Oakland Raiders: 7 Players Who Should Improve Under Dennis Allen's Regime
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It's been a while, Raider Nation.
After spending the first month of this past regular season sharing my thoughts with all of you, I took a bit of a hiatus. I have changed residences twice, took the GRE, spent a few months applying to graduate school, traveled to the Bay Area to catch my first game at the Coliseum, and have been at my brother's side during his stint at the hospital.
Now? That is all over and done with and I look forward to guiding you through the 2012 offseason.
So what did I miss?
We witnessed our reliable starting quarterback, Jason Campbell, go down with an injury, to be quickly replaced with freshly acquired veteran Carson Palmer. We saw the Raiders lose two puzzling divisional games right after the trade, only to see the team come roaring back with three straight wins and appear to be the favorite to win the division.
Enter Tebow Mania, two blowout losses, and one heartbreaking defeat at the hand of the Lions, and the Raiders faced a must win game at Kansas City. Behind two blocked field goals by Richard Seymour, the Raiders were able to pull one out. Their fate would be decided Week 17 against San Diego.
Ultimately, the Raiders lost the game and the Broncos entered the playoffs as the AFC West champions by default. In the end, it was defense that failed them.
The loss and late season collapse cost Hue Jackson his job. Warranted or not, new GM Reggie McKenzie wanted "his guy," and Jackson did not fit the MO.
His guy turned out to be former Broncos' defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. Allen is faced with turning around a team that is undisciplined and sloppy, with a penchant for underachieving. He was formally introduced as the new head coach in a press conference earlier today.
To get the ball rolling, here is a list of players that I feel will benefit the most from the newly installed coach, his system and a full offseason's worth of work.
Lamarr Houston, DL
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Many feel as if defensive end Lamarr Houston took a step backward this season, only notching one sack.
A lot of this I feel can be attributed to the amount of injuries the Raiders' defensive line underwent. Houston was basically forced to play every down. Houston has a high motor and plays the game with an intense fire.
We learned this year that he can't sustain that fire for every down.
Couple that with the fact that Houston is still playing too much defensive end for my liking. Houston is a shade above 300 pounds and is quick off the ball, but not quick enough to get around most offensive tackles in this league consistently.
While I regard Houston as a very capable starter, I think he would strive on a rotational basis, such as how the Raiders utilized a similarly-built player Rod Coleman (Coleman also played under Allen in Atlanta).
By lining up at defensive tackle more often, Houston can utilize his speed to get by guards and centers. The past two seasons, the Raiders have used him at that position on occasion, especially on passing downs. But with Allen's aggressive defensive scheme that he wants to implement, you can be sure Houston will be lined up inside a little bit more. And I expect him to thrive there. This would also help keep the aging tackles Seymour and Tommy Kelly fresh.
Look for Houston's sack total to resemble that of his rookie season, and for him to take on more of a vocal leadership role.
Matt Shaughnessy, DE
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This was supposed to be the year Matt Shaughnessy broke out, his first season as the unquestioned starter at defensive end. However, a shoulder injury suffered against the New York Jets turned out to be season-ending. Shaughnessy's breakout campaign would have to wait a year.
While Houston playing defensive end is a bit of a square peg, round hole situation, Shaughnessy is a perfect fit as a 4-3 defensive end. He is the perfect combination of speed and strength to rush the quarterback from the outside. And unlike past Oakland pass rushers like Derrick Burgess, he is formidable against the run as well.
Shaughnessy's build is very similar to that of Patrick Kerney, a former player under Dennis Allen in Atlanta. Kerney excelled under Allen's tutelage during the last two years of his stint with the Falcons. Similarly, I expect Allen to use Shaughnessy's skill set as a focal point to his attacking style of defense.
I expect Shaughnessy to come close to a double digit sack total and be the force on defense the Raiders expected coming into this season.
Kevin Boss, TE
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This is not so much on the hiring of Dennis Allen as it is the firing of Hue Jackson. For some reason, Jackson devalued Kevin Boss—despite the team rewarding him with a sizable contract the previous offseason. Boss was even benched in the Week 9 contest.
For the New York Giants, Boss became a reliable receiver over the middle. His big frame gives the quarterback a nice target, and for his size is deceptively fast. His best route is probably an intermediate seam route over the middle, bisecting the safeties. I've seen it worked to perfection in New York.
Boss showed a glimmer of the type of player he can be with the Silver and Black in the final contest against the Chargers, coming up with a tough catch over the middle for a touchdown that altered momentum in the game. With the Raiders' receivers using their speed on the outsides, Boss is the perfect candidate to be a consistent, move the chains type of guy for the Raiders on offense.
This will especially be true if Allen retains offensive coordinator Al Saunders. Saunders is still under contract with the Raiders and his offensive schemes are known for featuring tight ends.
With Hue overseeing the offensive playcalling, Boss could not carve a niche for himself. I expect that to change with a new regime at the helm.
Tyvon Branch, SS
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In his now infamous tirade, Bill Romanowski described Branch as the only "boar hunter" on Oakland's defense. So why shouldn't he improve under a much stronger defensive coach?
Allen's defenses are predicated on creating turnovers rather than limiting yardage. While Branch is not known for intercepting passes, he is by far the most disciplined of any of the members of the secondary.
His savvy and nose for the ball will help close passing lanes, which usual means turnovers. Whether or not they go to him is irrelevant.
Branch can also lay the lumber. While it is difficult in today's NFL to hit a receiver without being flagged, I expect Branch to be allowed to roam free in the defensive backfield and make plays on the ball, rather than cover receivers man-to-man, which is probably his biggest weakness.
Branch is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, yet there is no doubt in my mind that McKenzie will make re-signing him to be a top priority. He was considered for the Pro Bowl this season—under Allen's guidance, I expect him to make it the next one.
Stanford Routt, CB
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First off, Routt is candidate number one whose contract should be restructured. While his cap hit is not insurmountable this upcoming year, it escalates almost threefold the year after. Right now, the contract does not match the production.
That being said, count me as one of those who thinks that Routt isn't as bad as he is made out to be. Yes, he is overpaid. And yes, he had 17 pass interference calls last season and will give up the occasional big play. But his style benefited from playing across from Nnamdi Asomugha. Nnamdi was more of a shutdown corner, Routt was a bit more of a gambler.
When asked to be the No. 1 cornerback, Routt struggled at times. Then again, the Raiders went from running Al Davis' traditional defense—which Routt had grown used to—to whatever it was that coordinator Chuck Bresnahan was running for the remainder of the season.
Allen wants his defense to create turnovers. While I think Branch's smarts will help create them, it is Routt's gambling nature that will be the beneficiary of a good amount of errant throws. His gambling will finally start to pay dividends, as he is no longer asked to be a true shutdown corner. He will just be asked to make plays on the ball.
Provided the Raiders sign a competent free agent cornerback to play opposite of him—or DeMarcus Van Dyke or Chimdi Chekwa turn into starting caliber players in their second year—I expect Routt to look like the player the Raiders envisioned when they signed him to that lucrative contract last offseason.
Kamerion Wimbley, OLB
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Candidate number two for a restructure.
Most of Wimbley's sacks this past year came in one game. Like Houston, however, I do think he is sometimes forced to play a position he is just not comfortable with.
Don't confuse that with me saying that he should be an every down defensive end—he doesn't have the size to do that. I just can't bear to watch him try to cover tight ends and running backs down the field.
I expect Wimbley to be utilized as strictly a rush end, similar to how Allen used Von Miller this past season. By using him in that facet where he excels, Allen can maximize his production and effectiveness. In order to do this, the Raiders will need to sign or draft a stout Sam linebacker to insert on occasion to spell Wimbley on earlier downs.
Wimbley should be an integral member of the line rotation, especially on passing downs. I expect his sack total to look more like 2010. And not have half of them come in one game.
Carson Palmer, QB
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Like Boss, Palmer won't be directly affected by Allen's hiring. However, in today's press conference, Allen gave Palmer a vote of confidence and later said that he is "absolutely" the team's quarterback.
That alone should help Palmer be worlds better than he was this past season. He did a good job coming in and taking charge of the offense, but with a full offseason as 'the guy' under his belt, Palmer should be able to match his production from the final handful of games.
Palmer looked more and more in sync with the receivers as the season went on and that should only improve with time.
Keep in mind, Palmer and Darren McFadden never once lined up together in the Raiders' backfield and the offense was explosive even without McFadden. I can't imagine that is something Allen overlooked when giving Palmer the stamp of approval.
The Final Word
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It is hard for me as a fan to be "all in" for all of the changes, because we have seen a lot of turnover at the coaching position and each one has started the same—with a lot of promise. All you can do is have a wait-and-see attitude and have the play on the field do all of the talking.
Allen seems to be quite the disciplinarian, which is precisely what this team needs. As far as his inexperience at the head coaching level, he seems to be a boom or bust and would not be surprised with either outcome.
However, I do think his style will bring a change in the Raiders' playing style, and the players I outlined will probably benefit the most from his hiring.
As most of you are, I am excited to see what the future holds for the Raiders.