossible was not possible. 

In 1997, Fred Whittingham never wanted the defensive coordinator job. He was coaching the Raiders linebackers when  John Fox quit a week before the season opener. Al Davis designated Whittingham as the successor.

The Raiders ended up ranked 30th in the league in total defense in 1997 allowing 410 yards and 28.4 points a game.  What does Al do next?  He hires his own retread. Dave Adolph, fresh off a miserable stint as a defensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers. That San Diego defense finished the season ranked 23rd overall in the NFL.  So what possible benefit would there be to re-hire Adolph?

Finally, a glimmer of hope.  Willie Shaw was hired in 1998, Jon Gruden's first year.  Shaw's calm, stoic intensity and excellent coaching, raised the defense to fifth in the league in 1998.

BUT, there's always a but.  Gruden originally didn't want Shaw.  He wanted to hire Emmitt Thomas, who was too smart to work for Al Davis and stayed put  as the Eagles defensive coordinator.

Shaw ended up being fired by Gruden in 1999.  Word at the time was Gruiden was unhappy with the run defense and the secondary giving up too many big plays, especially on 3rd-and-long. This may not have been Shaw's fault, but there always has to be a scapegoat.

Also, word at the time was Al Davis didn't like the fact that Shaw was interviewing for head coaching positions. Despite the official spin that the Raiders don't stand in the way of their coaches bettering themselves, Davis always has felt that coaches who even think of leaving are ingrates. Gruden made the call on firing Shaw and he never had to worry about being overruled in this case by Al.

After firing Shaw, Chuck Bresnahan was promoted to Defensive Coordinator from DB coach by Gruden.  Bresnahan lasted from 2000-2003.  Bresnahan didn't do too badly at first which is likely why he stayed in the good graces of Al and was able to return later to the same role.

We all remember the Rob Ryan era (2004-2008).  Every member of the Raider Nation thought Rob Ryan overstayed his welcome. What Ryan came down to was same system, different guy, same results.

John Marshall (2009-2010), fared slightly better because of his insistence to change things up a bit.

Chuck Bresnahan made his encore performance in 2011 and now the new regime has installed Jason Tarver in 2012.  Isn't it ironic that new head coach Dennis Allen really wanted to hire Emmitt Thomas, who, even after Al's passing, wants nothing to do with the Raiders.

As defensive coordinator, you are the scapegoat much of the time for defensive lapses. You have a honeymoon period but that fades quickly if your players and the system imposed on them lose games.

Now that a new coaching staff is in place without the meddling of Al's archaic system, the franchise has a chance to finally turn the corner in playing up to standard on defense.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Marquette King Just Might Push Shane Lechler in Raiders Training Camp

Special teams is an often overlooked area when watching football games. A field goal, a punt or kick return can make or break a game. Giving away field position or gaining it, is really important to set up your offense or defense.

Al Davis was very aware of the importance of special teams. For a number of years now, Shane Lechler has handled the punting duties and Sebastian "I need GHB to get laid" Janikowski has handled kicking duties.  Both of those guys are all-pro caliber.  A key man in the mix for both Lechler and Jano is long snapper Jon Condo who made all-pro as well by virtue of his alliance with the pair.

As for kick and punt return duties (receiving and coverage), that seems more wide open, considering the number of new guys in camp trying to win roster spots. Those guys will not be paid anywhere close to what Lechler and Jano make. Both will make 4 million a year.

When Reggie McKenzie was hired as GM of the Raiders, one of his main tasks is getting a handle on the salary cap and either waiving players or renegotiating some current salaries. Some of the moves Reggie made were clear cut, others, he has not tipped his hand as of yet.

A field goal kicker is very important and you're not going to find anyone on the market with Jano's range.  Plus, his consistency has improved the last few seasons.  You have to pay him, but it is pretty obvious you don't need to spend millions on a punter.

Granted. Lechler is the best in the business.  You are just not going to find a punter with Lechler's skill or anywhere close. It's more than just booting long bombs.  Placement and accuracy is crucial.  Lechler pretty much is a hall of famer in this regard.  Still, 4 million cuts into much needed cap space needed to sign players for other roster needs.

I don't have any insight into the Raiders cap situation. It is a complicated area but I would speculate the signing of free agent punter Marquette King indicates Reggie is at least thinking about the near future at punter. Lechler may still be a Raider in 2012 but beyond that, the job could be King's if he seriously earns his keep in training camp.

Marquette King is a young guy, just graduated college, and he has a thundering leg. He's quite an athletic specimen as well with intense training habits. It seems amazing he was not drafted or signed quicker to a free agent contract.  Check out Marquette King in action.

McKenzie spotted his talent and I suspect he's not being brought in simply as a camp leg either.  It would not be unusual to bring in a young punter of King's quality to learn and gain experience, especially when you have the best in the business under contract already.  I just have to believe at the very least King will be a practice squad addition in 2012.  It would be a shocker if Lechler was traded but if King pans out, Lechler is one of few trade bait items Reggie has to work with. It seems reasonable other teams would be willing to absorb Lechler's 4 million salary.

It would be a blow to the ego of many die hard Raiders fans to lose Shane Lechler but at least you know Marquette King has arrived to fill that role and then some, should things develop that way.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The New Look Raiders Offense - What Do We Really Know?

Just about everything involving the Oakland Raiders is brand new in the 2012 season. Even elements that have been slightly refurbished are still looking new. The only thing missing are revamped uniforms. Is it possible?  The way Mark Davis, Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen have re-shaped the look and feel of everything Raiders, a helmet, logo or a uniform change down the line would not be all that surprising, as radical as that sounds.

The way things stand right now is we have some consistency from last year's core group of productive players and a whole lot of new faces. Some of the coaching staff is refurbished,  Some of the coaching changes are promising.  Some are suspect.

But what do we really know at this point prior to training camp?  What don't we know?

Let's start with the QB situation since we are not doing anything without a solid QB.

What we do we know is that Carson Palmer is healthy and dedicated to excelling in the role of leading the offense, learning Greg Knapp's system inside and out, backwards and forwards.

What we don't know is if Carson is not able to go at any point, what sort of depth we have. Matt Leinart, a QB with some upside has some positives in terms of NFL experience.  Overall, however, he is a wild card how he would do as a leader of the offense if called upon.

Who knows if we'll see Terrelle Pryor or not. He is still a raw talent.

How effective is Greg Knapp as an Offensive Coordinator?  Well, put it this way.  He has never excelled in the role of OC.  He was a flop in Atlanta.  Yet because he is a nice guy who demonstrates competence in coaches meetings, forges strong connections with his coaching peers, his failures have been brushed off as due to player performance.  Greg Knapp has done nothing of note as an OC in the NFL.  He was a solid QB as a player at Sacramento State and that qualifies him to coach QBs.  However, if anyone has anything in the way of proof Knapp is a worthwhile NFL OC then let's hear it.

With the running game what do we know is that Darren McFadden has arrived.  The guy has finally shown some breakthrough ability.  He's not so easy to tackle anymore and is essentially, a pro bowl caliber RB.

We also know that McFadden is injury-prone and has yet to last a full season as a pro. If McFadden can maintain the momentum of his breakout games last year without injury deflating that momentum, the running game is in good shape.

Likewise, if Taiwan Jones is healthy and he gets into open space, the running game is in even better shape.

If Marcel Reece is used effectively, the running game will truly be versatile. Reece is a quality pass catching threat out of the backfield and can make plays.  There are some other RBs on the roster which could also provide some good depth but basically, we need our speed, elusive and versatile backfield talent to keep the pressure off the passing game.

A number one TE needs to emerge.  We have some guys with potential but are thus far unproven.  David Ausberry and Richard Gordon have done zilch thus far.  The "veteran" of the group, Brandon Myers has been a disappointment in his NFL career..

The receivers are much more polished. DHB is no longer a bust.  Jacoby Ford has made some plays and needs to continue improving,  Denarius Moore and Juron Criner provide big play ability.  Not sure what happened to Louis Murphy but he's no lock to make the team this year.  Some other new guys could step up and win spots.

The biggest question is the Offensive Line.  This has been the biggest issue with the Raiders for several years.  Basically, it was crap or close to crap due to mismanaged Al Davis personnel decisions.  The OL has gotten better now but how much better remains vital to the team's success.  If chaos reigns, doom will follow.

If the OL manages to come together consistently, our QB will be spared and the running as well as passing game will actually excel.  This is no sure thing.  How well the new regime implements their blocking scheme and the players execute will dictate whether all of the talent mentioned above can get it done.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Boring is Better for the New Oakland Raiders

What's that noise?  Can you hear that?  Me either.  That's the blank void that used to be a place of friction, paranoia, bad decisions, condescending attitudes, the over hyped knowledge of football supposedly held by Al Davis along with his control freak mentality and awful approach to leadership, squeezing the life out of everything he could not control.  Now that he is gone, the Oakland Raiders are a peaceful, generic football team. I use the term generic in a good sense because the first step they needed to take after so many years of being dysfunctional was to be normal for the very first time in their existence.

Amazingly, if it wasn't for the logo and colors, the group of men that make up the team and coaching staff along with the people inside the building at 1220 Harbor Bay Parkway in Alameda, California would be indistinguishable from any professional football team.  That is a long time coming.

There is nothing going on at all within Raiders HQ or on the practice field that is even remotely underhanded or seething with horrible decisions. Think of the misfires in personnel and coaching hires Al Davis put the franchise through over the past decade alone. We can itemize all of it but why bother.  In fact, the new regime leaves nothing to blog about other than hope and promise. I'm breathing in fresh air.  Wow.

The new regime is pulling together all of the talent it can find within their means and attempting to forge a competitive NFL team come August.  I like their approach of bringing in the full 90 guys allowed into camp in an effort to shape the eventual roster. That is the best we as fans can expect.  The people making decisions for the Raiders know exactly what they are looking for as far as team temperament and skill level.  That should make us all within the Raider Nation feel confident.

As we know, this past draft class was not stellar but we may have some keepers, who knows.

I wonder if they will be handing out lollipops at the Oakland Coliseum for games?