AFC West: John Marshall
Jon Jon from Cheney: If the Broncos get a QB who can actually throw the ball, would you consider [Eric Decker], [Eddie] Royal, and D. [Demaryius] Thomas a potential nightmare in the future for defenses? Something like the Saints and Packers these days.
Bill Williamson: Nightmare? Nah. But a decent starting point. I think Thomas can be special.
Bill from Cameron, Mo.: Do you see [Tamba] Hali and [Justin] Houston being a nightmare for future offenses
BW: Now that's a nightmare. Hali is a star and Houston was a great value pick in the third round.
John from Rochester: Raiders D-Coordinator in 2012? Talent is there right?
BW: Jack Del Rio is a name I hear a lot. There is talent there, but help is needed in the secondary and the linebackers must play better. Remember, everyone thought it was all John Marshall's fault last year, too. Sooner or later, the players have to be accountable.
Brian from San Diego: So, [Jared] Gaither or [Marcus] McNeill in SD?
BW: I think that is TBA. Depends on McNeill's neck. But because the Chargers can easily get out of his deal and because Gaither was good and he may be cheaper, I could see Gaither being the choice.
Bresnahan was promoted to defensive coordinator last week, more than a month after being hired for an unspecified defensive coaching role. He was the Raiders’ defensive coordinator early last decade when the team had success. He worked with new Oakland head coach Hue Jackson in Cincinnati.
The Raiders were linked to other coaches around the league before Bresnahan was promoted but nothing materialized.
Are you happy the team went with Bresnahan to replace John Marshall or do you wish the team would have gotten someone from another team? Do you think Bresnahan will make a difference with this defense?
Hit my mailbag with your thoughts. I will post some of your responses later in the week.
It is being reported that the team will not bring back defensive coordinator John Marshall. One potential candidate, Rob Ryan, is off the market. The former Oakland and Cleveland defensive coordinator will lead Dallas’ defense.
The team would not confirm Marshall’s departure, but it wouldn’t be a surprise. Oakland’s defense improved in 2010, but it still gave up way too many big plays and it allowed at least 31 points in six games.
Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is expected to be promoted to replace the disposed Tom Cable as soon as early this week. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Baltimore assistant Al Saunders is a candidate to become offensive coordinator.
That is interesting because Saunders worked with Oakland quarterback Jason Campbell in Washington in 2006-07 and that familiarity would give both the player and coach a head start in their Oakland relationship.
Meanwhile, Schefter pointed out a possible reason Cable was dumped in Oakland despite leading Oakland to an 8-8 record. It was Oakland’s’ first non-losing season since 2002. Cable was fined a total of $120,000 by owner Al Davis this season and he has filed a grievance against Davis to recoup his pay. This is nothing new for Davis. Schefter reports that four of Davis’ last five coaches have had financial disputes with the team.
“That is untrue,” Oakland senior executive John Herrera said Wednesday.
Herrera reiterated that the Raiders have begun the search for a head coach. He would not reveal who was interviewed or how many candidates have been interviewed. Herrera has also said the team has been reviewing the status of the assistant coaching staff, including Marshall, for a week and that it will continue. Herrera didn’t give a timetable for the hiring of a new coach for the evaluation of the coaching staff.
Oakland offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is considered a top candidate to be named the head coach and to replace Tom Cable. Former Oakland assistants Marc Trestman and Rob Ryan have been mentioned.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson
Midweek mail call:
Joe from Columbus, Ohio, wants to know why the Oakland Raiders aren’t blitzing more.
Bill Williamson: It’s really not a surprise. Al Davis’ defenses don’t blitz much. And don’t be confused, this is Davis’ defense. Yes, new defensive coordinator John Marshall worked on blitzing more in training camp, but the Raiders haven’t blitzed much in the preseason. You would think they would try it some in the preseason to get used to it. But it’s just not the Raiders’ history. So, don’t expect much to change in that area.
Eli from Tampa wants to know if the Chiefs should hold onto Tyler Thigpen with Matt Cassel potentially out with an injury.
BW: I don’t think there is any way the Chiefs can or will trade Thigpen right now. We’ve all heard the rumors, but that was before Cassel was hurt. Cassel could be ready for the Sept. 13 season opener at Baltimore, but sprained knees can be tricky. Thigpen might start if Cassel can’t play. Thigpen has starting experience, so he’s valuable to the Chiefs. Plus, if Cassel can’t start the season and Brodie Croyle is the choice, Thigpen will be a backup. Croyle has a bad injury history and with the Chiefs’ weak offensive line, there is no guarantee he’d make it through a whole game. Thigpen needs to stay and I believe he will.
Jagdish from Denver wants to know if rookie quarterback Tom Brandstater could be an option for the team in 2010.
BW: Yes, he very well could be given the opportunity. I don’t think Kyle Orton is the long-term answer there. If a young quarterback impresses coach Josh McDaniels, he will be given the chance. Brandstater was chosen by McDaniels as the young player who gets the first look. Brandstater fits McDaniels’ system and he played well against Chicago on Sunday. Many things can happen in the future, but Brandstater, if he improves, could be in the mix in Denver in 2010.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Correll Buckhalter is atop Denver's depth chart at tailback ... for now.
My take: Denver coach Josh McDaniels told reporters not to read too much into these early depth charts. Buckhalter will have a role, but the team is pushing Knowshon Moreno into the system and I expect the rookie to be atop the running back heap soon.
Second-year tackle Branden Albert is whipping into shape.
My take: I expect Albert to have a strong season at left tackle. He is a talented player who made strides as a rookie. The Chiefs need an anchor to the offensive line and I think Albert can be it.
The Raiders may start blitzing more ... Maybe.
My take: New defensive coordinator John Marshall is having his troops practice blitzing. But that has happened in Oakland before. So don't expect Oakland to rely heavily on the blitz in the regular season until you see it.
Jacob Hester has beefed up for his role.
My take: The Chargers don't expect the second-year player to be the next Lorenzo Neal at fullback. But Hester has a big job ahead of him as the lead blocker. He did a decent job as a rookie. Hester is a tough, smart player who will work hard to improve. I expect him to be a productive part of San Diego's offense.
|Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PRESSWIRE|
|Coach Tom Cable has spent the early part of camp focusing on teaching the basics.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
NAPA, Calif. -- In his first training camp as a head coach in the NFL, Tom Cable is breaking it down.
He is trying to end the Oakland Raiders' six-year slump by going back to basics.
"It's all about learning," Cable said. "That what we're trying to do here."
Cable, who went 4-8 on an interim basis last season after the tumultuous Lane Kiffin era ended, is methodically trying to improve his team. Here's how he started: Players reported on Tuesday. The team spent all day Wednesday in meetings before hitting the practice field on Thursday.
It wasn't exactly a strenuous football practice; the team went through two glorified walk-throughs on opening day. Cable ended plays shortly after the ball was snapped. The team won't start hitting until Monday.
The 2009 Oakland Raiders are starting with a classroom on the grass. Why not? The past six years have produced report cards with nothing but F's. The Raiders are a combined 24-72 since 2003. It is the worst six-year span by any team in NFL history.
Players, tired of Oakland literally being an NFL Black Hole, are behind Cable's slow instructional pace.
"We're really breaking it all down and starting over," linebacker Thomas Howard said. "It's good. We need it. This is all about learning and being instructed."
|AP Photo/Paul Sakuma|
|The Raiders clearly want JaMarcus Russell to develop into their long-term starter, but Jeff Garcia might be their best option to compete right now.|
1. Can JaMarcus Russell develop? Whether or not Oakland can end its six-season slump will likely depend on its third-year quarterback.
Cable said Thursday it's all about whether Russell can win. It has gotten to that point. If Russell fails to make strides this season, his job could be on the line. Considering that veteran Jeff Garcia is looking to take his job, Russell's progress is definitely the biggest issue in Oakland this season.
Russell, who admitted that he reported to training camp heavier than he wanted to, needs to become more consistent and the Raiders want to see him become more of a leader. If he doesn't improve, the Raiders may be in trouble in both 2009 and beyond.
2. Can the run defense improve? So much has been made of the Raiders' problems in the passing game, but the run defense has been a huge issue in recent seasons.
Oakland was 31st in the NFL against the rush last season, allowing 159.7 yards a game on the ground. Oakland was ranked 27th overall on defense last season.
That weakness set the tone for Oakland's defense. If a team can't stop the run, it can't win consistently. It's that simple. Teams that have trouble against the run get eaten alive and wear down.
Oakland has to find a way to improve in this area. The Raiders haven't changed their personnel much, so they have to get better play from their defensive tackle rotation. New defensive coordinator John Marshall, an NFL veteran, appears bent on teaching fundamentals and is very vocal in camp. He has a tall task ahead of him.
But they are both still learning and are not sure things. If they continue to develop, Russell will get the help from his receivers that he needs. The Raiders, of course, are also counting on rookies Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy. If two of these four players show they can be consistent weapons in 2009, Oakland's run-first offense has a chance to succeed.
|AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez|
|Darrius Heyward-Bey signed his rookie contract and was in camp on Thursday.|
Heyward-Bey's best move so far was to sign his rookie contract. He arrived at training camp Thursday after agreeing to a contract with more than $23 million in guarantees. That's big money for someone who is not considered to be a guaranteed NFL success.
But Heyward-Bey gave himself a chance to succeed by not missing much camp time. By all accounts, he is a talented, raw player who needs practice. He lost valuable time in the offseason due to a hamstring injury. For a player who was inconsistent and who had trouble holding on to the ball in college, the lost time was not ideal. Heyward-Bey is super fast and has big-time potential. But he needs work before he can help the receiver-
Newcomer to watch
I just get the feeling that Garcia's shadow is going to hover over Russell all season or until Garcia takes over. Garcia is honest and expresses his thoughts whenever he's asked. Garcia believes he gives the Raiders the best chance to win, but he'll support Russell while he is the starter.
That's just not the best atmosphere for a young quarterback who needs to make quick progress. Russell doesn't need to be feeling heat. He needs to feel relaxed as he tries to become a quality NFL player. Having Garcia hover may make that impossible. Before the end of the season, Garcia's presence on this team will become a major storyline. It appears inevitable.
Second-year running back Darren McFadden looks healthy and primed to live up to his rookie hype. McFadden can also help when lined up as a wide receiver. Expect McFadden to lead a strong running attack that also features Michael Bush and Justin Fargas ... Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly jumped offsides three times Thursday. Penalties have long been a problem in Oakland. It is clear the team needs to work on discipline this summer ... Look for former Cleveland starter Charlie Frye to be the Raiders' No. 3 quarterback ... Linebacker Ricky Brown has been working at outside and inside linebacker and the team thinks he may be ready to live up to his potential ... The Raiders are giving Mario Henderson a chance to be the starting left tackle. He has promise. If former Jacksonville starter Khalif Barnes doesn't beat out Henderson, Barnes could be moved to right tackle ... The Raiders expect to get a lot of production out of pass-rushers Greg Ellis and Trevor Scott. The Raiders think Ellis, signed this summer after Dallas cut him, can still be a factor and that Scott, a second-year defensive tackle, is ready for prime time. The presence of Ellis and Scott is a major reason the Raiders aren't sweating the puzzling holdout of defensive end Derrick Burgess ... Keep an eye out for tight end Zach Miller. He is getting better in all phases of the game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
The AFC West has become the Great Unknown.
After a turbulent offseason, the only team in the division that doesn't belong in the mystery section is the San Diego Chargers.
"The rest of them have all changed big time," said ESPN analyst Herm Edwards, who was part of the turmoil when he was fired by Kansas City earlier this year. "It's a whole new division in a lot of ways."
In Denver, there is a new head coach for the first time in 14 years and a new quarterback. In Kansas City, there is a new general manager, a new head coach and a new quarterback. In Oakland, there is a new permanent head coach and a new defensive staff.
For every team in the AFC West, this offseason has been about trying to figure out their division opponents. There is no built-in familiarity in the division that was arguably the weakest in the NFL in 2008. It's as if there are four teams from different divisions converging together.
It's a cause for consternation, even for those directly involved in the change.
"I don't think it's a good thing," new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. "It's a pain in the butt to get ready for them in the offseason ... this makes it a little more challenged because you've had too much turnover.
"So your preparation in the spring is a little difficult because you can't just turn on the tape from last season and go 'OK, that's what we have to beat next year' because it's going to change."
The kinetic offseason was a popular topic at San Diego's recent minicamp. The Chargers marveled at all the change. San Diego remained nearly intact from the team that won its final four games of the regular season to salvage a third straight division crown. And the Chargers are relieved it is the other teams that are dealing with facelifts instead of them.
"It's been really wild to watch," San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said. "In Denver, we're not going to be dealing with Mike Shanahan anymore. In Kansas City, the New England way of doing things will be in play, like in Denver, and Oakland has a new defensive staff. You have to prepare for the changes."
Chargers general manager A.J. Smith admits his uneasiness about the adjustments that are afoot in the AFC West in 2009.
"I'm not comfortable with it because there is so much change," Smith said. "All of these changes are designed to improve these teams, so you always have to be concerned about that as a competitor."
There's no doubt change was needed in most instances. The Broncos, Raiders and Chiefs combined for 15 wins last season.
The majority of the change will occur in Denver and Kansas City. The Raiders -- led by Tom Cable, who coached the team in the final 12 games last season -- will implement a new defensive scheme under new coordinator John Marshall. Still, the Raiders will still stick to the philosophy the team has had for the past five decades of the Al Davis era.
"The Raiders are going to be the same in a lot of ways," Edwards said. "They're going to be a power running team on offense and they will attack on defense. We know that there will be some changes. But in Denver and Kansas City, there are more questions."
The biggest change both the Broncos and Chiefs are making is on defense. Both teams are transitioning to a 3-4 defensive scheme. Having both teams switching to a similar scheme could help the Raiders and Chargers prepare for them.
McDaniels will run the show in Denver. He came from New England, where he was the offensive coordinator. Kansas City's new leader is general manager Scott Pioli, who was an executive with the Patriots. The Patriots Way will be alive and well in half of the AFC West.
"The New England way of doing things have been very successful," Smith said. "There is good leadership there and with the influx of the New England influence, you have to account for it ... Things are changing in this division. We all have to be ready for it."
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
The Oakland Raiders are the lone team in the AFC West to stick with the traditional 4-3 defensive scheme.
Denver and Kansas City are planning to transition to the 3-4 defense, and San Diego has long used the 3-4 scheme.
The Raiders do have a new defensive coordinator in former San Francisco and Seattle assistant coach John Marshall. Marshall has been quiet since he took over in Oakland but his history is to run a 4-3 defense.
The Raiders tried to use a 3-4 in 2004, Warren Sapp's first season in Oakland. However, it never worked and the Raiders scrapped it. Oakland's current personnel fits the 4-3 defense better, anyway, so expect the Raiders to skip the 3-4 party in the division.
Interestingly, though, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Raiders added a player that the 3-4 teams in the AFC West are studying in next weekend's draft: Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji. He also fits the 4-3 defense. While Raji may not be Oakland's top choice, he could end up being Oakland's selection at No. 7.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Inspired by a similar post by NFC West blogger Mike Sando, we are going to look at the 10 most important assistant coaching positions in the AFC West early in the offseason, heading into the 2009 season:
Ron Rivera, defensive coordinator, San Diego Chargers: Rivera's promotion to defensive coordinator from inside linebackers coach last season sparked the Chargers. Many players attributed Rivera's promotion, after the firing of Ted Cottrell, to the team's turnaround and playoff run. With Rivera in charge of the San Diego defense all season, the Chargers have a chance to avoid an early-season stumble that affected them the past two seasons. If San Diego's defense is in high gear all season, it will be difficult to beat in the division.
Mike Nolan, defensive coordinator, Denver Broncos: The Broncos are San Diego's closest competition at this point. But the only way Denver will challenge for the division is if its defense improves dramatically. Nolan, the former San Francisco head coach, is in charge of that task. The Broncos want to run a 3-4 defense, but they will have to find the personnel to do so. If Nolan can change this defense around, Denver has a chance.
Rick Dennison, run offense coordinator; Bobby Turner, running backs coach, Denver Broncos: Dennison and Turner are a package deal. They perfected former Denver coach Mike Shanahan's vaunted run offense. It was critical that new Denver coach Josh McDaniels keep Dennison and Turner. Now, Denver doesn't have to change its run offense and its usual success on the ground should continue.
Ted Tollner, offensive coordinator, Oakland Raiders: The longtime college and NFL veteran coach needs to establish the running game better than the Raiders did last season. The Raiders have excellent running backs. The run game has to be more of a focus under Tollner.
Unnamed, defensive coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs haven't announced who will be the defensive coordinator under new coach Todd Haley, but this unit needs a new direction. It has to be much more aggressive. Kansas City set a record for the fewest sacks in NFL history with 10 in 2008. If the Chiefs are going to improve, the Chiefs need a quick turnaround on defense.
Paul Hackett, quarterbacks coach, Oakland Raiders: Hackett needs to develop quarterback JaMarcus Russell. He is entering his second season a starter and has been slow to develop. Hackett is a respected quarterback coach. Russell needs to make strides now and it is up to Hackett to make it happen.
Unnamed, offensive coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs: Haley may call the plays, but the Chiefs need a strong offensive coordinator. The Chiefs aren't bad on offense, but it needs to score a lot of points to make up for a porous defense.
Rob Chudzinski: assistant head coach/tight ends coach, San Diego Chargers: The former Cleveland offensive coordinator returns to San Diego where he will be coach Norv Turner's right-hand man. Chudzinski will be an in-game sounding board for Turner and should be very valuable.
John Marshall, defensive coordinator, Oakland Raiders: The Raiders' defense has some talent, but it also gave up a lot of points and was blown out often in 2008. Marshall, an NFL veteran, needs to bring balance and consistency to this group if Oakland is going to improve.
Unnamed, quarterbacks coach, Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs will likely have a good quarterback and whoever is Haley's quarterbacks coach will have a task of bringing the youngster along quickly.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Welcome to the AFC West where the Raiders are on the eve of announcing the hiring of Tom Cable as coach and the Chiefs have made a move on Todd Haley. Maybe we'll have a full complement of head coaches in the division after all.
There is no word if Oakland owner Al Davis will attend Cable's news conference. There have been reports that Davis could explain that he took his time announcing the hiring of Cable because he wanted to concentrate on the assistant coaching staff because he wasn't happy with the staffs of Art Shell and Lane Kiffin, the past two Oakland head coaches.
If Davis does complain about those staffs, it should be noted that Shell directly hired just three members of his staff with the other hiring being a group effort. Cable, Davis' new man, was on Kiffin's staff.
Many around the league expect the team to hire former San Francisco assistant Ted Tollner and former Seattle defensive coordinator John Marshall as offensive and defensive coordinator, respectively. Both are respected veterans, yet both are coming off situations in which they were not retained by their clubs.
With Cable getting the Oakland job, Jim Fassel is reportedly going to coach in a new league. Fassel only campaigned to be Oakland's coach.
In other AFC West news, Tyler Thigpen is making his push to be the Chiefs' quarterback. Yet, with the team still without a head coach, Thigpen's words are moot at this point. The Chiefs are weeks, if not a couple of months, away from making their decision on who'll be their new quarterback.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Terrell Davis is starting to believe in Josh McDaniels.
My take: The Broncos are a proud franchise and there are many former stars like Davis who are keeping their eye on this situation. Mike Shanahan was a legend to many in Denver so McDaniels will have to prove to those people he is the right person to lead this franchise into the future.
Arizona offensive coordinator Todd Haley is mum on the Chiefs' opening.
My take: Of course, he will be quiet about this one. With the biggest game of his career looming, there is no way Haley will discuss the opening in Kansas City and create a distraction for himself and the team. After the Super Bowl, of course, all bets are off.
John Marshall could be a defensive coordinator candidate in Oakland.
My take: This is just another sign that interim coach Tom Cable will be the head coach. It would be difficult to believe another head coach being in the mix with coordinator already being discussed.
The Chargers aren't moving to Los Angeles yet.
My take: Until a new stadium deal is struck in San Diego and until another team relocates to Los Angeles, this will be an issue for the franchise.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
• The Chargers say they will stay in San Diego in 2009. The chances of the Chargers moving to Los Angeles will increase if a stadium deal in San Diego isn't figured out.
• The Kansas City Star handicaps potential coaching candidates for the Chiefs' opening. There have been no reported interviews. The speculation remains that the team will pursue Arizona offensive coordinator Todd Haley after the Super Bowl.
• Former Seattle and San Francisco assistant John Marshall is expected to talk to the Oakland Raiders about their defensive coordinator job as the Raiders continue to try to compile a coaching staff without naming a full-time head coach. Also, former Oakland defensive backs coach Darren Perry is now Green Bay's safeties coach.
The Chargers have re-signed eight players for the 2009 season. They are: linebacker Eric Bakhtiari, wide receiver Gary Banks, running back Eldra Buckley, defensive end Andre Coleman, guard Brandyn Dombrowski, cornerbacks Grant Mason and DeJuan Tribble and defensive tackle Ogemdi Nwagbuo. All of the players except Tribble signed for one year. Tribble signed for two years.