AFC West: Tom Cable

McFaddenKirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsDarren McFadden is confident he can still be a productive running back in the NFL.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Truly, over the course of Darren McFadden's star-crossed six-year career with the Oakland Raiders, the only coach to get consistent production out of the running back was Hue Jackson.

And it began with Jackson simply asking McFadden what kind of plays he liked to run upon Jackson's arrival as the Raiders' offensive coordinator prior to the 2010 season.

Of course, a litany of injuries turned Run DMC into Limp DMC over time and Jackson, who was the Raiders' offensive coordinator under Tom Cable in 2010 and Oakland's head coach in 2011, sent packing by Reggie McKenzie altered things.

But with the Raiders apparently tired of being unable to count on McFadden, McFadden due to become an unrestricted free agent on March 11 and Jackson just promoted as the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator, might McFadden find a new home in Ohio?

“You guys know how I feel about Darren McFadden; he's still one of my favorite players,” Jackson told ESPN affiliate 95.7 The Game in San Francisco on Friday.

“What a tremendous talent. But I really like my little guy Gio [Bernard]. He had a real good season. But I don't think you can ever have too many good backs.”

The 5-foot-9, 208-pound Bernard, a second-round draft pick from North Carolina, averaged 4.1 yards per carry for 695 yards and five touchdowns and caught 56 passes for 514 yards and three scores as a rookie this past season. But he had a costly fumble for the Bengals in their wild-card weekend loss to the San Diego Chargers.

It's also interesting to note that Bernard was selected with a pick the Bengals gained from the Raiders -- in the infamous “greatest trade in football” that sent quarterback Carson Palmer from Cincinnati to Oakland.

Of course, it was a deal engineered by Jackson himself.

And it should be noted that McFadden and Palmer never ran a single play together under Jackson as McFadden, who had been playing at a league-MVP level, was lost for the season with a Lisfranc injury to his right foot before Palmer debuted.

So does Jackson still think McFadden, who missed six games this past season with an assortment of ailments, can be a game-changing player?

“I would have to be around him again but I think it's still no different with Darren,” Jackson said. “Darren is still a downhill runner, he's a one-cut runner. He has the ability to split out and catch balls and do those things but I think, with any football player, you've just got to build their confidence and let them know you believe in them and create an environment for them to be as good as they can be and normally good things happen. And I don't think it's any different with him.

“Somebody's going to get a really good football player here in the future if he doesn't stay there in Oakland and I just wish him the best.”

McFadden's agent, Ian Greengross, has represented him since the Raiders took the two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up fourth overall in 2008. Greengross acknowledged his client has had injury issues, though there is a silver (and black?) lining since it's not the same injury every time.

“Unfortunately, it's always been a little knickknack of injuries here and there at different body parts,” Greengross told 95.7 The Game. “So, injury prone? Sure. I mean, unfortunately, in six years he has yet to play 16 games [in a season].”

McFadden has never appeared in more than 13 games, which he did as a rookie and in 2010. And before suiting up for the Raiders' last two games this season, he had missed 19 of Oakland's previous 39 games.

In his career, McFadden has missed 29 games with toe, knee, hamstring, toe, foot, ankle, hamstring and ankle injuries.

“I don't want to say he's unlucky, but at some point you've got to figure that he's just not going to have that bad luck,” said Greengross, who added that his agency would look into McFadden's history to see if his offseason training program should be modified. “It's not like there's one weak spot that's always being injured and will never be healthy.”

Greengross said McFadden would “certainly love” to return to Oakland but that no conversations had taken place.

“He's always been a Raider at heart, he's never looked to leave so he would certainly come back,” Greengross said. “A lot's going to depend upon the circumstances and how he sees [himself] fitting in, and how they see him fitting in. And certainly we'd probably be wise to talk to some other teams as well once free agency begins.”

Even if the Raiders did have interest, McFadden's price tag would seemingly have to be lower than the $5.8 million he made this past season, when he also had a salary-cap number of $9.6 million and ended with a second consecutive per-rush average of 3.3 yards -- equaling his career low.

But under Jackson, McFadden's average went from 3.4 the year before Jackson arrived to 5.2 and then 5.4.

“When they ran that straight power [blocking scheme], for running backs that had 200 or more carries over those two seasons in total, Darren led the league in rushing average,” Greengross said.

But since then, with the Raiders going back to more of a zone-blocking scheme in 2012 and a combo this past season? Not so much.

“As long as he gets a little hole, I know that speed is still there,” Greengross said. “Even though he hasn't been out there as much as he would have liked to be because of the injures, the one thing the injuries haven't done is taken away that speed.”

And yes, Greengross said McFadden is open to playing a complementary role.

Which brings us back to Jackson and the Bengals -- when the time is right, of course.

“I think Darren can play with anybody,” Jackson said. “If it's the Darren McFadden that I used to know, there's no question -- whether it's in Cincinnati, Oakland or San Francisco or anywhere. He's talented enough to play anywhere in the National Football League.”

But will he be healthy enough?
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- As the purportedly rested and rejuvenated Oakland Raiders come out of their bye weekend and prepare for the Pittsburgh Steelers, one fact hovers over Oakland.

The Raiders have lost their last 10 first games after a bye -- by a combined score of 271-139.

“I think we’re all aware of that, but like I told the players today, the past has no relevance to the future,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said Monday. “Any of the outcomes that have happened after a bye in the past won’t dictate how we go out and play against Pittsburgh. What’s going to dictate how we go out and play against Pittsburgh is how well we prepare during the week, and then how well … we go out and execute that plan on Sunday.”

Fair enough, but what’s that old saying about those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it?

Sure enough, a look back at the Raiders’ decade of post-bye blues reveals some interesting moments:

Nov. 2, 2003, Raiders at Detroit: Marques Tuiasosopo, Oakland’s second-round pick in 2001, makes his first NFL start and has a QB rating of 34.3 in completing six of 11 passes for 65 yards and an interception in a 23-13 loss to the Lions. “Tui” would start only one more game in his career, at the New York Jets in 2005.

Oct. 16, 2005, Raiders vs. San Diego: Randy Moss, in his first season in Oakland, went up for a Kerry Collins pass late in the first half and was hit hard by strong safety Terrence Kiel in a 27-14 loss to the Chargers. The groin injury would linger and it was the first time Moss was held without a catch in his career.

Oct. 12, 2008, Raiders at New Orleans: It was an inauspicious debut for Tom Cable as Oakland’s interim coach in the wake of the memorable overhead projector presser announcing Lane Kiffin’s firing. An ashen-faced Cable had no answers as the Saints ran all over the Raiders in a 34-3 blowout.

Nov. 21, 2010, Raiders at Pittsburgh: Richard Seymour had seen enough, so the Raiders defensive tackle went and got himself kicked out of the Raiders’ eventual 35-3 blowout loss to the Steelers. Seymour’s open-hand palm strike to the facemask of Ben Roethlisberger was as swift as it was pretty as Roethlisberger went down like a sack of Primanti Brothers sandwiches.

Oct. 14, 2012, Raiders at Atlanta: Playing their most complete game under rookie coach Dennis Allen, the Raiders were tied at 13-13 and driving for a potential winning field goal when Carson Palmer threw a 79-yard pick-six to Asante Samuel. Palmer responded by driving Oakland 80 yards for a game-tying touchdown. Alas, Atlanta kicked a 55-yard field goal with one second to play for the win.

So what should be expected out of Sunday’s game at the O.co Coliseum? The Raiders have won the last two meetings in Oakland -- 34-31 last season and 20-13 in 2006 -- and the last time the Steelers won in the East Bay was in 1995.

The Raiders’ main goal in their weekend break was getting healthy, while getting revived.

“I think we had a good plan in the bye,” Allen said. “I think we got some guys freshened up a little bit. Now the key is, we’ve got to focus in on the preparation. We’ve got to do the things that are necessary to go out and play well on Sunday.”

Locker Room Buzz: Oakland Raiders

October, 13, 2013
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Observed in the locker room after the Oakland Raiders24-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs:

Flashback: It was just outside this locker room, after the 2010 season finale -- in which a 31-10 Oakland victory gave it an 8-8 record, the first non-losing season since 2002 -- that coach Tom Cable uttered his infamous proclamation that the Raiders were no longer losers. I prefer to remember my encounter with the late Al Davis a hallway away. After I offered an opinion that it was a nice end to the season to finish 8-8, Davis sneered, “If that’s the world you live in.” Priceless. A few weeks later, Cable was fired.

Crowded room: The visitors locker room at Arrowhead Stadium is one of the most cramped in the NFL, awkwardly separated by a wall that makes for two cramped quarters. It’s quite a scene, reporters and players bumping into one another as reporters search for sound bites and players scramble for the shower, everyone stepping over equipment bags and dirty laundry.

Getting his work in: On the floor in the middle of the “offensive” room, meanwhile, was receiver Brice Butler, rolling his body over a Styrofoam roller.

Taking his time: Terrelle Pryor was the most sought-after interview. He also took his time getting showered and dressed. Such is the life of an NFL quarterback.

Cartoon pokes fun at Manti Te'o

April, 30, 2013
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A cartoonist at the U-T San Diego is having a little fun in welcoming Manti Te’o to town.

The San Diego Chargers took the polarizing Notre Dame linebacker in the second round of the draft. Te’o was involved in a bizarre hoax that centered on a dead girlfriend who never existed.

My advice to Te’o: Grin and bear it. It will go away at some point.

In other AFC West notes:

In an Insider piece, ESPN analyst Bill Polian likes the addition of running back Montee Ball in Denver. He was the team’s second-round pick.

Former Oakland assistant coach Randy Hanson was convicted of felony battery stemming from a assault last summer. Hanson is most remembered for accusing former Oakland coach Tom Cable of choking him during a training camp meeting four years ago. Charges were never field against Cable.

In an Insider piece, Todd McShay looks at his favorite and least favorite drafts picks for AFC West team.

Raiders move quickly to fix offense

December, 31, 2012
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The Oakland Raiders made a quick statement about their unhappiness over a disappointing first season to the Reggie McKenzie-Dennis Allen era.

But it seems like the two men are safe.

The big move was the firing of offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. Also fired were special-teams coordinator Steve Hoffman, offensive line coach Frank Pollack and linebackers coach Johnny Holland. Allen made the announcement Monday.

"Decisions like this are very difficult," Allen said in a statement. "I have a great deal of respect for all of these men and I appreciate their contributions to the Oakland Raiders this season.”

Knapp’s offense was a major disappointment. Oakland did not take to Knapp’s version of the West Coast offense and the zone-blocking running scheme. Oakland was particularly poor in the red zone.

Running back Darren McFadden had a poor season under Knapp and he was never comfortable in Knapp’s scheme.

Knapp was a curious decision by Allen. He wasn’t his first choice, but he was paid well in Oakland. Knapp was the Raiders’ offensive coordinator in 2007 and ’08 and he was stripped of his duties by Tom Cable in the 2008 season.

Whoever Allen hires, expect the Raiders to try to employ a more power attack that flourished under former coach Hue Jackson. It seems to fit the team’s personnel better than Knapp’s scheme.

I think defensive coordinator Jason Tarver should be safe. If he wasn’t, he probably would have been shown the door quickly like Knapp was.

Tarver’s defense was a sieve for much of the season, but it tightened some in December. The Raiders' biggest issue on defense is talent. I think it has a good coaching base there with Allen and Tarver.

Chargers add to offensive line

August, 8, 2012
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The Chargers signed veteran tackles Anthony Davis and Michael Toudouze. Both players are vying to make the bottom of the roster. The Chargers are looking for some camp insurance because starting left tackle Jared Gaither has practiced just once this summer.

He will miss Thursday’s preseason opener against Green Bay and may not play next week against Dallas. Undrafted rookie Mike Harris has been playing for Gaither. Gaither should be ready for the regular season, but Harris is very likely nearing himself a roster spot with his unexpected extensive work.

Meanwhile, there is a chance Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers won’t pay at San Diego on Thursday because his starting left tackle, Marshall Newhouse, is out because of a concussion.

In other AFC West news:
Romeo Crennel John Rieger-US PresswireRomeo Crennel looks to prove he is the long-term solution for the Chiefs.
Romeo Crennel has proved he can lead the Kansas City Chiefs in the short term.

Now, as he begins his second tour of duty as a permanent head coach, Crennel must prove he is the answer in Kansas City for the long haul.

Although the Chiefs’ brass looked at other candidates, it really was no contest. Crennel was the choice for the job once he led the Chiefs to a 2-1 record as the interim replacement for Todd Haley, who was fired in December. Promoted from defensive coordinator, Crennel led the Chiefs to a win over the Green Bay Packers (then 13-0) in his first game.

There is no doubt that Crennel, who went 24-40 as the head coach in Cleveland from 2005-2008, had the support of his players. He had won before as a defensive coordinator, he is respected by his peers, and he is respected by his players for his above-board and calm demeanor. He was the perfect elixir after the uneven, high-volume days of Haley.

“Romeo was the right guy for the job,” Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. said. “The players love him and they played for him. But the key is, can that continue with him being the guy? Playing over your head for a coach you like can work for a few games. It can’t work over 16 games. So, now that the interim tag is off of Romeo, the question is, can he prove he is the right choice for the long term?”

If recent history is any indication, Crennel’s task is not an easy one. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last coach to lead his team to a winning record in his first year as the permanent coach after being the interim coach was Art Shell in 1990. He led the Raiders to a 12-4 record.

That’s a long 22 years.

Since 2000, according to Elias, seven coaches were promoted after being an interim coach, including Oakland’s Tom Cable in 2009. The best records in the first year as the permanent coach were registered by San Francisco’s Mike Singletary in 2009 and Dallas’ Jason Garrett last season. Both teams went 8-8. In total, the coaches had a combined 43-69 record.

In addition to the waning support of players, there are other reasons that interim coaches haven’t had much success on a permanent basis. Many league observers think an organization may settle to keep their interim coaches rather than paying for a new coach and his staff. As a result, the same bad habits of the previous regime can creep in.

Horton thinks Crennel's personality and the team's upward trajectory will work in the Chiefs' favor.

“I like Romeo’s team,” Horton said. “I think he can win. I don’t see this as a case of [Kansas City general manager] Scott Pioli settling. I think he got his top choice for the job. … I just like the way this team is set up and think it has a real shot to be good right away.”

In a telephone interview this week, Shell said Crennel is entering an exciting time. He said the interim period is chaotic for a coach, but now Crennel is able to construct his own program.

Crennel added new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and several other coaches while keeping some assistants from Haley’s staff. Crennel remains the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator.

“This is his time,” Shell said. “As the interim guy, you are just holding on. Now, it’s time to set the foundation and let everyone know the way it is going to be on a permanent basis. It’s an important time.”

I think Crennel, who at 65 is the second-oldest current head coach in the NFL behind Super Bowl champion Tom Coughlin, is comforted by his experience in Cleveland. He has often said this offseason that he will learn from that experience as he begins his next chapter as a head coach.

“A lot of times you don't get second chances in this business” Crennel said earlier this offseason. “You just go along and try to do the best job that you can at the job that you have. If you do that and people take notice, then they give you chances. So, I've got a second chance and I'm going to try to do it better than I did the first time around.”

The good feeling Crennel has built within the locker room remains as the Chiefs transition from the offseason program to training camp, which begins in four weeks.

“I love [Crennel], his coaching style,” cornerback Javier Arenas said. “You want to play for him. I felt great about coach Haley. I loved coach Haley as a head coach, but now with [Crennel], I absolutely love the way he goes about things and want to execute what he lays on the table -- him and the rest of the coaches -- and that’s just part of the game, wanting to play for a coach and wanting to help the team be successful."

If it works in Kansas City in 2012, Crennel will enjoy rare immediate success for a promoted interim coach.
Reggie McKenzieKirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireNew GM Reggie McKenzie is in the process of remolding a Raiders franchise fallen on hard times.
If anyone still hasn’t grasped that the Oakland Raiders are a changed organization, all they have to do is watch Juron Criner run routes during this weekend’s rookie minicamp.

A player with potential, Criner has speed in the 4.7-second range. He is not the burner former owner Al Davis craved, and if Davis were still alive Criner would likely not be in Oakland today.

The Autumn Wind is still a Raider, but it blows on a different course.

When Davis died at age 82 on Oct. 8, it was clear that the Raiders were going to embark upon a major transition period. Davis was the Raiders’ decision-maker for nearly 50 years, even into his ailing final days. That just doesn’t happen in the NFL anymore. Can you imagine George Halas still running the Bears, or Vince Lombardi still on the sideline in Green Bay?

While we anticipated change, the modification since the 2011 season ended in Oakland has been swift, dramatic and wildly intriguing. The Raiders are suddenly moving on from the staunchly independent ways of Davis and emerging as a modern outfit with youthful spirit and ideas.

“I think the biggest challenge is that because the leadership has been the way it’s been done for so long, people are used to doing things one way,” new Oakland head coach Dennis Allen said earlier this offseason. “I think the biggest challenge is just getting people within the organization to open up the thought process to doing things another way. There are different ways to do things in this league. I think everyone within the organization has been open and receptive to conforming to the way (new general manager) Reggie (McKenzie) and I are trying to do things.”

Though Davis was a legend, his ways didn’t always work in today's NFL. The Raiders’ last Super Bowl title came nearly 30 years ago and Oakland hasn't had a winning season in 10 years. Its nine-year playoff drought is tied for the second-longest in the NFL.

If there has been an MVP in Oakland since Davis’ death, it has to be his son, Mark. While his father ran the team, the affable younger Davis chose to ride in the background. Once he took over as the leader of the Raiders, Mark continued that approach.

Davis -- who was being advised some of his father’s top lieutenants in John Madden, Ron Wolf and Ken Herock --- listened to advice and hired Green Bay personnel man Reggie McKenzie as general manager shortly after the end of last season. Mark Davis deserves credit for respecting his advisors' recommendations (McKenzie has a strong ties to Wolf and Herock) and for allowing McKenzie to run the team once he was hired.

McKenzie’s task is a tough one and it will take time. But thus far, McKenzie -- a former Raiders linebacker -- has put his head down and dug in. The Raiders didn’t hire an Al Davis clone in McKenzie. The new GM is doing things his way.

McKenzie hired Allen, then Denver’s defensive coordinator, as head coach. The last defensive-minded head coach in Oakland was Madden -- who was hired in 1969. McKenzie fired longtime scouts and revamped the team’s draft preparation, focusing on modernizing the process. He has reportedly already hired a new college scouting director, former Green Bay colleague Shaun Herock, and has added former Jets' executive Joey Clinkscales to the front office. More scouts are likely on the way in.

McKenzie cut several players to whom Davis gave supersized contracts in his final years -- part of what should be a new emphasis on salary-cap management under McKenzie. The Raiders also added players in free agency and in the draft who fit Allen's schemes, rather than a rigid scouting plan. Speed and measurables are no longer as important as when Al Davis was running the team.

On the first day of the Raiders’ offseason program, newly signed linebacker Philip Wheeler made some eye-opening comments.

[+] EnlargeMark Davis
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireUnlike his late father, Al, Mark Davis appears to be allowing the Raiders' football experts to manage football operations.
“I actually heard some of the coaches saying we’re not just big and fast anymore,” Wheeler said. “We’re going to be big, fast and we’re going work harder and have good football players. The (Raiders) were always bigger, faster and stronger than everybody. But the awareness of the game, some of it was down or whatever. I feel like Mr. McKenzie brought in a lot of players in who actually know how to play the game and aren’t just faster than everybody. We have actual football players here now.”

Change in Oakland haven't stopped with the players. It has flowed throughout the organization in the past few months, including the hiring of a new public-relations director with whom McKenzie has a history. The Raiders have become more accessible and appear to be willing to be more transparent than under the Al Davis regime.

It’s a new NFL world and McKenzie is introducing his team to it. Allen said the plan is to meld the past and the future in Oakland.

“It’s an exciting opportunity for all of us that are involved,” Allen said. “To take over such a historic program, be a part of that tradition there with the Raiders, is obviously exciting for all of us. We’re excited about the opportunity to put our stamp on the program.

“I think with every great program in the National Football League, I think you really have to respect the history and tradition within the organization. The Oakland Raiders. It’s one of the most storied franchises in all of sport, not just the NFL. We want to embrace those, embrace the past, and the history of the organization. But yet, we want to do it our way. Reggie and I are going to work together to do it the way we want to do it, and put the best team out on the field we can put out there.”

Much of the transformation will be based on bringing stability to the franchise. The past three head coaches -- Lane Kiffin, Tom Cable and Hue Jackson -- all created distractions for themselves and for the team. Throughout the years, instability caused many former Oakland players to be relieved when they became former Oakland players.

“There’s definitely a difference,” former Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt (whom McKenzie released) told reporters in Kansas City after he signed with the Chiefs this offseason. “You know what? I think there’s a little more stability here to say the least.”

Still, Allen made it clear the building process in Oakland will involve every facet of the organization.

“Our deal is, we want to foster an organization that’s based on trust, honesty, integrity, doing the right things, doing it the right way,” Allen said. “Those are things that both Reggie and I believe in. That’s the way we’re going to run that organization. We’re going to do things the right way. We’re going to do things in a first-class manner. We’re going to build a team that’s going to be tough, smart, disciplined. Just like I talked about doing the right things within the organization, that’s the way we’re going to do it as a team.”

Call it new shades of Silver and Black.

Michael Bush to visit Seahawks

March, 19, 2012
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The free-agent running back market has been slow to develop and Michael Bush has been a part of that unexpected lag.

Bush
Bush
But interest in the Raiders running back's services has been picking up. ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting Bush will visit the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday. In Seattle, he’d be reunited with former Oakland head coach Tom Cable and former Raiders tight end Zach Miller.

Bush has already visited the Bears (where former Oakland starting quarterback Jason Campbell recently signed) and he is supposed to visit Cincinnati Monday. Former Oakland head coach Hue Jackson is on the Bengals’ staff.

At this point, it seems like Bush will not get a contract to start. Because of that, you would think he would consider remaining in Oakland as Darren McFadden’s partner. But because the Raiders have some cap restrictions and other needs (they are still hunting for several cornerbacks, including Shawntae Spencer and Tracy Porter), re-signing Bush right now may not be a top priority.

But if the market for Bush cools down, perhaps a return to Oakland would become more realistic.
Lame-duck former Oakland offensive coordinator Al Saunders met with the Kansas City Chiefs about their open offensive coordinator job, according to Bob Gretz.com.

Saunders has been replaced by Greg Knapp in Oakland, but the Raiders haven’t said what they plan to do with Saunders.

“Al is there today talking with Romeo (Crennel),” former Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil told the site. “He wants to see if there’s any chance to go back to Oakland, but if not he’d love the Chiefs job.”

Saunders is a former Kansas City offensive coordinator. Chiefs quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn also reportedly has interviewed for the job. The Kansas City Star reported Zorn may quit if he is not given the job. He and Saunders worked together in Baltimore in 2010
  • Fox Sports has reported Oakland is hiring former Chiefs’ special teams coach Steve Hoffman. He was just fired by the Chiefs. He replaces the highly respected John Fassel, who took a job with St. Louis. Hoffman is taking over one of the better special teams in the NFL.
  • The Raiders’ defensive coordinator decision could come soon. The team interviewed Greg Manusky, fired in San Diego last month, this week. If Manusky is not the Raiders’ guy, other names should soon surface.
  • The Raiders hired Houston’s Frank Pollack to run the offensive line. That could mean the Raiders will return to a zone-blocking offense, which they ran during a lot of Tom Cable’s regime. It should be an easy transition if that is the way the Raiders go.
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.

How Greg Knapp fits in Oakland

January, 31, 2012
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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.
Dennis AllenRon Chenoy/US PresswireThe Oakland Raiders are looking to Dennis Allen to revitalize their struggling franchise.
Reggie McKenzie just took a big risk.

Al Davis would be proud.

In his first move as the late Davis’ replacement at the helm of the Oakland Raiders, McKenzie, a longtime lieutenant in Green Bay, made a hire few could have guessed two weeks ago when he fired coach Hue Jackson after an 8-8 season. That man is Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen.

Allen was hired despite having just one year experience as a coordinator and has no previous ties with McKenzie. At 39, Allen is the youngest active head coach in the NFL.

A former Raiders linebacker, McKenzie -- who was recommended to Oakland owner Mark Davis (Al Davis’ son) by former Oakland and Green Bay executives Ron Wolf and Ken Herock -- was expected to stick to his Green Bay roots. Packers assistant Winston Moss and Dom Capers were reportedly candidates, but it was Allen who emerged after an active 14-day search. McKenzie centered his search on Allen in the past day or so. An agreement was made after Allen was interviewed a second time Tuesday.

Allen is the first Raiders head coach who is a defensive specialist since Al Davis hired a 32-year-old John Madden in 1969. While Al Davis was partial to offensive minds, he certainly wasn’t afraid to hire a young coach and he no doubt would have saluted McKenzie for sticking to his gut and hiring the coach who he thought was the most impressive. This isn't the first time a hot-shot Denver assistant has become the Raiders’ head coach, either. Al Davis hired Denver assistant Mike Shanahan in 1988.

There is no doubt Allen has a chance to be a strong coach. He is regarded as one of the better young defensive minds in the NFL, and he had instant success in Denver while earning the respect of the Broncos’ defensive players.

Denver was ranked last in the NFL in almost every defensive category following the 2010 season. After Allen took over, the unit improved immensely in 2011 and the defensive resurgence was a big reason why Denver advanced to the playoffs after a 4-12 record in the previous season.

Prior to the start of the season, Allen talked about what he liked from his new players in Denver, and I'm sure he will have the same approach in Oakland.

“I think they’re trying to play fast,” Allen said. “I think they’re trying to play physical, and at the end of the day I’ve tried to preach to them, we’ve preached as a coaching staff, that it’s not really about the X’s and O’s but it’s about the way we go out there and play the game. That’s what we’re trying to do, and I think the guys are buying in and believing in it and trying to do that.”

Allen ran a 4-3 defense in Denver, and the Raiders could stay with the 4-3, as well. Oakland has a talented defense, but it sagged badly down the stretch as the Raiders lost four of their final five games. The Raiders gave up way too many big plays. Fixing that issue will be one of Allen’s top priorities, along with solving the Raiders’ penalty problems. Oakland set NFL record for penalties and penalty yardage in 2011.

He will also be expected to provide stability where the three past Oakland coaches -- Lane Kiffin, Tom Cable and Jackson -- could not. All three of those men created their own distractions at one point.

Allen has a reputation for being hard-working and for stability, as does McKenzie. The dysfunction at the top of the organization must end in Oakland. The Raiders have not been to the postseason since 2002 -- tied for the second-longest streak in the NFL.

In McKenzie and Allen, the Raiders have two young, hungry leaders. But there are risks. Allen, who was New Orleans’ secondary coach before getting the Denver job, is fairly inexperienced, and if it doesn’t work, people will question why McKenzie didn’t go for a more experienced coach or hire somebody he is more familiar with.

But give McKenzie credit going out of his comfort zone and hiring the man he felt best about. Al Davis certainly wouldn’t have had a problem with that.
With the Oakland Raiders searching for their seventh head coach since Jon Gruden was sent to Tampa Bay 10 years ago, let’s look at three key aspects the new coach must address.

Stability: The past three coaches in Oakland -- Lane Kiffin, Tom Cable and Hue Jackson -- all created their own drama at different times in their stay in Oakland. The days of the head coach in Oakland being a distraction must be over.

Penalties: The Raiders set NFL records for penalties and penalty yardage in 2011. I have a difficult time pinning that issue all on Jackson. The Raiders have historically been one of the most penalized teams in the NFL and Jackson tried to fix the issue. The new coach is going to have to figure out a way to cut down on this problem.

Defense: The Raiders haven’t hired a defensive-minded coach since John Madden was hired nearly 40 years ago. That may change as new Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie is a former linebacker himself. At least two of the expected candidates, Green Bay’s Winston Moss and Darren Perry, are defensive coaches. Changing philosophies may be a good idea. Oakland’s defense gave up way too many big plays in 2011 and is a primary reason why Oakland didn’t make the playoffs. Jackson talked about his willingness to move to a 3-4 defense. That may happen in the post-Jackson days. Green Bay runs a 3-4 defense, so if Moss or Perry is brought in, Oakland may make the switch. That would work in my mind. The Raiders have several natural 3-4 fits on defense. Whatever the method, the new coach in Oakland must improve this side of the ball.
Oakland Raiders coach Hue Jackson has caught his share of heat in recent days.

Jackson raised eyebrows when he chastised his team in his postgame news conference Sunday after the Raiders lost 38-26 to the San Diego Chargers. The Raiders would have won the AFC West, which Jackson predicted they would do, with the win. In addition to hammering his players, Jackson said he’d be more involved with the team moving forward. Monday, he continued to talk, saying he hoped to be involved in the process of interviewing general manager candidates.

I have received several emails from Oakland fans who are concerned about Jackson’s actions. Here is a Fox Sports column that slams Jackson for several questionable moves.

There are some whispers around the league Jackson could potentially be in danger of losing his job if Oakland hires a general manager who wants to make a change. I think that thinking may be a little premature.

It is going to take some time for Oakland to hire a new general manager. Green Bay executive Reggie McKenzie remains a top candidate. I’m not so sure any general manager will want to fire Jackson. After hearing his comments about his desire for a bigger role, it could turn off some candidates. Most general managers want to have the final call.

Still, I’d think Oakland’s ownership would be encouraged by Jackson’s influence on the offense. It has made strides the past two years after being anemic prior to his arrival. Jackson was the Raiders’ offensive coordinator during the 2010 regular season.

The Raiders are young and they have a lot of talent. Assuming they have better health, Oakland should be able to contend for the AFC West and Jackson should be safe.

But he has to realize people are going to question him when he points the blame at his players. This is a team that lost four of its last five games and broke the NFL penalty and penalty yardage records. The Raiders also went 4-5 in Carson Palmer's nine starts after Jackson traded a bounty of draft picks for the former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback. Jackson should be held accountable for many of these mistakes.

He is still a young coach who is finding his way, and while the Raiders were 8-8 under Tom Cable last year and went 8-8 under Jackson this season, I expect him to continue to learn how to handle situations as he settles into the job.

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