NFL Nation: Greg Olson

Three-time Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew is scheduled to make a free-agent visit with the Oakland Raiders on Friday, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported.

Jones-Drew
Some might see it as a curious development, in that the Raiders’ current biggest needs are on the interior of the defensive line and at cornerback.

But the bowling ball-like Jones-Drew, who grew up near Oakland and went to high school at powerhouse De La Salle, would also bring explosiveness to the running game ... so long as he stays healthy.

He missed 10 games in 2012 and one last season, after a flying tackle by the Raiders’ Charles Woodson, and is coming off a career-low 3.4 yards per carry average with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He rushed for 803 yards and five touchdowns in 2013.

Still, the Raiders do have questions at running back as they re-signed the oft-injured -- but just as tantalizing and teasing -- Darren McFadden, who has averaged 3.3 yards per carry the past two seasons. They are hoping for big things from Latavius Murray, who missed all of last season with an ankle injury after being a sixth-round draft pick. Oakland also signed Kory Sheets, the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup MVP.

Jones-Drew, 29, was a first-team All-Pro in 2011 after leading the league with 1,606 yards rushing. He played for current Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson when Olson was the Jaguars’ assistant head coach/QB coach in 2012.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The gut feeling is Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen survives Tuesday’s meeting with owner Mark Davis, a self-described patient man who, nonetheless, wants to see progress in the wake of back-to-back 4-12 seasons in which the Raiders lost eight of their last nine games both years.

Allen
As a league source told ESPN.com last week, “Dennis Allen is the coach until he’s no longer the coach. The only people firing Dennis Allen right now are the media.”

But could Allen walk out of the sit-down unemployed? Yes, especially if he essentially fires himself by falling on the sword on behalf of his staff.

Only two of Allen’s assistants from this past season -- offensive coordinator Greg Olson and linebackers coach Bob Sanders -- have contracts for 2014. Though Allen wants to re-up the assistants he wants to retain for two years, Davis is only willing to go one year, a different league source said.

Who seems most worthy of such job security and would be essential to the continuity Oakland so desperately needs?

Let’s start with defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, who has shown flashes, defensive line coach Terrell Williams, special teams coordinator Bobby April, assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tony Sparano, quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and running backs coach Kelly Skipper.

If Davis is unwilling to bend, it would seemingly corner Allen. Plus, with the Raiders about to have some $60-plus million to spend in free agency, what kind of message would that send to free agents? It would be hard to tell quality players to commit to Oakland long-term if the coaching staff and its philosophy are relative short-timers.

Or, imagine courting and signing a prototypical 4-3, hand-in-the-dirt speed-rushing defensive end for 2014, and then firing the staff and a new coach switches to a 3-4 defense. Same thing with a press-cornerback who then has to learn how to play soft zone. It just won’t work.

Thinking out loud here, but if that is indeed the case, Davis should go ahead and part with Allen now to bring in a new coach with a new staff and new schemes to impress upon free agents going forward. And that's not considering the feelings of general manager Reggie McKenzie.

No, I’m not advocating one position over the other. There are seemingly as many pros as cons to each scenario.
ALAMEDA, Calif. – When Greg Olson was hired in January to be the Oakland Raiders' offensive coordinator, his quarterback was Carson Palmer.

Then the Raiders acquired Matt Flynn from the Seattle Seahawks and traded Palmer to the Arizona Cardinals before drafting Tyler Wilson in the fourth round. Terrelle Pryor beat out Flynn for the starting job at the end of training camp and started eight of the Raiders’ first nine games, Flynn was cut after a disastrous start against Washington when Pryor was concussed, undrafted rookie Matt McGloin replaced Pryor when he went down with a sprained right knee and now Pryor will start the season finale against the Denver Broncos.

[+] EnlargeGreg Olson
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsGreg Olson has two quarterbacks in Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin with very different skill sets.
So from Olson’s perspective, just how challenging a task is it for him to put together game plans for two quarterbacks with such different skill sets as Pryor and McGloin possess?

“You knew that as you were approaching the season,” Olson said. “This is a plan: We’re going to give you kind of two different offenses per se. If you can keep the core group of players with you throughout the season, I think it’s much more manageable.

“I think schematically, although we were doing some more things with Terrelle in terms of him running the ball and running the read-arc and the arc-option things, there was a lot of it that carried over where, and I hate to get into the football aspect, but where the linemen knew that, ‘OK, on this particular play we may have to push back two defenders, but because Terelle has the option to pull it, we’re only going to push back one defender.’ There is some carryover, but I think it’s important that you have those guys, particularly the guys up front, staying consistent and having a consistent core of players up front.”

Flynn was supposed to be the franchise quarterback, but with a beat-up offensive line and Flynn’s sore arm, it was not a good fit.

“I think going into the season the position became unsettled and so we have an unsettled quarterback situation here,” Olson said. “I like to think [Pryor and McGloin] look at it as a great opportunity for ‘me’ to come in and prove that ‘I’ can play and ‘I’ can be that guy on this team.”

Olson was the Jacksonville Jaguars' quarterbacks coach in 2012, and compared the talent on their roster to what is on the Raiders’ roster. And with two young quarterbacks like Pryor and McGloin, it would be hard to expect much from them with the “talent” around them.

Still, coach Dennis Allen has already said that he thinks McGloin may have a future in Oakland. The evaluation of Pryor, meanwhile, continues this weekend.

“I think it just gives us a chance now to decide where exactly we’re at at the quarterback position, which we’ll discuss at the end of the season with management and ownership and what we feel like our needs are as a coaching staff and where we feel like these guys are at right now,” Olson said. “Right now, if we felt like either one of them was a certain number one we would be moving in that direction.

“Let’s understand that with these quarterbacks, Terrelle and Matt McGloin, they’re young quarterbacks and they can’t shoulder the load at this point. We have to make sure that there’s development there, at least, and if we feel like these are guys we can develop moving forward and maybe add some pieces to the puzzle around them, those would be the questions and the discussions that we’ll have in the offseason when this thing is all done.”

How will Raiders utilize McFadden?

December, 20, 2013
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- So what, exactly, is Oakland Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson hoping to get out of running back Darren McFadden, should he suit up these final two games?

"I'd like to see," Olson said before catching himself, "we'd all love to see him stay healthy through these last two games and be very productive. You stay out of the 'what if's' and 'down the road's,' but I know he's expressed that he'd like to be with the Oakland Raiders.

[+] EnlargeMarcel Reece and Darren McFadden
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsOakland Raiders fullback Marcel Reece, left, and running back Darren McFadden could both be used in Sunday's game against the Chargers.
"So I think it's important he has two very productive games here and finish up."

If it sounds like Olson thinks unrestricted-free-agent-to-be McFadden needs to show up to even be considered to be re-signed, you're right. That is, unless the Raiders have already decided to move on from the teasingly talented McFadden, who played like a league MVP candidate at the start of the 2011 season but has missed 19 of 39 games since.

And yes, the oft-injured McFadden himself characterizes this as a "lost season" for him.

"I feel that way, but at the same time there's nothing I can do about that," he said this week. "That time is gone. I can only move forward and deal with the things I have in front of me."

He did practice in a full capacity Friday after being limited Wednesday and Thursday. They were his first practices since he went down with an ankle injury on Thanksgiving Day at the Dallas Cowboys. And he had missed the previous three games with a hamstring issue before getting injured at Dallas.

In his place -- McFadden initially strained the hamstring on Nov. 3 against Washington and missed the following week -- Rashad Jennings has been a steady runner for the Raiders, even as he's missed one game with a concussion.

Jennings, who has 679 rushing yards on the season, is averaging 4.6 yards per carry; McFadden, with 365 yards, is averaging 3.5 yards per carry, just above last season's career-worst 3.3 mark.

"Rashad's done a great job," McFadden said. "He's been a physical runner all year. He's been out there picking up great blocks and making great plays. He's done a great job. I'm really proud of the job he's done out there."

Then, if McFadden is a full go, and fullback Marcel Reece is not forgotten in the game plan, how will McFadden be utilized against the San Diego Chargers this weekend?

"If he's healthy, then I think the big thing for us would be to roll him," Olson said. "Obviously, Rashad has earned the right to play and has done some very good things for us. Darren has looked healthy this week, but we'll get a chance to gauge him early on in the game Sunday and see how he feels early on.

"We'll get a chance to roll those guys and we'll continue to, again, try to find ways, like we have throughout the season with Marcel."
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Oakland Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson on Thursday said he had spoken this week with Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito in the wake of the hazing scandal involving him in South Florida.

[+] EnlargeGreg Olson
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsRaiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson coached the embattled Richie Incognito for two seasons in St. Louis.
Olson coached Incognito in St. Louis as the Rams' offensive coordinator for the lineman's first two NFL seasons.

"He felt it was taken out of context, so he felt like he had a good relationship in that locker room with not only the player in question but most of the players in the locker room," Olson said of Incognito, who is accused of bullying fellow lineman Jonathan Martin.

Obviously, Olson and Incognito developed a friendship for them to remain in contact after Incognito's rookie year of 2006 -- and even after Incognito burned bridges in St. Louis with sideline outbursts, on-field fights and a confrontation with then-coach Steve Spagnuolo in 2009.

"When he became available and had the issues in St. Louis, I reached out there because that normally wasn't the Richie that I knew ... the issue with Spagnuolo and he went over the top there at the end in St. Louis, and that really was more about reaching out for help," Olson said. "I thought at that point, 'This guy's going to need help; he'll never play again in the National Football League.'"

Incognito was cut by the Rams on Dec. 15, 2009, and picked up by the Buffalo Bills two days later. He signed with Miami in March 2010.

"I had a chance to visit with him when I was in Tampa [Bay] and we played the Dolphins [in an exhibition game] and just felt like at that time he had turned the corner a little bit in terms of maturity and the importance of being a football player, but also being responsible in his actions," said Olson, who was the Buccaneers offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2008-11.

"So it was disappointing, again, some of the things that we're reading and hearing -- you just hope that it's not true. And with him, he feels like it's all been taken out of context."

Olson equated being a coach to being a parent.

"You try to guide your kids and try to give them the guidance that they need," Olson said, "but at some point they're going to go out and do their own thing."

And while Olson hopes the story is being overblown, there seems to be a pattern of behavior with Incognito, who was once voted the NFL's dirtiest player in a league-wide players poll. He was kicked out of college at Nebraska before trying to play at Oregon.

"I just think he brings, again, an element of that's what he is -- he's an element of toughness," Olson said. "I do believe that some of the things, they were taken out of context; I hope that's the case. Obviously, we all hope that's the case.

"But his personality is high-strung, very high-strung, was a tough player. But the other things outside that, I just think it's really sad, really sad, and you just hope that it's not true what's being said out there."

W2W4: Falcons at Panthers

November, 2, 2013
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A second consecutive road game has the Atlanta Falcons traveling to Charlotte to face Cam Newton and the streaking Carolina Panthers, who have won three straight. Quarterback Matt Ryan is 7-3 all-time against the Panthers, but Newton and Carolina won the last matchup, 30-20.

At 2-5, there is absolutely no margin for error for the Falcons, who have the mighty Seattle Seahawks on the schedule next.

Here's what to watch for Sunday at Bank of America Stadium:

Roddy sighting: At last, Falcons wide receiver Roddy White returned to practice Friday after missing the last two games with hamstring and ankle injuries. White said he heard a "pop" when he pulled his hamstring in a Week 5 loss to the New York Jets. He suffered a right high-ankle sprain during the preseason, an injury White admitted he probably should have been more cautious with rather than playing through the pain. That being said, it makes sense for White and the Falcons to proceed with caution this time around. True, White wants to be back on the field, and his teammates want him back. But it might be wiser to keep him out another week, considering he was limited upon his return. A jovial White called his status a "game-time decision" and vowed to test it out with pre-game sprints, much like teammate Asante Samuel (thigh) did against the New England Patriots in Week 4. Guess what? Samuel was inactive for that game.

Tight-knit position: Panthers tight end Greg Olsen has the utmost respect for Falcons veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez. "First and foremost, you have to respect the fact that he's played the game as such a high level for as long as he has," Olsen said of Gonzalez. "I was a high school tight end coming out and he was the premier guy in the league. And now here I am, seven years into my NFL career, and he's still playing." It will be interesting to see how both perform come Sunday. Gonzalez is looking to extend his streak of consecutive games with a catch to 203, while Olsen is set to play in his 102nd consecutive game, the third-longest active streak behind Dallas' Jason Witten (163) and Gonzalez (109). "I've always liked Greg. He's a big, strong, fast guy who can catch," Gonzalez said of Olsen. "In fact, I've been surprised that he hasn't been at the top, like he hasn't put up these huge numbers like these others tight ends around the league. ... I don't know why they don't throw him the ball 10, 15 times a game." Olsen said the NFC South, hands down, has the best tight ends in the league. Hard to argue when New Orleans' Jimmy Graham is in that group.

Block party: There's no secret why the Falcons have the worst rushing offense in the league: poor blocking. They enter Sunday's game with an average of just 62.4 rushing yard per game and haven't rushed for more than 100 yards in a game as a group since Week 3 at Miami (146). Most figured Steven Jackson's return last week from a hamstring injury would bolster the rushing attack, but he couldn't get going due to poor blocking. At least right guard Garrett Reynolds admitted the offensive line needed to provide a better push. Problem is, it will be tough for the Falcons to get it going against the league's second-best run defense, led by mouthy Greg Hardy and tackling-machine Luke Kuechly. The Panthers have allowed just one 100-yard rusher and three rushing touchdowns since Week 14 of last year. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter talked in the past of how screens can be an extension of the running game, so keeping Jacquizz Rodgers involved in the screen game might be a key factor for the Falcons.

Tough read: New Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula's conservative approach has worked with Newton, but don't be surprised if Shula and the Panthers break out read-option plays against the Falcons. Surely they are aware of the explosive plays given up by the Falcons defense, including last week's 80-yard sprint by Arizona's Andre Ellington. In fact, Newton broke loose for a 72-yard touchdown run against the Falcons last season out of the read-option. Newton rushed for 202 total yards against the Falcons last season, even more reason to unleash the read-option. Not to mention the Panthers are getting running back Jonathan Stewart back, which could make Carolina's rushing attack that much more potent -- and the read-option more dangerous.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Terrelle Pryor did not head to Los Angeles to work with quarterback guru Tom House over the Raiders’ bye this past weekend.

Pryor
Instead, House came up to Oakland to work with the Raiders quarterback on Sunday.

“We went to a local field and got in some good work,” Pryor said after a light practice Monday as the team began preparations for Pryor’s favorite team growing up, his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers.

Pryor was not able to work out with Raiders coaches during the bye -- players are guaranteed four days off due to the CBA -- but Pryor said he did come into the facility to study film on his own after Oakland’s final team practice on Wednesday.

“You know me,” he said, “steady trying to get better.”

House, a former big league pitcher who is now a pitching coach at USC, has worked with quarterbacks from Drew Brees to Tom Brady to Carson Palmer to Tim Tebow on throwing mechanics.

Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said last week he was the one who recommended House to Pryor this past offseason.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- While the Raiders players are off for an NFL-mandated four days during the team’s bye, Oakland’s coaching staff is working until the weekend.

Fans of Pro Bowl fullback Marcel Reece, and maybe even Reece himself, are hoping the offensive coaches are using the extra time figuring out ways to get the ball into Reece’s hands more in the season’s final 10 games.

As a hybrid, the former college wide receiver has also played tailback for the Raiders, and good things seem to happen when Reece has the ball. Thing is, he only had one touch in the Raiders’ 24-7 loss at Kansas City on Sunday, a 9-yard catch and run.

[+] EnlargeMarcel Reece
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsThe Raiders' Marcel Reece recorded a TD reception in Denver earlier this season.
And yes, everyone on the organizational totem pole from general manager Reggie McKenzie to coach Dennis Allen to offensive coordinator Greg Olson recognizes this.

So what gives?

“Again, unless you’re handing [Reece] the football, which we have to monitor what we’re doing because we have to make sure that Darren McFadden is getting enough touches, and with Marcel it’s changed a little bit this year because of the quarterback position,” Olson said. “We’ve become more of a read-option kind of an offense. A lot of times in the passing game, he may be involved, or may be in the progression [of reads], but if he’s not catching it in the passing game, the best chance of getting him the football is to hand the ball off.

“Every game or every week when we finish a game, we go back through a stat sheet and look at how many times the guys were targeted and how many times they actually touched the ball. We’re aware of that with Marcel. We’re constantly aware of it throughout the game.”

Keep in mind, Reece is still dealing with the effects of a sprained knee suffered in the Raiders’ loss to Washington on Sept. 29. So Oakland is wary of riding him too hard, too soon.

But thus far, he has carried the ball nine times for 47 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown run against Jacksonville. Reece also has caught 10 passes for 86 yards with a 16-yard TD from McFadden against Denver. He has been targeted 16 times as a receiver.

“I’ll do whatever is needed,” Reece said earlier this season, “whenever my number is called."

“When you want to be a Raider, you show it out on the field, just show it in everything you do,” he added in the wake of signing a three-year contract extension that will pay him $12.4 million through 2016. “If you show that, what else can you do?”

Then there’s his main duty as a fullback in a traditional offense -- blocking. Not only for McFadden, but for quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

“We’ll call some things up in the passing game,” Olson said. “He’s No. 1 in progression and for some reason or another, we don’t get the ball to him. We’ll keep continuing to put him in the position to be at that No. 1 in the progression.

“But the only way you can really and truly ensure it, is to hand him the ball.”
ALAMEDA, Calif. – Oakland Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson coached Josh Freeman for three years in Tampa Bay. So the news that the quarterback had been released by the Buccaneers Thursday morning after a mostly acrimonious relationship struck a nerve with Olson.

“You know, I’ve always been a fan of Josh’s,” Olson said. “I have a lot of respect for him, as a person and a player, and it’s unfortunate to me to watch what happened in Tampa … really over the last couple of years.”

Olson was Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator from 2008 through 2011, and the Buccaneers used their first-round draft pick, No. 17 overall, on Freeman in 2009.

“But I’ve always had the utmost respect for him and I think he’s a great player,” Olson added. “I feel bad for him and that situation, how it’s played out. I just found out myself coming off the practice field that he was released.

“So, I don’t think there’s any winners for anybody in that situation.”

Freeman is reportedly due $6.2 million by Tampa Bay for the remainder of this season.

The Raiders, meanwhile, are going all in with Terrelle Pryor at quarterback after Matt Flynn, who was acquired from Seattle for a fifth-round draft pick in 2014 and a conditional pick in 2015, was demoted to third-string, behind Pryor and undrafted rookie Matt McGloin. Flynn is making $6.5 million this season on a restructured contract.

Raiders coach Dennis Allen was asked if there was any interest in Freeman.

"I don't know," Allen said softly.

Reece a forgotten man in Raiders' O?

September, 20, 2013
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders' front office obviously thought enough of playmaking fullback Marcel Reece to have inked him to a three-year contract extension.

So why does Marcel Reece become Marcel Marceau and disappear in the offense on game days?

[+] EnlargeMarcel Reece
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsThe Raiders aim to incorporate FB Marcel Reece into the offense more in the upcoming weeks.
“I know,” Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie said with a smile and a shake of his head this week.

“Some of that is stuff they have as a receiver (so) we have to find him, too. At times he can be covered. At times, when it’s designed to go to him, for whatever reason he doesn’t get it his way. That falls on a little bit of everybody. But he’s definitely a part of the offense now. We’ll get him the ball.”

Good things seem to happen for the Raiders whenever the matchup nightmare touches the ball.

In the season opener at Indianapolis, Reece caught one pass for nine yards, though quarterback Terrelle Pryor missed him downfield for a big gainer when he was wide open.

Sunday against Jacksonville, he rumbled 11 yards to score the Raiders’ first touchdown on an opening drive since 2011.

So how do the Raiders get Reece more involved?

“You can hand him the ball,” said Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson. “Obviously his first carry last week was a touchdown, so maybe I need to hand him the ball more.”

Olson smiled.

“The one way you can ensure that a guy gets touches is to hand him the football,” he added. “We’ll look at that. He’s also obviously a threat out in space, as a matchup issue. We look at those things and we make sure he’s involved in the progression.”

Reece has never griped about how he’s used, or rather, not used.

The former college wide receiver-turned-street free agent and practice squad refugee is coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance after catching 52 passes for 496 yards and a touchdown while rushing 59 times for 271 yards in 2012.

“I’m not drawing up the plays,” McKenzie said. “I don’t know what I’d be doing, maybe a fumblerooskie. He’s fine. It was nice for him to score the first (home) touchdown of the year for us. That was nice. Nice run.

“I’m sure we’ll see more of Marcel this year. Trust me.”

QB Watch: Raiders' Terrelle Pryor

September, 11, 2013
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A weekly analysis of the Oakland Raiders' quarterback play.

Pryor
Rewind: Terrelle Pryor termed his play “awful.” His coach would not go that far. And, really, Pryor was closer to revelation than reclamation in the Raiders’ 21-17 defeat at Indianapolis. He said the loss was on him, after throwing two red-zone interceptions and taking a costly sack. But were it not for his play-making skill set, Oakland would not have had a chance to win at all. And with his 112 yards on the ground, Pryor leads the AFC in rushing.

Fast-forward: The knock on Pryor was his downfield passing, as he completed just one of seven attempts of at least 20 yards. Might visiting Jacksonville provide a tonic, especially with first-year Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson having worked with the Jaguars last season? The Jags gave up but 173 yards through the air to Kansas City’s Alex Smith on Sunday, on 21 completions, so he averaged just 8.2 yards per. Pryor averaged 11.4 yards per completion against the Colts. Expect Olson to call more short passing plays, at least early, to get Pryor comfortable. Pryor can always take off and run if he doesn’t like what he sees.

Reading the zone read: Speaking of taking off, Pryor did just that every time the zone read was called against Indianapolis. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Pryor kept the ball on all five of the Raiders’ zone-read option calls, gaining 33 of his 112 rushing yards that way.

Prediction: The Jaguars, like the Colts, reside in the AFC South, meaning that there’s not a lot of familiarity there with running QBs and the zone-read option. So the play should be there for Pryor on Sunday. Expect Olson to use it, and the threat of Darren McFadden breaking a long run, to set up the play-action for deeper Pryor throws later in the game.
Raiders coaches made some interesting comments Tuesday about two of Oakland's key players.

Woodson
Moore
Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said he wants receiver Denarius Moore to take the next step in his career, while it sounds like defensive coordinator Jason Tarver is beyond thrilled to get to work with future Hall of Fame defensive back Charles Woodson.

Let’s take a look:

Olson on Moore: “Well, a lot of it is going to be on Denarius. To me, it’s that whole character issue, becoming a self-starter, becoming a self-motivated person, and a lot of that comes with maturity. I think he’d be the first guy to say we’re constantly on top of him and it’s hard to give someone like that any base, so we just coach him up, but I think he’s becoming a more mature player and more mature person, so I think that’s going to help as well. A lot of players will tell you, if they’re fortunate enough to stay in the league for any length of time, they will all tell you, ‘Boy, I wish I had been more mature as a younger player.’ And I think that maturity will happen for Denarius.”

My thoughts: It seems like Olson is waiting on Moore to become a totally reliable star. I think Moore has the ability, but has disappeared at times. The team is ready for more consistency.

Tarver on Woodson: “Charles, his bursts surprise me every day. The guy just covers ground. He had a couple interceptions at practice today. He’s an amazing athlete. That’s why he’s a big piece of getting this defense to where we want it to go in our black jerseys, and hopefully that cements his legacy -- because he can still cover ground. He has those great ball skills, he’s got great feel for when the quarterback is going to release the ball and that’s still there. He’s practiced all camp and he’s still as explosive out of his stance, and that’s what makes the great DBs great -- that ability to close the distance at the point of no return when that ball’s in the air. He’s showing that, and obviously we hope it continues.”

My thoughts: The Raiders will ride Woodson -- who turns 37 in October -- hard this season. The team loves everything about him. He will make an impact on the field and in the locker room.
NAPA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders are basically starting over.

In the second year of the Reggie McKenzie-Dennis Allen era, the team has hit the reset button. The Raiders kept several high-dollar players at start of the post-Al Davis era in 2012 and saw their decade-long malaise continue. Oakland, which has not been to the playoffs since 2002, lost eight of its final nine games last season and finished 4-12.

McKenzie flushed several players in an attempt to get control -- finally -- of a salary cap that got away from the previous regime. The result is that Oakland, which will be in fine salary-cap shape next year, has questions throughout the roster heading into this season.

Yet, Oakland isn’t ready to give up on another season, waiting for better fiscal times. Oakland is beginning the rebuilding process with several players handpicked by McKenzie and Allen.

The theme of these newcomers is the same: “They love football,” Allen said.

Almost every time I’ve heard Allen talk in 2013, he has mentioned the will and desire of his team. Allen doesn’t dwell on the past, but it is clear he didn’t believe some of the players on his first Oakland roster would totally sell out for the game.

McKenzie said it was crucial to get high-character players in the building.

“This is the only way we are going to get this thing going,” McKenzie said. “We need to get guys who want it. I think this team, as a whole, wants it. You need talent but you need high-desire players. Sometimes, that is more important than talent. Now, we have talent, but the key is to find guys who have both. We think we have the kind of guys who can be here when we turn this thing around.”

It is doubtful Oakland will be a factor in the AFC West this season, but it’s all about the building process. Having players whom McKenzie and Allen believe in is a start.

“We have to build a swagger,” Allen said. “This team has to have a vision and a belief that this is going to be a good football team.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. The quarterbacks: Like most positions in Oakland, there is flux at the most important position on the field. The Raiders became a mystery at quarterback when Carson Palmer declined a pay cut. With a sudden hole, McKenzie turned to Matt Flynn in a trade with Seattle. Flynn was with McKenzie in Green Bay. He has two NFL starts under his belt, and he is 28. He has been the most consistent of the Oakland quarterbacks this summer, but he is far from dynamic.

[+] EnlargeOakland's Matt Flynn
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsMatt Flynn, who has started two games in a five-year career, has been the most consistent quarterback for the Raiders this summer.
The Raiders hope he can be a solid game manager and a short-term answer. He must show that in camp. The Raiders also have Terrelle Pryor and rookies Matt McGloin and Tyler Wilson. I get the sense that the Raiders have higher, long-term hopes for Wilson, although he has struggled some in camp. If Pryor can find some consistency and Flynn falters, he or McGloin could get a chance. But the same goes for Wilson, a rookie, if there are no better options later in the season. For the immediate future, the Raiders hope Flynn can show he can be an effective starter.

2. Will McFadden have an impact? Running back Darren McFadden has long been Oakland’s best player. The Raiders need him to regain form to ensure this offense can be competitive. If McFadden and the running game don’t take off, there will be immense pressure on Flynn.

McFadden is looking for a bounce-back season. Oakland scrapped the zone-blocking scheme and will employ a power-blocking attack under new offensive coordinator Greg Olson. McFadden has had success in the latter scheme but must remain healthy regardless of scheme. He has missed at least three games in all five of his NFL seasons. If McFadden, who is in his contract year, can play at a high level again, Oakland’s offense will have a fighting chance. This training camp is about getting him prepared to do so.

3. Where’s the pass rush? Defensively, camp is about trying to find a pass rush. Oakland had little pass rush last season, and the team did little to improve in that area in the offseason. The team’s best pass-rushers are veteran Andre Carter and Lamarr Houston. But they are far from elite. Oakland has to find some pass-rushers to emerge in camp, and it also needs improved play in the secondary to help with the pass rush.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM: The back seven on defense appears to be improved. Oakland may have as many as nine new starters on defense and six in the back seven. Oakland feels better about its overall depth at linebacker and in the secondary.

In fact, I get the sense that the team’s brass is most excited about the linebackers and defensive backs.

The exact linebacker rotation is not clear, but the team is really high on middle linebacker Nick Roach and rookie outside linebacker Sio Moore. Roach has been a leader and has shown high intelligence. Oakland thinks Roach will set the tone for an improved defense. Moore, a third-round pick from Connecticut, has the look of a player who can make an instant impact.

Last season, Oakland’s secondary was one of the worst in the NFL. That doesn’t appear to be the case now.

The cornerbacks are much improved with veterans Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter and rookie D.J. Hayden. The addition of safety Charles Woodson gives Oakland hope on the field and in the locker room.

REASON FOR PESSISISM: The roster is not deep, and there are holes and questions all over.

There are some talented players, and some of these young players will emerge. But getting them ready in this camp is daunting.

The key in the NFL is depth. Injuries can occur at an alarming rate. The teams that survive are the teams with the deepest rosters. Oakland doesn’t seem to have a deep roster. McKenzie acknowledges this.

[+] EnlargeOakland's D.J. Hayden
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsFirst-round pick D.J. Hayden has the want-to attitude his coaches are looking for.
“I can’t afford to get too many injuries,” McKenzie said. “We have to stay healthy. If we do, I think we can be OK. Guys will emerge as camp goes on.”

OBSERVATION DECK
  • The Raiders love Hayden’s attitude. The No. 12 overall pick has the type of want-to attitude the team is looking for.
  • Cornerback Taiwan Jones, who switched positions from running back in the offseason, is a long shot. But because he plays so well on special teams, he has a chance to make the 53-man roster.
  • It is no sure thing that wide receivers Rod Streater and Denarius Moore will be strong starters this year, but both have big potential. Streater, an undrafted fee agent last year, looks particularly comfortable.
  • I love how center Stefen Wisniewski and left tackle Jared Veldheer are looking. These are two of the better young offensive lineman in the game.
  • I get the sense Allen is very pleased with this staff. This group seems like it is working well together.
  • The punting job probably will go down to the wire as Oakland looks to replace Shane Lechler, now in Houston. As expected, veteran Chris Kluwe has shown consistency, but Marquette King has a stronger leg. King has a chance if he can find consistency in the next several weeks.
  • Seventh-round pick and pass-rusher David Bass has shown some nice burst. He has a chance to develop.
  • The tight end position continues to be in flux. The team’s four tight ends are David Ausberry, Richard Gordon and sixth-round picks Nick Kasa and Mychal Rivera. I’d say Ausberry is the favorite to win the job. Still, it is a work in progress.
  • The team likes what it sees in returner Josh Cribbs. He has a great attitude and is a good influence in the locker room.
  • Journeyman offensive lineman Alex Barron has looked good. Once considered a longshot to make the team, Barron has a chance to play a lot.
Dennis Allen doesn’t live in a black hole of denial and oblivion.

He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is well aware of the happenings across the bay in the final couple months of the 2012 NFL season.

As he was completing a disappointing first season as the head coach of the 4-12 Oakland Raiders, Allen watched the neighboring San Francisco 49ers ride the arms and legs of Colin Kaepernick all the way to the Super Bowl.

Kaepernick, an electrifying player in the mold of today's athletic quarterback, was a second-round pick in the 2011 draft.

Because of the 49ers’ success with Kaepernick in the starting lineup after starter Alex Smith suffered a concussion, many Oakland fans are asking the same question: Why don't the Raiders give their own young, athletic quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, a chance?

Allen has heard the questions and the comparisons of the situations. Obviously, Allen would love to see a quarterback be able to take his team to the Super Bowl. He also knows it’s not a simple process.

“But it’s not that easy,” Allen said at the NFL combine. “Every situation is different.”

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Jake Roth/USA TODAY SportsRaiders coach Dennis Allen said he saw a spark in QB Terrelle Pryor before and during his only start.
Pryor -- taken in the third round of the supplemental draft a few months after the 49ers selected Kaepernick -- will be given a chance to develop. Oakland’s brass has maintained there will be competition at quarterback. But Allen has said that incumbent Carson Palmer -- assuming he restructures his contract from the $13-plus million now on the salary-cap books -- will go to training camp as the starter. Pryor will be the backup.

Allen said Pryor, who turns 24 in June, must show he can handle being the starter before simply being given the job. Just because Kaepernick had instant success across the bay doesn’t mean Pryor will.

“You just can’t roll the dice in this league and hope something pans out,” Allen said. “That’s not the way it works.”

Even though he is cautious, Allen made it clear he is a fan of Pryor and thinks he can develop into the starter. He just won’t be thrown into the starting lineup before it's time. Allen said if Pryor shows he is ready for the rigors of starting and shows the consistency to play regularly in the NFL, he will get the chance.

“When he shows he is ready to be the guy, he will be the guy,” Allen said. “I’m all for that. I want to win.”

Pryor -- 6-foot-4, 233 pounds -- must show Allen and his staff he is the guy in practice, the coach said.

Allen has seen the Ohio State product make progress. Allen and his staff were encouraged about Pryor’s long-term potential when he started in a loss to the Chargers in the regular-season finale, when Palmer was out with an injury. Pryor had his up and downs in the game, and his statistics were pedestrian: He completed 13 of 28 passes for 150 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception.

Allen praised the command Pryor took during the week leading up to the game and in the game itself. He showed the poise and confidence teams want to see from their starting quarterback. Pryor also practiced better during that week than he did earlier in the season.

“He was our starting quarterback that week,” Allen said. “He took command. It was good to see.”

Allen said Pryor is one of the team’s hardest workers and that his work ethic has exceeded Allen's expectations.

“Football is very important to him,” Allen said. “Those are good signs. … But he still has a long way to go.”

I get the feeling the Raiders believe Pryor needs seasoning, but they think he can get there. Still, I think the team believes that Palmer, 33, gives Oakland the best chance to win in the short term and would like to enhance the roster around him.

Pryor does have the long-term support of new Oakland offensive coordinator Greg Olson, but so does Palmer.

“I like the ceiling of Terrelle Pryor and where we think he can get to, but his skill set is completely different than Carson’s, so we go forward with the idea [that] we know what Carson Palmer is," Olson told reporters shortly after he was hired. "He’s played in the league a number of years. We know what he can do.”

The Raiders will have some packages in place to take advantage of Pryor’s athleticism, but I think the only way Pryor gets a chance to play in 2013 is if Palmer completely falters and the Raiders start very slowly, or if Palmer gets hurt.

If it happens, Pryor will get his chance to do his best Kaepernick impression.

New OC, new success in Oakland?

February, 13, 2013
2/13/13
8:55
PM ET
New Oakland offensive coordinator Greg Olson is going to be a popular man in Raider Nation for several reasons, including the following:

  1. He is not Greg Knapp, the man who was fired after one season because his system didn’t fit the Raiders’ talent on offense.
  2. Olson counts former Oakland coach -- and lifetime Raider Nation key-holder --- Jon Gruden as a major influence on his NFL career.
  3. He plans to go back to the attacking offense with which Oakland had solid success under with Hue Jackson.

The Raiders’ new assistants met with media members Wednesday to discuss their plans and philosophies. Olson told reporters that he plans to run an attacking offense with a heavy emphasis on play-action, designed to get running back Darren McFadden back on track. He also wants to utilize Pro Bowl fullback Marcel Reece. That is a smart call because getting the ball in Reece’s hands often produces results for Oakland. He had 276 rushing yards and 52 catches, both career highs, in 2012.

Meanwhile, new Oakland offensive-line coach Tony Sparano is excited about working with McFadden as well. McFadden struggled last season, but Sparano plans to run a blocking scheme better-suited to McFadden’s strengths in his final season under contract in Oakland.

Olson also addressed the thought of Terrelle Pryor competing for the starting quarterback job with Carson Palmer. Raiders leadership has made general comments about competition, and Olson kept to that stance. I think we will learn more about Pryor’s chances in the coming weeks.

If the Raiders keep Palmer, he will very likely be given the first chance to start. If not, the Pryor era could start in Week 1.

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