Thursday, March 21, 2013

Will Dennis Allen's Culture Change Work for the Raiders?

I found recent comments by Dennis Allen regarding his intent to change the culture of the Oakland Raiders to be curious.  As we know, the culture under Al Davis lent itself to players having a sense of entitlement, especially the well-paid players.  After you had a conversation with Al Davis you knew where you stood in the organization. You didn't feel accountable to the head coach or other coaching staff as much as you did to Al.

Though, the problem with Al's methods is it leaves it wide open how players choose to professionalize themselves (if at all). When players make the jump from college there is not only financial considerations to factor in with young talent but maturity and work ethic.  Players have to grow up fast and that is easier said than done.  Many players choose not to grow up at all.  This problem is throughout pro sports but with the Raiders it was especially damaging.

A few years ago, former 49ers Tight End Brent Jones put together a group of investors (which also included Steve Young) and approached Al with the idea of buying the franchise. Surprisingly, Al listened to the pitch but not surprisingly, decided to decline the offer.  Jones was upset at being rebuffed and spoke out publicly what he would have done with the franchise had the offer been accepted.  Jones wanted to immediately change the culture.  What he (and many others) saw in the Raiders was a complete lack of infrastructure to support player development.  Sure, you have the weight room and physical therapy available but a professional organization requires professional people.  The Raiders had none of it.

(credit to Jerry McDonald for capturing the KNBR transcript)

Jones said:

“I don’t want to take away my respect for Al Davis, because he was one of the brightest guys in this league and certainly had been spectacular up through the 70s and early 80s. But to be able to hold on to absolute power, what happens is it eventually corrupts, and you can’t get smart people, you can’t get bright people.

“You don’t give anybody the ability to make decisions, and it’s just shocking how just drastically depleted the scouting, front office, the organization, I mean, it’s just, I feel the worst for young players who come to play, because they think they’re coming to the National Football League and they’re going to Oakland Junior College.”


There is no finer recent example than Rolando McClain for how this epidemic played out. When he was drafted by Al, McClain did and said all the right things. Coming off a National Championship at Alabama, the first thing he did was ask to see the Raiders playbook. Though McClain usually brushed off the media (and fans, often refusing to sign autographs) and was edgy whenever he did interview, the coaches continued to praise his work ethic.  There was no question McClain studied film and prepared himself to play.

Unfortunately, McClain did not fall in step with the coaching in Oakland and this led to his demise. LB coaches Mike Haluchak and then Johnny Holland could not get the most out of him. You could see the slide in his play.  He started off with potential but never developed to the level the Raiders needed.  As a pro, McClain's star fell and his off the field behavior speaks for itself.  You could tell he was and still is tuned out.  I would bet not even the veterans in the locker room or team chaplain could reach him to help guide the kid.

Whether it was the big money contract making him feel invincible or the immaturity or whatever happened to Rolando McClain, it is not an isolated incident. At the pro level, players are expected to take responsibility for themselves but you need a support system within the team structure.  That has to be there.  These players need to feel motivated and committed to performing up to their contract. Otherwise, they crash and burn quick.

Maybe Dennis Allen's culture change is religious in tone. That is just my guess and there would be nothing wrong with that.  Religion in football is very common.  It probably would have helped McClain and many other washouts to have more of a chance to succeed at the pro level if they bought into that type of team environment.  That is a big IF though.  A player has to want to be part of the structure to give himself a chance.

So if DA's culture change plans pan out (whatever those plans might be) then hopefully this blight of having our draft picks wash out will stop and the team can rebuild.

If that happens then I would not mind DA being a boring head coach.  At least we would see tangible change for the better.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Why the Raiders Need Vince Young

It's really simple.  Carson Palmer is a medical disaster. Remember what finished him off last season - a savage sack that damaged not just his rib cage but a lung.  Think of the many other injuries Palmer has suffered throughout his career.  He is a warrior, probably on the same scale as Favre, but he does not have the same track record of clutch plays as Favre. Palmer has limited mobility at this point in his career.  He has the ability to throw for yards but all it will accomplish is him finishing out his monstrous contract. He's not going to lead the team to the playoffs.  He's just a physically degenerating NFL QB.

Terrelle Pryor does not seem to have impressed Dennis Allen or Reggie McKenzie thus far.  He too, is just finishing out his contract. What I find really odd is Pryor hiring QB consultants on his own to help him develop and get ready for training camp.  To me it's a statement Pryor has not been given the level of professional training needed for him to succeed as part of the team.  The Raiders have been deficient for many years in developing their QB talent.  Some guys deserved to wash out (like JaMeatloaf) but other guys could have developed into something better and didn't (such as Andrew Walter) and now possibly Terrelle Pryor (unless he makes a big splash in camp).

Even without Al pulling the strings, the Raiders are still in the pattern of plugging in the big, strong armed guy (like a Kerry Collins, Jason Campbell, Carson Palmer, Marc Wilson, Jay Schroeder, etc.). There is always a place in the NFL for the big arm guy but the intangibles of the game right now are better served by a QB that can improvise.  Terrelle Pryor has that potential but we don't know where he will end up as far as playing time

The fact is when a mobile QB is utilized, you have more options. When he was on his game in his prime, Ken Stabler set the standard for this in his era. That is what I think of when I think of Raiders football.  I don't think of Plunkett's wobbly passes.  I think of Stabler and how he got his nickname "Snake".  That's how he ran through defenses and avoided sacks.

I am thinking right now, Vince Young is a good solution.  I also think if Young's head is screwed on right, he can be a mentor to Pryor.  The problem as I see it as I don't think either Young or Pryor is a Dennis Allen kind of guy, whatever that may be.  To me, DA is extremely generic, kind of like cardboard. I just haven't seen or heard anything from him in the way of actual analysis or proposed strategy.  He bullshits us with attempts at coachspeak but it is flat and just horribly contrived statements of nothingness.  At least Reggie McKenzie says something tangible.

I'm curious how much different DA will be in year 2 as head coach.  I don't see guys like Vince Young or Terrelle Pryor able to fit into that cardboard world of DA as well as a guy like Carson Palmer who is adept at being cardboard himself.  Cardboard relates to cardboard very well.  Hey, if I was making 10 million or 12 million for my efforts, you bet I could be cardboard too if need be.  This is where Carson Palmer has us all beat.

Real change is not around the corner BUT... I will consider buying season tickets again for the first time in a few years IF Vince Young is brought on and wins the starting job.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Raiders Long Range Plan is Moving in Slow Motion

If recent speculation is true the Raiders are bringing in Vince Young for a workout, I am all for it.  Vince has made his share of mistakes on and off the field but like anyone, he deserves another chance.  Why not?  It's obvious by now, the current regime is not liking everything they have seen from Terrelle Pryor and have given up on him.  Pryor is seen as an Al pick and therefore, will serve out his contract and be released as weill Carson Palmer on whatever timetable.  Vince Young just might have learned his lesson and the guy can play.  Remember, he was a pro bowler in 2007.

Then again, Carson Palmer has made the Pro Bowl a few times as well.

A recent published interview with Hue Jackson revealed that before Al Davis expired, he offered Hue the General Manager position. There is no reason to doubt Hue on this. It explains why he stated in a press conference (when he was still the Raiders' head coach) he intended to have more influence in personnel decisions and why he was the point man for the Carson Palmer trade.

Had Hue taken the GM job it would have been far more disastrous for the team. Hue is a capable coach but does not seem suited to take financial responsibility for a franchise.

Fortunately, Hue passed on taking the GM job but unfortunately, lost his head coaching job as a result. His one act while in the capacity of pseudo-GM did not pan out. As we all know, the Palmer trade has not paid off a return on investment. The only upside is having a veteran QB capable of running an NFL offense.

Now with Reggie McKenzie running things upstairs, with all of the other cap moves and not re-signing all of their of free agents, what we are looking at is a complete rebuilding effort. Realistically, you can't do that in a single season or even two.  It happens over the span of at least 3-4 years. This is likely what Reggie had in mind all along and probably why his contract as well as Dennis Allen's runs for 4 years.

It also seems reasonable Reggie and Dennis expect this as part of their long range plan.  It does not make anyone happy but with other teams in the division on the upswing (including the Chiefs who were the worst team in the NFL last season), it's just going to keep getting tougher to come by wins.

What this amounts to is a lot of opportunities for rookies and free agents to win jobs.  This could be a good thing.  The bad news is you need an entire team of them to overachieve at an NFL level week in and week out.

The Raiders are looking at another 4-11 or 5-12 season in 2013.

You have to wonder if Mark Davis will think long and hard about the big picture. Thus far he has struggled to make a decisive decision one way or the other. I get the sense he will go with a status quo.  He has not (yet) pulled the trigger on hiring an executive for Reggie to report to and add the extra balance in weighing the tough football decisions.  Though he interviewed some well known candidates for that job.  Maybe that hire is forthcoming after the draft.  As it stands now, it sure looks like Mark is taking some time growing into the big chair, unfortunately, just as Mike Silver predicted he would.