Christopher Hansen and Taylor Armosino discuss the Raiders 21-18 victory over Pittsburgh, the schedule moving forward and the suddenly very good Oakland defense.
or other podcast clients: http://raidersblog.com/feed/podcast
Christopher Hansen and Taylor Armosino discuss the Raiders 21-18 victory over Pittsburgh, the schedule moving forward and the suddenly very good Oakland defense.
or other podcast clients: http://raidersblog.com/feed/podcast
Over at Grantland, the great Bill Barnwell wrote an interesting piece on the year-to-year ebb and flow of NFL teams, as it pertains to their records. The basis of his piece was examining whether 2nd half hot streaks carry over into the following season, but he also provided some good statistics on the well known idea that great teams regress and awful teams usually improve the following season.
As it applies to the Raiders, coming off a 4-12 season, Barnwell found that since 1990, 88.2% of 4 win teams improved their record the following season, 5.9% got worse, and 5.9% won 4 games again. So should we expect the Raiders to improve on 4-12 this upcoming season? Short answer is: yes. Given that 88.2% of 4 win teams are winning the more games the next season, it would seem logical to expect Oakland will be a better team this upcoming season.
The big X-factor for Oakland this season will be the quarterback situation. Matt Flynn will likely be the starter, and he’s an interesting case. In getting beaten out last season by rookie Russell Wilson, who finished fifth in both Pro Football Focus’ QB rating, as well as the standard NFL rating, Flynn went from a sought after free agent to a guy Ron Jaworski thinks is the worst starting quarterback in football. In reality, he probably falls somewhere in-between, and the Raiders could do much worse than Flynn in finding a stop-gap quarterback with a little bit of upside.
His situation has been compared to Matt Cassel’s in Kansas City, obviously worrisome, though we forget the Chiefs did win 10 games in 2010 with Cassel as the signal caller. The San Francisco 49ers improved considerably the past two seasons with Alex Smith behind center; with Smith being one who few would define as elite, or even above average. The quarterback position in the NFL is the most over-scrutinized entity in pro football. See Romo, Tony as an example of a quarterback who has been pegged with ridiculous labels due to the incompetence of his supporting cast. People hold quarterbacks to a ridiculous standard of individualism that is simply unfair. If Dan Marino was the Raiders quarterback last season, the team would’ve still been crappy because the skill position guys were below average and the offensive coordinator was a dolt.
Football is a team sport. Offensive execution is like a symphony; a collaboration of various parts playing different roles. A quarterback cannot be held responsible for a team’s success, and should not be held solely responsible for an offense’s success. If the receivers can’t catch or get open, there isn’t a whole lot a quarterback can do to change that, and if a defense can’t slow anybody down, there’s close to nothing a quarterback can do to help that. So why does Tony Romo get scrutinized for an 8-8 season when Dallas ranked 23rd in defensive DVOA?
To hinge the success of the offense on Flynn would be utterly misguided and won’t happen. Whoever the quarterback is will play second fiddle in the Raiders offense to Darren McFadden and the power running game, presumably in the mold of what San Francisco did with Alex Smith over the past two seasons. Flynn certainly isn’t a franchise guy, or hasn’t shown any sort of indication that he could be, but he’s not Terrelle Pryor either. Flynn’s sample size has been small, but all signs point to him being about a league average guy. It’s hard to win a Super Bowl with a league average quarterback, but winning more than four games with one playing in a managing role is certainly doable (anyone remember Jason Campbell?).
If a quarterback not named Flynn goes into the season as Oakland’s starter—and really I’m talking about Tyler Wilson because Terrelle Pryor isn’t winning that job—the situation becomes a bit more complicated. The success of last season’s unbelievable rookie quarterback class was definitely not the norm, and Wilson isn’t a sure thing by any measure. All bets are off if he goes into the season as the starter, but at this point that seems unlikely.
Last season, Football Outsiders had the Raiders offense as the 26th best in football in weighted DVOA (that’s really, really, really bad), and the worst rushing offense in the league. With Greg Knapp being canned (!) and Greg Olson being hired (meh, but he can’t really be worse than Knapp), the offense is poised to improve, although that might not be saying much. With Darren McFadden in a contract season coupled with the re-implementation of the power blocking scheme, it’s hard to envision the running game being as morbid as last season. Expect the running game to perform at a level closer to 2011 – where Oakland’s running game rated 11th in DVOA – than a repeat of 2012.
Defensively, Oakland offset losses on the defensive front by significantly bolstering their back seven. No longer will Raiders fans throw game-day meals at the television when Matt Giordano gets beat deep or when Rolando McClain runs the wrong way, because neither of those guys are on the team anymore! (and McClain retired). Through the draft and the free agent bargain bin, Oakland acquired actual football players in their back seven, and added significantly more depth – especially in the secondary.
Unlike last season when injuries depleted an already depleted defense, coordinator Jason Tarver now has the ability to implement creative blitz and coverage schemes that were unworkable last season due to personnel. The defensive side of the ball is really where Oakland will make strides this season, unless Tarver is a complete disaster or everybody gets injured again, both possible, but unlikely. It’d be shocking to see Oakland regress from it’s 29th ranked defense a year ago. They don’t have the pass rush to truly be an elite defense, but it’s very feasible they finish the year as an above average unit.
All signs point to Oakland being better than they were last season. Will that translate to five wins or more? I think it will. They had a very productive offseason by firing Knapp, improving their depth on both sides of the ball, and rebuilding a truly awful defense. 88.2% of all four-win teams improve on that total the next season, mainly because the NFL is a league of small sample sizes and high parity and variability. A few close games, outcomes that have proven to be mainly random, can make the difference between a 10-win season and a six-win season – see Detroit and Indianapolis last season.
It is difficult to consistently be horrible in the NFL, although the Raiders have done a good job of that for the last decade. Given the flukiness of last season’s victories over Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, it’s entirely possible the Raiders improve in every quantitative area and still finish with four wins. I think they’ll win more than that and history is on my side.
Three-hundred-and-sixty-three days have passed since the Raiders opened the 2011 season against the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football, and at the time many believed the Raiders were finally back on track. Penalties were going to be a thing of the past, bullies were being built, and the only injury known to man was a “nic.” Just one year ago the Raiders were about to usher in the Hue Jackson era, and fans were hyped to see this newly created “bully” in action. Everything seemed to be falling into place for the Silver and Black and the team was poised to make a serious run at the playoffs for the first time since 2002, except the season began unfolding as if it were being scripted by the writers of Lost.
After managing to stumble to a 2-2 record to start the season, shock waves rippled through the franchise as news broke that legend and Raiders owner Al Davis had passed away. With plenty of mixed emotions, the Raiders had a game to play the next day against the Houston Texans. They went on to win that game in the final seconds, honoring the man who had led them for the nearly 50 years.
As the dust began to settle the Raiders still had a season to finish and the hits didn’t quit coming. In the very next game, starting quarterback Jason Campbell broke his collarbone leaving the Raiders with only Kyle Boller at quarterback. Without Davis to call the shots as he had done for so long, no one was quite sure what was going to happen. The answer came two days later, when Hue Jackson was given the authority to pull off a stunner of a trade that sent a first and second-round draft pick to the Bengals for retired quarterback Carson Palmer.
As everyone tried to digest what had just taken place, there were only a few days left to prepare before the Raiders faced the division rival Kansas City Chiefs. Trying to forget what they had to give up to get him, the Raiders now had a quarterback who they thought could lead the team to the playoffs. It was just a matter of getting Carson Palmer up to speed with the offense while leaning heavily on one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL, right?
While that plan seemed to make sense at the time, Kyle Boller was quickly proving to everyone why he has not been able to hold a job in the NFL and the Raiders were hit with even worse news: Darren McFadden suffered a Lisfranc injury against the Chiefs that would cause him to miss the rest of the season. Hue Jackson contended that McFadden was “close” to returning on a weekly basis, but he never did.
Carson Palmer was left trying to pick up the pieces of a season that started out with so much hope. Unable to stay true to his word, Jackson did not fix the penalty issue and his team set a record for the most penalties in a single season. Still, the Raiders managed to be in position to win a very weak AFC West, but failed to beat San Diego in their final game, and once again fell short of the playoffs for a ninth-straight season.
Fast forward to January 2012. Mark Davis took over for his dad as the team’s owner and he hired Reggie McKenzie to be the next general manager. The situation seems equal to that of Aaron Rodgers replacing Brett Favre. McKenzie is replacing a legend, but he is not trying to become the next Davis. He will have to make his own name and do things his own way. Change is a process and takes time and patience which is something Raiders fans are starting to run out of after nine-straight seasons without making playoffs.
Many moves made by McKenzie and some moves he will make in the near future will be met with skepticism. That is not uncommon according to Saul Alinsky, “Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.”
McKenzie’s road to success will not be easy, but that will not temper any existing expectations. At this point in time it’s anyone’s guess how much or how little success he will have in Oakland. However, in order to more clearly understand what is being judged, its important to be aware of the obstacles and decisions McKenzie faced upon becoming the new general manager of the Raiders.
Like most new general managers, the first order of business for McKenzie was deciding who he wanted to have coach his team. That is not a choice you want to take likely and could ultimately decide his success early on. He was well aware of the rotating door Oakland has had with their head coaches and he needed to find a guy he trusted to help bring the Raiders back to excellence, even if immediate success was impossible. Unfortunately for Hue Jackson, he was not that man. Could the argument be made that Jackson didn’t get a fair shot? Sure, but the NFL is a business and business is not about fair.
After 18 days of searching and countless interviews, McKenzie found his guy in Dennis Allen. “When I talk about the guy I was looking for, I’m looking for a guy that could lead these men, that was passionate about the game, that was passionate about teaching, passionate about the Oakland Raiders.” McKenzie said when introducing Allen at his press conference. “Guys, not only did coach Dennis Allen do that for me, he exceeded those expectations.”
One of the reasons this decision was so important was because McKenzie believes in giving his head coach full power over hiring his staff. That is something past head coaches in Oakland did not have, they may have had input, but it was Al Davis who made the final decisions on hiring or firing. McKenzie also noted that he and Allen will always have open communication, but it was up to the head coach what schemes would be run. That is certainly a change of pace in Oakland.
Allen proceeded to hire Jason Tarver to run the defense, who comes with a very aggressive and multiple look defensive style which is very different from the base 4-3 man defense that had been a Raiders staple for as long as anyone can remember. Greg Knapp is back to run the offense under Allen, which means Jackson’s power blocking scheme and trickery are out and the West Coast Offense and zone-blocking scheme are in. Learning completely different schemes on both sides of the ball in one offseason is much harder than most people realize.
The hard part for McKenzie was just beginning . Now that he had a head coach, he next had to figure out a way to get the roster under control, which would be no easy task. Starring him in the face was $145 million dollars in salary for 2012 ($25 million over the salary cap) and $16 million more than the Carolina Panthers who had the next highest salary total. It was no secret that in the latter years of Al Davis’ life he was operating in a “win now” mode, which often times meant the only thing that mattered was getting who he felt was the best players he could at whatever cost was necessary. That meant a lot of traded draft picks and back-loaded contracts, many of which were well over market value.
McKenzie was left to sort it all out, trying to find a way to cut at least $25 million in salary for 2012 as well as give himself a little breathing room for free agency and signing draft picks. McKenzie had to do this while trying to maintain a competitive roster and preventing the same situation from happening next offseason. Easier said than done, especially when you are without your first, second and third-round draft picks due to roster moves made before you took over.
During that process, McKenzie was faced with difficult roster decisions on some of his core players. He wasted no time in weeding out the “out of whack” contracts and cut ties with Stanford Routt on February 9th, just over a month after he was hired. This sent a message to everyone inside and outside the organization, nothing would be handed to anyone anymore.
The year before Routt was released he was given a five-year, $54.5 million contract. No matter his opinion of Routt’s skill as a player, McKenzie knew he was not worth $10 million per year. Another major decision was how to proceed with Kamerion Wimbley, who was the Raiders best outside pass rusher. WImbley carried a contract of five years, $48 million. If Wimbley was on the roster by the start of the new league year (March 17th), he would have been owed $17.5 million in guaranteed money (including $11 million in 2012). If cut, the Raiders were only on the hook for $6.5 million, but would also lose their best edge rusher and would be in a tough spot to try to replace him.
After refusing to take a pay cut, Wimbley would eventually be released. This left the Raiders having to pay $6.5 million in dead money for 2012, but relieved them of Wimbley’s remaining contract. Kevin Boss and Cooper Carlisle were also later released, but McKenzie was able to re-work the contracts of Carson Palmer, Michael Huff, Richard Seymour and Aaron Curry to keep them on the roster. Carlisle later resigned with the Raiders at a much lower rate.
McKenzie mentioned shortly after he was hired that each position would be evaluated from front office personnel to players on the field. He said that at the right time, the appropriate changes would be made. Holding true to his word, on February 16th it was announced that long-time Senior Executive John Herrera would no longer work for the new Raiders front office. Known in many circles as Al Davis’ “yes man”, John Herrera—mostly known for denying every media report regardless of truth—represented the exact image that McKenzie wanted to change. Zak Gilbert was later hired as director of Media Relations and Mike Taylor was hired as Director of Pubic Affairs going forward. As many have noted, the Raiders have since become much more open and media friendly.
McKenzie’s next major moves came in the form of re-vamping the football operations personnel. Shaun Herock (son on Ken Herock) who worked with McKenzie in Green Bay was hired as the director of college scouting and Reggie’s twin brother Raleigh was also hired to help in the scouting department. McKenzie also brought Joey Clinkscales from the New York Jets to work as director of personnel. Clinkscales served as the V.P. of college scouting with the Jets and was a college teammate and childhood friend of McKenzie.
Tonight, the Raiders will open the 2013 season against the San Diego Chargers with a new general manager, new front office personnel, new media relations, new scouting department, new coaching staff, new offensive and defensive schemes and 23 new players on the 53-man roster. The Raiders are truly starting fresh is 2012. It’s almost mind-blowing how much change has taken place in such a short amount of time.
Only time will tell how successful year one will be for the new-era Raiders. Most fans seem to agree that this team is just as good, if not better than a year ago which is a pretty incredible feat considering the circumstances.
Mike Mitchell’s journey to the NFL has not exactly been the path of least resistance. The strong safety from Ohio University put up some impressive numbers in college including 212 total tackles, 7 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles. However, like many that come from a lower tier college, Mitchell was met with a lot of doubt because of the level of competition he played against. A player who never seems to be lacking confidence on the field, would need to quickly find an abundance of it in order to make one last effort to prove his value to scouts prior to the NFL Draft.
Mike’s impressive play on the field was not his only meal ticket though. He also had the measurables that most scouts would drool over. At 6′ 1″ 220 lbs Mitchell ran a 4.39 forty yard dash and put up 22 reps on the bench. With those kind of numbers he was sure to be noticed by scouts all over the place. The classic workout numbers that sends guys shooting up draft boards every February and making them very hard to ignore. Mike’s draft stock took another hit though when he failed to receive an invite to the NFL combine where he could have put his workout numbers out there for everyone to take notice. That meant that his pro day performance alone would have to be enough garner interest around the league.
Leading up to the draft Mitchell began getting some attention as a potential riser come draft day. Of course the Raiders were mentioned as a potential landing spot for a guy who ran a sub 4.4 forty combined with the raw physical talent that he possessed. The hype did not fall on deaf ears though as fans began to fall in love with YouTube highlight video’s and started getting excited about the potential steal that could be Mike Mitchell. On draft day though, the surprise did not come from the fact that he was drafted, but it was where he was drafted at that had everyone buzzing. Mitchell had gone from a lower tier prospect to being drafted in the 2nd round, pick number 47 overall in the 2009 NFL draft.
Now, instead of trying to draw attention to himself, Mike had much more attention then he wanted. Being tagged as a potential bust by many analyst before he even stepped foot on an NFL field, the pressure was just beginning to mount. The draft day surprise was something that Raiders fans were growing accustom to though, and all the sudden Mitchell was being labeled as the next Jack Tatum for his aggressiveness and big hit potential.
Left standing in the middle of a proverbial spotlight, the only thing left for Mitchell to do was to perform and prove all the doubters wrong. Things didn’t go quite as smoothly as hoped early in his career though. When Mitchell wasn’t battling injuries he struggled to adapt to NFL competition and often times found himself out of position or over pursuing a play due to being overly aggressive. The hunger for the big hit and crowd pleasing play seemed to become more important than playing effectively and taking care of his assignment. Were the attributes that made him such an attractive prospect turning out to be the very reason why he wasn’t succeeding in the NFL?
What many failed to realize though is that Mitchell was being expected to play the role of the aggressor in a defense which lacked that philosophy much of the time. How soon do you commit to the run looking to deliver a big hit when your assignment is covering the tight end up the seam? When do you blitz in a scheme solely designed around rushing four and dropping seven into coverage? How do you introduce the element of surprise when your on an island in the open field trying to make a tackle? The expectations didn’t seem to match the defensive philosophy that the Raiders were trying to execute. While schemes may have played a part in the early struggles for Mike, it certainly was not the only problem he had though. Mitchell still had to get past the mental mistakes that would cost him at times as well, but when combined scheme mismatch, and injuries it certainly did not create a recipe for early success.
Now in year four, Mitchell is getting a much-needed fresh start. Finally given a clean bill of health, he seems to be comfortable in Jason Tarver’s new defense where aggression is certainly not hard to come by. Mike figures to be moved around a lot as Tarver tries to utilize his versatility. He will not only be asked to play both safety positions at times, but also see some time at linebacker as well in certain looks. This will also help give the coaches a chance to see how he performs in different roles. Only two games into the preseason though, it is much to early to make any rash judgements. Take Mitchell’s progress for what it is at face value and look at it as a positive step in the right direction for a career that began heading in the wrong one. If Mike Mitchell is to achieve success in the NFL he will have to find a way to continue to improve as the line between fame and failure remains very thin.
Training Camp. The time year when players have the chance to showcase their off-season hard work, coaches get the chance to put their visions into motion, and speculation begins flying around at an unprecedented rate. Some teams choose to stay the course from the previous season hoping to build on what they have accomplished while other teams turn to change and a fresh start to be their saving grace. Regardless of the route each team chooses to take, the target destination of Super Bowl XLVII remains the same.
The Raiders are no doubt introducing change across the board this season as they usher in the “New Era” of Raiders football under General Manager Reggie McKenzie. As part of this new era, much has been made of the obvious changes in philosophy on the field as the Raiders look to get away from their strict man to man base 4-3 defense of the past and look to be spontaneous and more “multiple” on defense in 2012. The change doesn’t stop there though as the Raiders also look to switch things up on the offensive side of the ball bringing back former offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and his strong belief in the Zone Blocking scheme and West Coast Offense.
While many are excited to see the end result of all the changes, few people actually understand the difficulty in changing so much in such a short amount of time. To the fans, what seems like an eternity of waiting for the next NFL season to arrive, is all but a blur to the coaches and players trying to figure out how they will ever cover everything in the little time they have together before the season starts. 10 days of organized team activities, 26 training camp practices, and 4 preseason games. Under the new CBA, that is all the time an NFL team has to implement their strategy and prepare for the upcoming NFL season.
In what seems like an impossible task to change almost every part of a teams philosophy in one off-season, the Raiders actually have a big asset working in their favor. That asset happens to come in the form of player versatility. The Raiders are unmatched when it comes to the ability of their players to play multiple roles on the field. It’s a weapon that has arguably been under utilized by previous coaching staffs, and its a weapon that coach Dennis Allen and the rest of his staff must take full advantage of if they plan to maximize their level of success while implementing their new schemes.
While the Raiders have had a good amount of versatility on their defense in recent years, their scheme has restricted how far it could take them. This year the restraints are gone and the versatility of these players will be very important to the multiple looks the Raiders want to use this season.
Tyvon Branch will play a key role in how successful the Raiders defense will be in 2012, and the amount of things this guy can do on the football field are almost endless. Branch came out of the University of Connecticut where he focused mostly on playing corner back and returning kicks. After joining the Raiders he began his transition from corner back to strong safety, a transition not many guys can claim to have effectively made. Tyvon was not only effective in his new role, but he is now a top five player in the league at that position. With the Raiders short on corner back depth, Branch was also asked to fill in there at times last season. Being able to make that switch mid game is impressive on many levels but his ability doesn’t stop there. Branch also has the range and instincts to play the free safety position, meaning he can be effective at any one of the 4 main defensive back positions. Having a player with that ability adds a tremendous amount flexibility to a defensive game plan, and the fact that he has 4.3 speed means he is never far from the ball regardless of where he begins the play.
Philip Wheeler played his college ball at Georgia Tech where he thrived as an inside linebacker in an aggressive blitzing defense. As a matter of fact, Wheeler was considered by many as one of the nation’s best-blitzing linebackers. That is a skill Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver plan to take full advantage of as the transition to a more aggressive defense has been no secret to this point. Wheeler also possesses rare coverage abilities in the open field, not something a lot of linebackers can say. Having a linebacker who can both attack and cover is a tremendous asset.
Rolando McClain brings his versatility to the table in a different form. McClain was the center piece in Nick Saban’s famous 3-4 defense at Alabama. He excelled there and it’s a role that McClain began to really become comfortable in. However, when he was picked by the Raiders in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft, they felt he had what it took to make a the transition to a 4-3 middle linebacker. While he has not had instant success there, he has improved as a 2-gap linebacker and seems to be looking a lot better in training camp this year. That is very important as the Raiders want to use both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts this season. They will need their leader in the middle to be able to call the plays in the huddle and play as both a one and two gap linebacker depending on the formation.
Lamarr Houston played defensive tackle at the University of Texas, but was brought to Oakland to fill a hole at defensive end. Houston is a physical specimen who has proven he can play either position in the NFL with his rare combination of quickness and power. Maybe one of the most intriguing things about him though is where he fits into the 3-4 packages. He certainly has the power to hold his own as a 3-4 end, and does a great job at getting leverage on offensive lineman to be able to drive them back. It has also been noticed that Houston is looking like he’s in good shape this season and might trimmed down some weight to be closer to 280-290 instead of 300-310. Could we see him play some elephant backer (a combination 4-3 DE and 3-4 OLB) this season?
Richard Seymour and Desmond Bryant have also both played inside and outside on the defensive line in the 4-3, and Seymour has experience as a 3-4 defensive end from his time in New England where he won two super bowls. Those two being able to move around on the defensive line will help out tremendously as well.
Of course there are others players on the defense capable of doing multiple things, but i believe the six guys listed above bring a lot of value to what Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver are trying to accomplish on defense. Switching gears to the other side of the ball, the offense is not short on dynamic players either and most seem very excited about the system Greg Knapp is using this season.
Darren McFadden is a one of a kind running back. He has the speed and agility to score every time he touches the ball, but unlike most backs with those attributes, he can also use his power to effectively run between the tackles as well. He is not limited to his running ability though. McFadden has shown many times that he can line up in the slot, run routes, and catch like a wide receiver too. There is not another running back in the NFL that can do all of those things at a high level, and he shares a back field with none other than Marcel Reece. A converted wide receiver from the University of Washington, Reece has played wide receiver, tight end, fullback, and has even carried the ball a few times. He is an X-Factor for the offense, and is incredibly hard to game plan for because he can do so many things from the fullback position. How many times does a defense have to game plan for the fullback? McFadden and Reece are without a doubt the most dynamic backfield duo in the NFL and it’s not even close.
The offensive line is not normally thought about as being versatile, but in the Raiders case they are. Jared Veldheer, a 6’8″ left tackle also spent time playing center his rookie season. Stefan Wisneiwski played center at Penn State, but spent almost his entire rookie season at left guard and played very well there for the Raiders last season. He has now moved back to center. Cooper Carlisle has spent the majority of his career at right guard, but when the team brought Mike Brisel aboard via free agency Carlisle was moved to left guard where he will play this season. Khalif Barnes has started at left tackle and right tackle at certain points in his NFL career. He was also used a lot as an extra lineman in jumbo packages that Hue Jackson liked to use, one of which had Barnes running a route into the end zone where he caught a touchdown pass. Aside from all of that though, they are also making the switch from the power blocking scheme to the zone blocking scheme while returning all starters from last season with the exception of one. In most cases, there are major personnel changes a long the offensive line when you make that kind of switch. At face value it might not seem like a tall task, but any lineman who has played in both will tell you it’s a very tough thing to grasp.
Darrius Heyward-Bey is really starting to develop into a solid wide receiver, who possesses great speed and a big frame capable of breaking tackles. He is getting much better as route running which creates separation from the defensive back and timing with the quarterback. He also excels at running blocking as well though which does not get near enough credit. It is the job of the offensive line to get the running back to the second level, but it is often times a block by a wide receiver that springs the running back for a long gain or a touchdown. DHB’s hard work has made him into a dynamic player in the Raiders offense, and he should only continue to get better.
If the Raiders are able to successfully change so many parts in one season, the one thing that will allow them to do it is the flexibility that have with their roster. As you can see there is not another team in the league that matches the Raiders versatility in all facets of the game, and it will be up to the coaches to use that to their advantage to gain a competitive edge.
College: Georgia Tech
Weight: 248 lbs
Arm Length: N/A”
Hand Size: N/A”
40 Yard Dash: 4.76
3 Cone Drill: 7.11
20 Yard Shuttle: 4.29
Bench Press: 24 reps
Vertical Jump: 31″
Broad Jump: 118″
“A tenacious, strong and remarkably athletic inside linebacker… considered by many as one of the nation’s best-blitzing linebackers”. Those were words used to describe Philip Wheeler coming out of college. He averaged a half sack per game his senior year at Georgia Tech and also led the team in tackles. His athleticism allows him to play coverage as well and he led Georgia Tech in interceptions in 2007 with four, not bad for an inside linebacker.
His athleticism was a big part of why he was drafted by the Colts in the third round of the 2008 draft. The Colts have been a very finesse defense for the better part of a decade and really liked how a guy like Wheeler fit into their defensive system. The Colts run a strict cover two defense where Wheeler’s athleticism was needed in coverage a lot. The problem was, it took away one of his biggest strengths. Wheeler came from an attack style defense at Georgia Tech where he spent a lot of his time blitzing and getting after the quarterback, something he excelled at. So why the Colts were making good use of Wheelers athleticism in their cover two, they were also under utilizing his ability to blitz and attack at the line of scrimmage.
The Raiders have different plans for Wheeler, which were made clear the day they signed him. The Raiders are installing a system that includes many different packages and looks. From man coverage to zone coverage, from 4-3 to 3-4 fronts and from blitz packages to cover two defense, the Raiders plan to do it all. In order to make that happen, guys with versatility such as Philip Wheeler are important. You have to have guys with the ability to do more than one thing on the field. “They ask me to do a lot of things, cover the tight end sometimes, blitz sometimes, drop back in coverage,” Wheeler said when asked of his responsibilities in the Raiders defense. “It’s fun because the offense is never going to know what we’re doing.”
Even though Wheeler will be competing for the starting strong side linebacker role, don’t expect him to fill the same role vacated by Kamerion Wimbley. They are two completely different players playing in two completely different schemes. Regardless of who starts at strong side linebacker, I expect a good rotation of players based on situation and packages. Jason Tarver and Dennis Allen are smart men, and I expect match ups to always be part of the equation with them.
With new management in Oakland comes many changes including personnel, schemes, philosophies and even media relations. By nature change tends to make people uneasy. It’s hard to get that comfortable feeling many fans are looking for this time of year when there is so much change happening all at once. Many will agree that change is not always bad, but its the unknown of it all at the present time that make it tough to grasp. While I would love to answer the question of whether the changes are good or bad, the fact remains that only time will tell the whole story of how they will impact the franchise.
As I mentioned earlier personnel changes are part of the whole process and many player decisions are being made. On the surface it seems that the Raiders are just unloading bad contracts which leads many to believe the Raiders are just rebuilding for the future. Its understandable where that thinking is applied, but lets take a deeper look into the player changes to this point.
In week 6 of last season, Jason Campbell broke his collarbone. Very soon after the Raiders traded for Carson Palmer and it was at that point that everyone knew who the future starter was of the Oakland Raiders. The loss of Jason Campbell to free agency comes as no surprise. Out of no disrespect to Jason, the Raiders did not pursue him as a backup. They gave him the opportunity to go seek another starting job elsewhere. The market did not develop for Jason and he signed a contract with the Bears to backup Jay Cutler. As fans, the first reaction is “why not come back to Oakland as a backup”? No one will really know how both sides felt about the situation, but one thing is clear. Jason Campbell has a lot of close friends on the Raiders roster, many of which are wide receivers. If the Raiders are moving forward with Carson Palmer as the leader of the offense, then everyone has to rally behind him and believe that he is the man for the job without question. Jason is a good guy, but knowing he might still be the starting quarterback of the Raiders had he not broken his collarbone would always leave the sense of “what if” with the team. It was best for both sides to move on and start fresh.
Last seasons depth chart at quarterback consisted of Jason Campbell, Kyle Boller and Trent Edwards to start the year. Terrell Pryor was serving his suspension as handed down by the league, and later replaced Edwards as the third string quarterback. Once Jason Campbell went down two things became very clear.
1) Kyle Boller was not very good, which was assumed by his past failures.
2) The Raiders coaching staff had no faith in Boller’s ability to lead the team and remain competitive.
It was no secret that Boller would not return as the backup quarterback the next season which brings us to the present. Last year’s starter Jason Campbell has been replaced by Carson Palmer. For the time being Terrell Pryor takes over as the backup, but will have competition in camp when the Raiders add another quarterback.
From last season to this season, I don’t see any drop off in talent at the quarterback position.
One of the big story lines this off-season was the fact that Michael Bush was a free agent. He was a fan favorite of many because of his size and power, and he and McFadden gave the Raiders backfield that “Thunder and Lightning” combo. As much as Reggie McKenzie would have loved to have Michael Bush back as the Raiders backup running back, he knew it wasn’t going to happen at a cost he wanted to pay. Bush received 3.5 million per year over 4 years to back up Matt Forte in Chicago. That is a perfect example of “overpaying” for a position in this league. Something the Raiders are not looking to do anymore.
Michael Bush got his share of carries last season due to the injury of Darren McFadden. He finally got his chance to showcase his value to the whole league, while working as the primary running back in Oakland’s offense most of the season. He carried the ball 256 times for 977 yards with a 3.8 yards per carry average. There were only 8 running backs in the league last year with a lesser yards per carry average who had at least 100 carries. It’s hard to argue with numbers and as much as Bush was loved by the Raider Nation, Reggie did the right thing in letting him walk.
The Raiders later traded for Mike Goodson of the Carolina Panthers. Goodson was buried on the depth chart in Carolina behind DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. He is a much different back than Bush so it’s not really an apples to apples comparison between the two. Mike Goodson missed most of last season with a hamstring injury, so looking back at 2010 Mike Goodson carried the ball 103 times for 452 yards with an average yards per carry of 4.4.
With the Raiders once again moving back to the zone blocking scheme under new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, Goodson should be a good fit in Oakland. He is a one cut and go type runner which is exactly what you need to be in the ZBS system. He has the agility and speed to make big plays from the running back position as well, but will have to work on his ball security.
Not to be forgotten is Taiwan Jones who is working very hard to prepare for his Sophomore season. With one year in the pro’s under his belt now he should be ready to make his contributions to the offense as well.
Overall, while the Raiders will lose some power at the running back position, they also gain some explosiveness, and the overall production from the position should not decrease at all.
Kevin Boss was brought in last season to fill the void left by Zach Miller. Boss had high expectations to live up to after Miller had so much success in Oakland, and fell very short of meeting those expectations. Boss was mainly used as a blocking tight end and only caught 27 balls and 2 touchdowns on offense all season. He added a touchdown catch on a fake field goal as well. Giving that his contract was for 4 million per year over 4 years, its obvious his production did not line up with the money he was making. In their lies the reason in which he was cut. Four million dollars per year is way too much to being paying for that kind of production.
The Raiders will not have trouble replacing that production at tight end with Brandon Myers proving he is very capable of blocking and David Ausberry quickly emerging as a threat in the passing game from the tight end position. Reggie McKenzie also made it known that if he finds a tight end he likes, he won’t hesitate to bring him in as competition as well.
I don’t see the Raiders losing any production from the tight end position going forward, and with some younger guys developing their game it could soon become another dynamic position for the Raiders offense.
Stanford Routt’s release was the first big bang of the Reggie McKenzie era. Routt was a solid man to man corner back even though he led the league in penalties and surrendered 8 touchdowns to opposing wide receivers last season. However, it didn’t take anyone (including Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen) long to figure out he was being overpaid. Not only was he being overpaid for the current season, but he still had 4 years left on his contract averaging about 10 million per year. That alone had a lot to do with his release, but was not the only factor.
Routt built his entire game around playing bump and run man coverage. As part of the changes taking place in Oakland, the Raiders will be moving away from the philosophy of running strictly man to man coverage on defense. That change even further devalued Stanford Routt’s services as he had next to no experience in zone coverage. Zone coverage is very different from man to man and not every corner back in the NFL is capable of playing both. Look no further than DeAngelo Hall as an example of that.
The Raiders have brought in four new corner backs this off-season so far. Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer both bring a lot of starting experience and history of solid play at the corner back position. While neither player is viewed as a superstar, both are very capable of holding their own in pass defense and have played in similar schemes to what the Raiders will look to do this year. They have combined for 19 interceptions in their career to this point.
Brandon Underwood and Pat Lee were also brought in as players who will get a chance to show what they have in training camp. Both have been in the league for a few years and have shown flashes of talent at times. Reggie knows what he is getting with these two as they were part of the Packers organization as well and wants to see if they can earn a spot on the roster this year.
Overall the loss of Stanford Routt will be extremely softened by the switch in defensive philosophy. Also the additions of Bartell and Spencer might prove to be two very undervalued pickups by the Raiders.
Probably the hottest topic in the Raiders off-season to this point was the release of Kamerion Wimbley. Even though he played out of position for most of his time in Oakland, Wimbley brought an edge pass rush to the Raiders defense that will be tough to replace.
The Raiders recently added free agent Phillip Wheeler and he will likely slide in as the starting strong side linebacker. Wheeler is a very interesting value pickup for the Raiders. He totaled 84 tackles last season for the Colts and was quietly very stout against the run for them, an area in which Oakland has struggled in recent years. Wheeler also brings better coverage skills which was very much a pain point in Wimbley’s game at outside linebacker.
While the Raiders won’t be looking for Phillip Wheeler replace Wimbley’s pass rushing abilities, it is worth noting that while playing linebacker at Georgia Tech he totaled 18.5 sacks in 3 years from the linebacker position. One scouting report had this to say of Phillip Wheeler about his time in college “considered by many as one of the nation’s best-blitzing linebackers”.
The Raiders will need to find new ways to pressure the quarterback this year, but that should not be a problem under new head coach Dennis Allen as he thrives in that department. What the Raiders lose in pass rushing ability from Wimbley, they gain in run support and pass defense with Wheeler. With new defensive coordinator Jason Tarver and Dennis Allen dialing up blitzes on game day, getting after the quarterback should not be a problem for this defense going forward.
So to answer the question of…”Are the Raiders rebuilding or reloading?” I’ll let you be the judge.