AFC West: Greg Manusky

It was understood throughout the Chargers franchise: To end a disheartening two-year playoff drought and to keep the Norv Turner program afloat in San Diego, the defensive performance had to improve in 2012.

“We all knew it,” standout Chargers safety Eric Weddle said. “It was no secret.”

The focus on defensive improvement began when the Chargers fired defensive coordinator Greg Manusky shortly after the 2011 season -- Manusky's only one in that role -- and promptly replaced him with linebackers coach John Pagano. Then the Chargers spent a great number of their free-agency dollars on the defensive side of the ball and concentrated on defense in the April draft, too.

“Then, it was up to us,” Weddle said. “We knew the focus and we knew the commitment. Now, it’s our turn to go make it work on the field.”

Thus far, the Chargers’ defense has been much improved. Most important, it has developed an identity -- physical and opportunistic. It is a big reason why the Chargers are 3-2 and leading the AFC West going into a pivotal “Monday Night Football” game against second-place Denver (2-3) on ESPN.

San Diego’s defense wilted late against New Orleans and Drew Brees in Week 5, and it must find a way to neutralize a red-hot Peyton Manning. San Diego goes into the game confident its defense can contain Manning, who has thrown six touchdown passes in his past two games and hasn’t thrown an interception in the last 15 quarters.

In the past couple of years, the Chargers might not have been as confident facing such a hot quarterback. But because of the focus on bringing in steady, capable and accountable players, along with the strict and aggressive Pagano running the show, the Chargers now welcome such a challenge.

[+] EnlargeEric Weddle
AP Photo/Colin E BraleyEric Weddle (32) and the Chargers D are fifth in rush yards allowed, from 20th last season.
“We’re improving and we still have a long way to go,” Pagano said recently. “We’re creating an identity right now and we’re still building that identity as a defense. And when you play certain games, there are going to be good times and bad times. The biggest key for us is playing with effort and the turnovers that we created, those were guys stripping the ball, putting their helmet on the football and going and getting the ball when it’s in the air. That shows the progress of what we’re trying to build here. The way our guys attack the football is something to be proud of.”

The high point for the Chargers’ defensive thus far this season came in a 37-20 Week 4 victory at Kansas City. The Chargers forced six turnovers, including three in the first quarter. Although the Chargers haven’t been quite that spectacular defensively all season, their statistics show a steady improvement.

In 2011, the Chargers were dead last in the NFL in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert 49.2 percent of the time -- the worst percentage in the NFL since 1995. This year, San Diego is allowing a 42.9 percent conversion rate, which is 23rd in the NFL.

The improvement is gaudier in other areas. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chargers are allowing just 3.74 yards per rush, 10th in the NFL. The Chargers are allowing 5.35 yards per play, 15th in the league and 10 spots better than last season's defense. The Chargers are allowing 74.0 yards on the ground this season, fifth in the NFL and up from 20th last season. They are 11th in the NFL in points allowed (20.4); last season, they were 22nd.

Weddle, who is having an outstanding season and is developing into one of the best safeties in the NFL, credits attention to detail for the defense's overall improvement.

“We spend a lot of preparation time,” Weddle said. “Guys want to prove it. Guys get to work early and stay late. Guys study how offenses attack situations. Sure, plays will break down here and there, but you will never question the effort and preparation of guys on this defense.”

This group has a chance to be very good for a very long time. The Chargers have struck gold with the No. 18 overall pick in the past two drafts. Defensive end Corey Liuget, a first-round pick in 2011, has been a monster in recent games. He is extremely active and physical. Pass-rusher Melvin Ingram, this year’s first Chargers pick, looks like one of the league’s top young pass-rushers. Inside linebacker Donald Butler has been tremendous as well.

“I really like this defense,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “I really like the youth and the overall depth in the front seven. They can just keep rotating guys in throughout their defensive line with different skill sets ... makes it tough to play against.”

That was the whole idea of the defensive emphasis of 2012.

“We have to do what it takes to get to the playoffs,” Weddle said. “That’s what this is all about.”

They can take a major step toward the playoffs with a strong defensive effort against Manning.
SAN DIEGO -- With the outside perception of the San Diego Chargers taking a major tumble, the team, which for so long was built from the inside, changed philosophy in 2012 in a last attempt to keep that proverbial Super Bowl window from slamming shut and causing major upheaval in the organization.

After two playoff-less seasons and a reprieve from ownership, San Diego general manager A.J. Smith made an uncharacteristically heavy play in free agency. Taking advantage of one of the deepest classes in history, the Chargers nabbed more than a dozen free agents to infuse new life into a roster that was still talented but no longer arguably the stoutest in the NFL.

“I love what they have done around here,” said safety Eric Weddle, one of the Chargers' homegrown mainstays. “We hit the lowest of the lows the past two years by not making the playoffs. Getting new blood in here has helped.”

Among the veterans San Diego brought in were running backs Le'Ron McClain and Ronnie Brown, receivers Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal, linebacker Jarret Johnson and defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin.

“The thing about the new guys is they all love football,” San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said. “They love it. We need guys like that here. … It gives us a new start. Those guys won’t worry about the past. They weren’t here for the slow starts or the six-game losing streak last year. It’s all a new start.”

If this cleansing of the roster doesn’t work, the next restructuring will likely occur up top with the firing of coach Norv Turner and possibly Smith. Yet, in a season of new beginnings, spirits are high.

“I think we can be special,” Weddle said. “There’s still a lot of talent here, with a bunch of new talent. … People may not be expecting much from us this year because we haven’t done anything, so that’s fair. But it’s kind of nice to be under the radar for once.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeRyan Mathews
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireThe Chargers aim to lean even more heavily on running back Ryan Mathews this season.
1. Ryan Mathews' workload: Outside of Rivers, there is likely not a more important player in this camp than Mathews. The Chargers all know if Mathews flourishes in his third NFL season, the team will have a strong chance to be successful. Mathews, the No. 12 overall pick in 2010, had a solid second season as he ran for 1,091 yards and averaged a terrific 4.9 yards per carry. This year, the Chargers want to see Mathews become consistent and stay healthy. He will likely be given the chance to to carry the ball 25 times a game, catch several balls out of the backfield and be a factor on third down and in short yardage. This camp is designed to get him prepared for a heavy workload. From what I saw and heard, it seems like Mathews might be up to the task.

“He’s working hard,” Rivers said. “Ryan knows what is expected of him.”

2. Sparking the defense: While the offense in San Diego needs some tweaks, the bigger fixes are necessary on defense, where former linebackers coach John Pagano is in charge of fixing a unit that fell apart last season. He replaces Greg Manusky, who was fired after one season on the job. The biggest issue -- it is a major point of emphasis in camp -- is getting off the field on third down. San Diego was last in the NFL in third-down defense in 2011. It gave up a first down on 49.2 percent of all third downs -- according to ESPN Stats & Information, the worst percentage in the NFL since the 1995 Cleveland Browns. The Chargers have added several pieces to the defense and it has a chance to be much more active -- particularly on passing downs, when No. 1 pick Melvin Ingram will be given a chance to make an instant impact as a pass-rusher.

3. Protect the quarterback: The San Diego offensive line was in shambles for much of last season, and it was a big reason why Rivers struggled for the first 10 games. Mainly due to poor health, San Diego used 13 offensive linemen last season -- literally taking players off the street at one point in November. With Jared Gaither, claimed off waivers from Kansas City, solidifying the left tackle spot, the unit improved dramatically late in the season. Gaither was re-signed and is being counted on to protect Rivers’ blind side. The steady Tyronne Green takes over for the departed Kris Dielman. Green has fared well when he's had to play. If this unit remains in good health, it should protect Rivers well. If not, trouble could persist. So far, the unit looks good in camp.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

The passing game looks to be top-notch. After a sloppy start to last season, Rivers finished 2011 strong. He has looked good in camp, and has an interesting group of receivers. Yes, standout Vincent Jackson is gone, but the Chargers have an ensemble group that includes Malcom Floyd, free-agent signees Meachem (New Orleans) and Royal (Denver) and second-year player Vincent Brown. Together, this group should offer Rivers plenty of help.

“We like what we have there,” Turner said. “We like all the pieces. We think we can get some things done in the passing game.”

If the Rivers-led passing attack is back at an elite level, the Chargers will be a threat to win every game. When Rivers is on, San Diego has a chance to score every time the offense hits the field.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The Chargers must prove they are totally past their doldrums. The team feels good about itself, but it does every summer. We will not know if San Diego is out of its funk until it’s out.

Yes, the depth looks good, but will it be enough if injuries pile up for a fourth consecutive year? Yes, cutting down on turnovers is a point of emphasis in camp, but once the season starts, will the hard work pay off or will the killer interceptions and fumbles continue?

It has gotten to the point where we can’t trust this team until it shows it is has indeed rebounded.

OBSERVATION DECK

    [+] EnlargeEddie Royal
    AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziReceiver Eddie Royal, an offseason pickup, appears to have clicked with Chargers QB Philip Rivers.
  • Tight end Antonio Gates is turning heads on a daily basis. After dealing with foot-related injuries for four years, Gates is finally completely healthy. He’s slimmed down and he is making a lot of plays. If his health remains, the 32-year-old should make a huge impact.
  • Denver might have lost interest in Royal, but there is a place for him San Diego. Expect Royal to get a lot of work. He has impressed the coaching staff this summer and I expect him to be as favorite a target for Rivers during the season as he has been this summer.
  • The Chargers love what they see in Johnson. He is tough, smart and excellent against the run. They think he can bump the defense up a notch.
  • Linebacker Donald Butler looks good after a strong 2011 season, which was essentially his rookie season because he was injured in 2010. He is just another fascinating young defensive piece on this team.
  • Undrafted rookie quarterback Jarrett Lee looks like a keeper. He got extra work because of a knee injury to Charlie Whitehurst. I could see Lee making this roster. The Chargers were burned last year when they tried to sneak undrafted rookie quarterback Scott Tolzien onto the practice squad; he was claimed by San Francisco. If Lee continues to impress, I think the Chargers will find room for him on the 53-man roster. They need to develop a young quarterback at some point and Lee might be it.

  • The Nate Kaeding-Nick Novak battle at kicker will go down to the wire. If Kaeding stays healthy and kicks well in the preseason, he should win the job.
  • The Chargers love the skill level of Meachem. Perhaps he was lost in the shuffle of the dynamic offensive weaponry in New Orleans. He’ll get his shot in San Diego.
  • The Chargers are pumped about McClain, a free-agent pickup from Kansas City. He will play a lot and should be in the mix for some carries. They like the veteran stability he brings to the offense.
  • Center David Molk, a seventh-round pick, is getting some second-team reps. He may have a future.
  • The Chargers are very happy with pre-camp signings Franklin and running back/special-teamer Jackie Battle. Though they both signed late, I see them both being contributors.
  • Keep an eye on ex-Chief Demorrio Williams. The linebacker has been a camp stud, boasting terrific speed. The Chargers like him in coverage.
  • The Chargers will keep their eyes open for help at certain positions, including cornerback and offensive line, as the summer progresses.
  • Third-round pick Brandon Taylor, a safety, might not make an instant impact, but Taylor has impressed and will get some valuable time behind veteran pickup Atari Bigby, who himself has been outstanding this summer.

  • Brown has been getting looks as the third-down back and will be an occasional Wildcat threat.
  • Running back Curtis Brinkley flashed talent at times last season, but because of the logjam at running back, he is a long shot to make the team.

  • Rookie tight end Ladarius Green has nice receiving skills. I can see him making an impact behind Gates and Dante Rosario (a very nice backup). Green, a fourth-round pick, needs to learn to block at an NFL level, but he has terrific hands and natural size.
  • Undrafted rookie tackle Mike Harris has taken advantage of an early camp injury to Gaither, getting some reps with the first team. The UCLA product has a chance to make the team. Rivers has joked that Harris has gotten more first-team reps than any undrafted rookie tackle in the history of the NFL.
It’s no surprise the San Diego Chargers released linebacker Travis LaBoy.

The Chargers selected South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram with the No. 18 pick in the draft last month and he will start at an outside linebacker spot. There just wasn’t room for LaBoy.

LaBoy was a favorite of former San Diego defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and was signed last year. Both were in San Francisco in 2010 but Manuskly was fired after the end of last season.

LaBoy started 14 games and had 38 tackles. He didn’t provide a consistent pass rush burst and finished with just one sack. Adding a pass-rusher was one of the Chargers’ biggest needs this offseason.

Meanwhile, the Chargers remain highly interested in cornerback Drayton Florence. He was cut by Buffalo last week. Florence spent his first five NFL seasons in San Diego and could be a nickel cornerback. A decision could be made this week.

Chargers: One big question

May, 4, 2012
5/04/12
12:00
PM ET
Did the Chargers do enough on defense?

If the San Diego Chargers are going to end a two-year playoff drought and coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith are going to save their jobs, the defense must make strides.

The unit was the worst in the NFL on third down last season, and it lacked fire.

Improving the defense was one of the primary goals in the 2012 offseason. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, who some in the organization believe was a major reason for the unit's lack of success, was fired, and linebackers coach John Pagano replaced him. Pagano reminds some of former successful San Diego defensive coordinator Wade Phillips because of his approach.

The team signed underrated former Baltimore linebacker Jarret Johnson in free agency and concentrated on defense in the draft.

San Diego drafted South Carolina pass-rusher Melvin Ingram, Connecticut defensive tackle Kendall Reyes and LSU safety Brandon Taylor in the first three rounds. All three players are expected to contribute right away.

Ingram is highly regarded and has a chance to make an instant impact as a pass-rusher, which the Charges badly need. If these players develop quickly and Ingram is as polished as expected, the Chargers should be much more effective defensively.

Talking with Chargers GM A.J. Smith

February, 23, 2012
2/23/12
5:35
PM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- I had a chance to meet with San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith on Thursday.

In the big picture, Smith said his team must address its defense as it attempts another playoff run. However, Smith’s most pressing issue is the offensive line. Smith said the line “is the area that is causing [him] to lose sleep.”

However, Smith may rest easy soon enough. There may be more clarity on the group in the near future. Center Nick Hardwick is a free agent and has said he wants to return. Smith wants him back, but a deal has to be completed.

Guard Kris Dielman is coming off a concussion that ended his 2011 season prematurely. He has even considered retiring. But he is expected to play, even though a final decision hasn’t been made.

The team is expected to release left tackle Marcus McNeill, who is dealing with a possible career-ending neck injury. He is due a bonus early next month. Jared Gaither took over for McNeill last season and did well. The team hopes to re-sign him in free agency but, like Hardwick, there are no guarantees.

“We don’t know how it will play out on the line,” Smith said. “A lot of things can happen. There are things we want to happen, but that doesn’t mean they will happen. But we will know soon enough.”

What Smith wants to see is improvement on defense. Smith said he is excited about new defensive coordinator John Pagano, who was a longtime assistant coach in San Diego. The Chargers' defense sagged in its one year under former coordinator Greg Manusky, who was fired in January.

Smith said the key to improving the defense is becoming a better unit on third down. The team was last in the NFL in getting off the field on third down in 2011. “That is the first thing we have to figure out,” Smith said.

Smith said he is excited about several players, including young defensive linemen Corey Liuget, Vaughn Martin and Cam Thomas. The Chargers, who may cut Luis Castillo, will add to the line, and they are expecting big things from the unit under Pagano’s guidance.

Smith wouldn’t specifically address getting pass-rushers in free agency, but he did say the team needs more of them. If the Chargers do look at pass-rushers on the open market, the Colts’ Robert Mathis and the Lions’ Cliff Avril (if he isn’t given the franchise tag) could be intriguing options.

Smith said he wants to keep receiver Vincent Jackson but wouldn’t say whether he thinks Jackson will stay. I think the team’s best scenario is to let Jackson explore his options in free agency and then try to sign him. That was the tact the team used with safety Eric Weddle last year. Unless other events unfold unexpectedly, don’t expect the Chargers to give Jackson the franchise tag.

Smith said he was pleased to see quarterback Philip Rivers finish the season strong and that he's not concerned about Rivers experiencing early-season struggles again like he did last year.

“He was pressing” Smith said. “He knows it. That happens, but Philip is fine.”

Reviewing the leadership change

February, 7, 2012
2/07/12
2:00
PM ET
There has been plenty of movement in the front office and on coaching staffs in the AFC West in the past several weeks. Two of the seven coaching staffs that changed in the NFL occurred in the AFC West this year.

There are some more additions as staffs round out throughout the division, but the major hirings and firings have been completed. Let’s review:

Denver Broncos

Recap: After going through a lot of change in recent seasons, Denver was pretty calm this year. It hired former Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio to be the defensive coordinator after Dennis Allen went to Oakland as head coach.

Comment: Del Rio is Denver's seventh defensive coordinator in seven years. However, he has coached for coach John Fox before, so there shouldn’t be too much flux.

Kansas City Chiefs

Recap: Interim coach Romeo Crennel, who replaced Todd Haley with three games remaining in the season, was made the permanent head coach. He hired Brian Daboll as the offensive coordinator and Crennel will likely oversee the defense himself.

Comment: The key here is Daboll. Crennel has the defense going in the right direction and he is well-respected by the entire team. Daboll needs to take this potentially strong offense to the next level.

Oakland Raiders

Recap: The Raiders underwent the most change in the division this offseason. The change began sadly when owner Al Davis died in October. After the season, former Raiders’ linebacker and former Green Bay executive Reggie McKenzie was hired as general manager. He quickly fired coach Hue Jackson and replaced him with Allen. He hired Greg Knapp (a former Oakland offensive coordinator) to run the offense and Stanford co-defensive coordinator Jason Tarver to head the defense.

Comment: It’s an exciting time in Oakland with lots of great potential. But there is no question that much of the new leadership is inexperienced in their new roles.

San Diego Chargers

Recap: The big news in San Diego is what didn’t happen. After the Chargers finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs for the second straight season, coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith were expected to be shown the door. But owner Dean Spanos made the surprising move to keep them both. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky was fired and linebackers coach John Pagano replaced him.

Comment: The pressure is on everyone in San Diego. If the Chargers don’t make the playoffs in 2012, we’ll likely see the type of wholesale changes that occurred in Oakland.
Dennis Allen’s lengthy search for a defensive coordinator in Oakland marches on.

The focus is now on Green Bay cornerback coach Joe Whitt Jr. His name emerged late Wednesday and it became even more relevant in the search when FoxSports.com reported Thursday that Greg Manusky -- fired as the Chargers’ defensive coordinator last month -- became the coordinator in Indianapolis on Thursday. He interviewed with Allen on Tuesday. Talks broke down late Wednesday and the Colts emerged.

Allen, formerly the Broncos’ defensive coordinator, has been having trouble securing a candidate. He was denied permission to talk to several candidates. The search winds its way to Whitt, who worked in Green Bay with new Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie. Thus, the Green Bay coaching connection may finally develop in Oakland.

Whitt may be considered a risky choice since he is a position coach and is just 33. Normally, you’d like to see a candidate with more experience. But McKenzie clearly saw something in him and relayed it to Allen. Whitt was well respected by his players in Green Bay.

"Trust me," Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams once told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "The guy knows his stuff. He will be a coordinator or a something one day. I don't know exactly when it's going to be, but I think he's definitely going to have one of those upper spots."

We’ll see where his candidacy goes, but Allen may be running out of options, so perhaps Whitt will emerge as the guy.

Honestly, I don’t think the Raiders should be too broken up over it not working out with Manusky. I know folks in San Diego would have loved to have seen Manusky stay in the division. His one-year stint as defensive coordinator there was a disaster.

Meanwhile, the Oakland Tribune reports assistant offensive line coach Steve Wisniewski will remain on the staff and work in some capacity with new offensive line coach Frank Pollack. Good move. Wisniewski is well respected and he did a nice job last year.
The Oakland Raiders have officially announced the first member of Dennis Allen’s staff.

The Raiders just put out a release formally announcing the hiring of offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. His hiring was widely reported Tuesday. This is Knapp’s second tour as Oakland’s offensive coordinator. Knapp -- who was Houston’s offensive coordinator the past two years -- was Oakland’s offensive coordinator in 2007-08. He was stripped of his duties by coach Tom Cable in 2008.

Oakland’s offense was awful when Knapp was originally with the team. However, the unit has much more talent now. Here are my thoughts on the Knapp hire from Tuesday.

Meanwhile, I’ve been asked by many readers if Knapp could bring Matt Leinart with him as a backup. Leinart is under contract in 2012, but I could see him being cut because T.J. Yates will likely back up Matt Schaub. If that is the case, I could see Knapp wanting Leinart to back up Carson Palmer. The team may not have interest in bringing back Kyle Boller. He was in Oakland because of his ties to former coach Hue Jackson. Second-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor may not be ready to be a backup, so Leinart could come in and play if he is available.

With Knapp officially on board, the Raiders’ next biggest hire is defensive coordinator. The Raiders have talked to former San Diego defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. The Raiders have been denied permission to talk to multiple candidates. If Manusky doesn’t get the job, San Francisco defensive backs coach Ed Donatell could also be in play.
We heard Greg Manusky’s name connected with the Oakland Raiders' defensive coordinator job on Monday and passed it along.

Now, it has taken the next step. Fox Sports reports Manusky has interviewed for the job with new coach Dennis Allen.

Allen is moving fast to fill out his Oakland staff. He is reportedly bringing in Houston Texans quarterbacks coach Gregg Knapp. He was Oakland’s offensive coordinator in 2007-08, but Tom Cable stripped Knapp of his duties in 2008. Allen and Knapp worked together in Atlanta early last decade.

Fox Sports also reports Allen will retain running backs coach Kelly Skipper. The running backs are Oakland’s strength.

The Manusky hire could be looked with some skepticism. He was fired earlier this season as the Chargers’ defensive coordinator.

Kansas City Chiefs defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas, New Orleans Saints defensive line coach Bill Johnson and Denver Broncos linebackers coach Richard Smith were previously candidates. The Raiders were denied permission to talk to Smith and Johnson.

How Greg Knapp fits in Oakland

January, 31, 2012
1/31/12
1:45
PM ET
The Oakland Raiders have not confirmed NFL.com’s report that Greg Knapp will be brought back as the Raiders’ offensive coordinator. Still, here are some thoughts on the pending hire:

This is the most important assistant coach on Dennis Allen’s staff. Because Allen is a defensive specialist, he will be able to help the new defensive coordinator. Yet, it is the offensive coordinator who Allen will have to put his most trust in.

I don’t think this hire will inspire much excitement in the Raider Nation. Knapp has already been Oakland’s offensive coordinator and it didn’t work out well. He is a good, solid coach, but the truth is, he is not known for being one of the most dynamic offensive coaches in the league.

In fairness, Knapp will be working with a much more talented offense in his second tour in Oakland. The Raiders’ offense was anemic when he was the coordinator in 2007 and 2008. When Tom Cable took over as interim coach after Lane Kiffin was fired in 2008, Cable stripped Knapp’s duties from him. In Knapp’s only full season as the offensive coordinator (2007), the Raiders were No. 27 in total offense.

I think what we have to focus on is Allen’s past with Knapp and not Knapp’s past in Oakland. The two worked together in Atlanta earlier last decade. Clearly, Knapp was impressive enough for Allen to give him this chance.

Even though he was most recently Houston’s quarterbacks coach (he did a nice time adjusting to several injuries and he made undrafted rookie T.J. Yates a playoff-game-winning quarterback), Knapp is a run-first coordinator. That jibes well with Oakland’s talent. The Raiders have one of the best running games in the NFL.

Knapp knows some of Oakland’s talent. He had Michael Bush (a free agent who may be given the franchise tag) and starting tailback Darren McFadden in the program when he was last in Oakland. So, that adjustment will not be difficult. For the most part, most of the key offensive parts are new.

Knapp’s hiring likely means 2011 Oakland offensive coordinator Al Saunders will not be brought back, although it is feasible he could take on a lesser role. But Allen (who originally wanted former Green Bay coach Mike Sherman as his coordinator, but he went to Miami), struck fast to replace Saunders. So, it’s clear he wants to build his own staff. New Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie fired coach Hue Jackson because he wanted to find his guy, so it’s only fair Allen is afforded the same luxury.

Still, it will be interesting to see if Allen keeps anyone on Oakland’s staff. McKenzie indicated Monday that there are some coaches on Jackson’s staff that Allen may keep. I’d think perhaps offensive line assistant Steve Wisniewski may be one of them. Meanwhile, several of Jackson’s assistants are leaving. The latest is reportedly tight ends coach Adam Henry.

With Knapp reportedly in the fold, now the biggest remaining job on Allen’s staff is defensive coordinator. Former San Diego defensive coordinator Greg Manusky (he was fired earlier this month) is among those in play. Allen has been denied permission to speak to multiple candidates for the job.
The nice play is over in the AFC West. It didn’t last long.

When Dennis Allen was hired to be the Oakland Raiders’ head coach last week, his former boss John Fox wished Allen well. And, now, Allen is on his own.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Broncos have denied the Raiders permission to speak to linebackers coach Richard Smith for the Oakland defensive job.

Previously, Kansas City defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas and New Orleans defensive line coach Bill Johnson were dropped off as candidates. It’s not a surprise Fox denied Allen permission. He wants to keep as much stability on his defensive coaching staff as possible. It seems more and more teams are denying permission these days and it’s no shock this intra-division hard stance was made.

Potential coordinator candidates may now include former San Diego defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and San Francisco defensive backs coach Ed Donatell.

UPDATE: CSN Bay Area reports Oakland special teams coach John Fassel has reported to St. Louis. The Raiders have had one of the best special teams in the NFL in recent years. Fassel was a strong coach, but the talent remains for Oakland in this area.

Meanwhile, NFL.com is reporting that Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin is considering pursuing former Kansas City coach Todd Haley as offensive coordinator.

That would be an interesting pairing. Haley is known for being high strung and vocal in his coaching. Tomlin is intense, but he’s not much of a screamer and a yeller. Also, Haley is known for getting on his players often during games. It would be interesting to see an established quarterback such as Ben Roethlisberger adjust to playing for Haley.

I’m sure Haley would love the job. He is from Pittsburgh and his father, Dick, is a former legendary Steelers’ personnel man.
The Oakland Raiders had their press conference to introduce new head coach Dennis Allen on Monday.

Here are some impressions:

Allen
Allen
New Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie is convinced Allen is his man. McKenzie -- who bypassed several of his former Green Bay cohorts to go with the 39-year-old former Denver Broncos defensive coordinator -- said he targeted Allen from the start of his process.

I know it’s early and I know there is always hope with every new hire. But it does seem like McKenzie and Allen have the makings of being a terrific pair. Both are young and green in their roles. But both seem to be bright, eager men who are both humble and not interested in being in the spotlight for anything other than winning. McKenzie said they will work closely together and they are a "team."

Allen was asked if he thought the Raiders had playoff talent and he said yes. He knows this is a good situation and he knows with a few moves, this can be a winning franchise again.

Both McKenzie and Allen said they believe in quarterback Carson Palmer. They have to believe in Palmer. There is no chance Palmer is not Oakland’s quarterback in 2012.

Allen didn’t say much about the staff he is building. He didn’t give many hints about whether or not incumbent offensive coordinator Al Saunders will come back. He is under contract for another year. There have been names bandied about for the defensive coordinator job. One name that has surfaced as a possible candidate if Greg Manusky. He was fired earlier in the month as San Diego’s defensive coordinator.

Allen said he will not call the defensive plays and that he will have the role of a "game manager" on game days. I like when head coaches take that role. It allows them to focus on the entire game and not get too caught up on the nuances of one side of the ball. Allen downplayed the importance of schemes, but don’t be surprised if Oakland remains a 4-3 defense. That was the defense he ran in Denver.

Overall, Allen came across well. He seems like a detail-oriented coach who is well-prepared for his role despite being the youngest active head coach in the league.
The following are some highlights of our AFC West chat, which was held earlier Thursday:

DENVER

Carter from Atlanta: Do you see Denver trying to run more like they did the first quarter against the Patriots, (a healthy McGahee would be nice), or trying to air it out against a defense that hasn't been so good against the deep ball?

Bill Williamson: I think they will try to establish the run again. They had such good success before McGahee was hurt and before the turnovers changed the game. Tebow is best when the run sets up the pass. I think that will be the plan.

KANSAS CITY

Chris from Lees’ Summit, Mo.: Do you think the Chiefs will resign both Brandon Carr and Dwayne Bowe?

BW: I'm a little surprised they haven't already been addressed because Kansas City is aggressive when it comes to re-signing its own players. But I think they are two key players that need to be kept.

OAKLAND

Andy from Chicago: Any update on McFadden injury? Planned surgery?

BW: I checked on that yesterday. No surgery needed. He is improving. He should be fine for the offseason camps.

SAN DIEGO

Jake from SD: I don’t understand the Chargers philosophy of promoting in house people for the job, such as D- Cord. How are things going to be any different in San Diego next year?

BW: It worked out when Rivera was promoted. Pagano is well liked by the players. I'm not sure that was the case with Manusky. The key in San Diego will getting better players.

Turner, Pagano discuss promotion

January, 5, 2012
1/05/12
9:40
PM ET
San Diego coach Norv Turner and new defensive coordinator John Pagano discussed Pagano’s promotion Thursday. Pagano replaced Greg Manusky, who was fired earlier Thursday. Here is some of what Turner and Pagano had to say, courtesy of the Chargers’ public-relations department:

Norv Turner

On the necessity for a change like this:

“When the season ends, you go and evaluate the things that you feel are critical. Moving forward, I just thought this was the best opportunity for our team to go do the things we’re capable of doing.”

[+] EnlargeJohn Pagano
Jake Roth/US PresswireJohn Pagano, left, takes over as defensive coordinator after coaching Chargers linebackers this season.
On the quick decision and looking elsewhere outside the building beside coach Pagano:

“I just think right now, for where our team is he’s the right fit. We spent a lot of time with John last year when we were in this process. John’s continued to grow as a coach. He has a great understanding of what we need to do. Particularly on the defensive front, but also on our overall defense, it was a great fit for us.”

On what does the defense need to improve on:

“A year ago we were one of the elite teams on third-down defense. It was a big part of the success we had. This year we were 32nd out of 32 on third-down defense. Certainly it’s getting back to our standards on third down, playing better in the red zone and then we just have to continue to try to create more turnovers.”

On whether the UCLA rumors influenced the decision:

“I think anytime you’re in a process of making a decision, a lot of things go into it. Certainly we considered everything that was involved.”

On the relationship between Pagano and the players:

“As I said, I think John has certainly a track record with our guys and obviously I think it’s going to be a real good fit. That’s why we put him in that position.”

On whether the defense needs to improve personnel-wise:

“Someone asked me about where we rank in our division. Obviously our teams were 8-8 in our division and 7-9. The biggest key for all the teams in our division is who is going to improve the most. There’s a number of ways you can improve. Certainly the first way you get better is add elite players. You have an opportunity to do that through free agency, you have a chance to do that through the draft like all the other teams in our division. Obviously the next way you improve is you continue to get better in terms of the things you’re doing; coaching and all three phases.”

On where Turner is in the evaluation stage of the rest of the coaching staff:

“Again, it is a process. We’re in the middle of it. I don’t think we’ll have major changes. Again, part of it is my conversation with coaches and where they’re at. So it’s an ongoing process.”

On Manusky being a scapegoat:

“That’s always the question that’s asked when you make a change. That’s always what’s insinuated. I don’t believe in that. I think, as I said, I’m not looking back. I’m looking forward and looking for the things we need to do to get better in the future.”

John Pagano

On what immediate changes need to be made:

“First and foremost, we've just got to go out as a staff and coach better and we've just got to go to play better. We’ve had many opportunities to get off the field. With our type of offense and the things that we can do offensively, we have to give them the opportunity to go score. The easiest way for us to do that is try and get as many three-and-outs as we can to put the ball back in our offense. For the most part, we as a coaching and defensive staff have to coach better and we have to go out and play better.”

On whether the team has the right player personnel:

“I believe so. Looking at all our personnel and seeing it over the years — I’ve been here through the good times and the bad times — and seeing the type of defensive players. Can we improve in everything? Sure we can. With the right mixture of guys we have on this team right now I believe we can do some good things here.”

On being a candidate for this job last year and what’s different now:

“I don’t know. That’s a real good question. You sit here, you wonder and you’re always waiting for your opportunity. But I didn’t really ever look into things about that. Just so excited for the opportunity that they are giving me. The good thing was I learned. Every year I’ve been here I’ve learned. I’ve learned from some great defensive minds here. That’s something that I really took a hold of. Last year was a great learning experience because I thought we did, at times, some great things there defensively. Just the interaction and being a part of having the type of players and this coaching staff.”

On the rumors of the players wanting him to get this position:

“It’s an honor to have them say that. I don’t know, no one has texted me or called me. This phone’s been buzzing but it’s nice to know that. Our job here, and I’ve been saying this for a long time, is put them in position to make plays. That’s our job and that’s what we have to do. When they go out there and they’re successful, good things happen for us so that’s what we want to do.”

On appeasing fans’ desires for a high-powered defense:

“I’m not big on styles. We’re going to go out and be fundamentally sound. We’re going to play smart football. I believe that’s the most important thing. We got to be able to create turnovers like everybody says. We have to pressure the quarterback because over the years that I’ve been here, we’ve seen those things and I’ve been a part of those things. So, we need to just keep building, keep doing what we’re doing, have the games that we’ve played well in, take from those learn experiences on the things we didn’t do well and move on from there.”

On what happened with the UCLA discussions:

“It was a nice honor to have coach (Jim) Mora be able to want me for that job. It wasn’t a factor of taking this job or that job. I don’t know how my name got out there. I don’t know if it was a recruiting ploy or not. But like I said my family loves it here in San Diego. I love it here, I love this organization, I’ve been a part of this organization for a long time and I’m really excited about the opportunity I have ahead of me. “

On whether he was frustrated he didn’t get this job in the past:

“Everybody’s going to be disappointed if there’s things you want out there in life that you’re not going to get. But the one thing, it made me better. It made me grow into the position I’m in now. I thank the Lord every day that those things happened to me so I could grow, learn, watch and listen and be in a part with a guy like Coach Turner. But also learning for Ted Cottrell, Ron Rivera, Wade Phillips being the mentor and Coach Manusky. All those guys and just being around them. Guys like Steve Wilks and Don Johnson. We have a great staff. We have a great defensive staff. We just got to go out there and get these guys playing better. That’s our job.”

On the likelihood of bringing most the coaches back:

“That’s up to Coach Turner. I hope so. This thing is about us. Those guys have their thumbprint on this defense just as much as I have. I’ve been here just a few years more.”

On communicating with specific player(s) regarding the promotion:

“You always want to reach out to the veterans, but this thing kind of moved so fast that I haven’t really had a chance. I had an opportunity to talk to my dad. It’s humbling. He’s just so happy. Now he’s got another son he can worry about the most with my brother (Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck) being in Baltimore. It’s just family. I’m always proud of my dad bringing us up in these roots. I’m proud of my brother for what he’s accomplished. I’m really excited and happy about the opportunity that’s come up on me.”

Chargers quickly hire new DC

January, 5, 2012
1/05/12
6:40
PM ET
We have a theme developing in San Diego.

Apparently, the Chargers believe the answers to their problems will be corrected in-house. In a lightning-fast process, the Chargers promoted within for the position what will be their biggest leadership change of the offseason.

Hours after firing defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, the Chargers promoted linebacker coach John Pagano.

The Chargers clearly had their eye on Pagano. There was no rush in this hire. But I got the feeling coach Norv Turner wanted to make this move. Turner and general manager A.J. Smith were given a reprieve Tuesday. They hope this move helps San Diego get back to the playoffs after a two-year absence. Pagano is the fourth defensive coordinator in Turner’s six seasons in San Diego.

Pagano, the brother of Baltimore defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, has been on the Chargers’ staff since 2002. He was reportedly headed to UCLA to become the defensive coordinator there. However, he was a favorite of coach Turner and Pagano is well liked by San Diego’s players.

The last time the Chargers promoted a linebackers coach to defensive coordinator it was a brilliant stroke by Turner. Ron Rivera was promoted during the 2008 season. The Chargers were the No. 1 defense in the NFL under Rivera last year before he went to Carolina as head coach.

The Chargers slipped to No. 16 in the league this season.

Don’t expect the Chargers to change much under Pagano. They should continue to run a 3-4 defense. Pagano knows his personnel well. They key is to get more out of his players than Manusky did and to get better.

“We’re going to go out and play fundamentally sound defense,” Pagano said in a statement released by the team. “It’s still about tackling the guy with the football and getting after the quarterback and covering people downfield. We’re going to do what we need to do to help the Chargers win football games.”

The Chargers need to add at linebacker and at safety for starters as they try to improve the defense under yet another coordinator.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

AFC WEST SCOREBOARD