Oakland Raiders Go Back to Old Identity with New Coaching Hires
Successful football franchises have an identity to base their schemes, coaches and players on. Super Bowl champion and perennial contender Baltimore Ravens have had their model set for years now.
Then came the death of Davis in 2011, and Mark Davis took over his father's team. He would then turn to first-time GM Reggie McKenzie, who would turn to first-time head coach Dennis Allen to set their model.
Davis (Al) was a guy who liked huge men to power-run behind and fast men for his vertical passing game. Hue Jackson, whom Al Saunders mentored in Baltimore, brought that to Raider Nation as the offensive coordinator and was promoted to head coach for it.
Raiders fans then got a chance to enjoy some exciting football for two seasons even though the Raiders were just .500 during that time. But then, like I stated a few articles ago, the new regime came in and started fixing things that weren't broken while trying to create a new identity.
But now, the regime knows they made mistakes, as their vision didn't match personnel already there. So after a season of regression, the new regime has fired four coaches from the 2012 staff.
During Senior Bowl week, the Raiders replaced all the coaches to complete their staff. Turn the page to see how the new coaches mixed with the remaining coaches brings back the team's traditional identity.
Defensive Coordinator: Glad to Still Have Tarver
One coordinator I'm glad the Raiders still have is defensive coordinator Jason Tarver. Many don't, citing a worse showing in scoring defense from last year.
They gave up 27.7 points per game this year compared to 27.1 last year, but that's not the whole story. The Raiders' turnover ratio nearly doubled to minus-7 this year compared to minus-4 from last year.
The defense kept themselves on the field more last year, giving up 23 first downs per game compared to 19 this year. They also finished No. 29 in overall defense last year compared to No. 18 this year.
One thing I really like is that the Raiders' run defense moved up to No. 18 in 2012 from No. 27 in 2011. Tarver was able to do this without the 3-4 scheme he is used to running.
But the main factor in this whole thing is that the Raiders had more talent on defense last year. A good portion of the defense from last year became salary-cap casualties.
I'm looking for the Raiders to figure things out this offseason with personnel to allow Tarver to run his 3-4. From a motivational standpoint, the defense bought what Tarver sold down the stretch this year.
Identity-wise, Tarver doesn't mind blitzing, so look for that 3-4 and the blitz to be in play.
Offensive Coordinator: Greg Olson
On offense for the Raiders, it is tradition to have big, nasty boys like Gene Upshaw, Art Shell and Steve Wisniewski open holes for running backs in the power-running game. Under former Raiders head coach Hue Jackson, the Raiders tried to bring that back by "building a bully."
After a couple of bad first years in the zone-scheme under Greg Knapp, running back Darren McFadden flourished in Jackson's power-blocking scheme. Then, after Allen was brought in to replace Jackson, he hired Knapp, only to dull McFadden's shine.
Not only did Knapp's offense not fit McFadden, but it is out of Raiders tradition, as zone-blockers are smaller men. After a year of offensive regression, Knapp was fired and Greg Olson was brought in to coordinate the offense.
What does this mean?
It means McFadden will again become the focal point of the offense in the power-scheme. With Olson as offensive coordinator, Steven Jackson had his best season—leading the league in rushing in 2006.
So we see the offense will all come off of McFadden in 2013.
Senior Offensive Assistant: Al Saunders Is Back
Along with zone-blocking, Knapp brought the West Coast Offense, which also doesn't fit. Five-yard patterns and defense reading just doesn't fit the world-class sprinters the Raiders have at receiver.
Olson isn't exactly known for pushing the ball deep down the field himself, but all is not lost. Saunders is still with the Raiders as an offensive assistant, so his knowledge of the vertical game will be of use.
Saunders took the vertical game to the Baltimore Ravens as an offensive assistant a few years ago. So while Olson brings back the power-running game, Saunders will bring back the vertical passing game.
Big-armed quarterback Carson Palmer will go long to receivers Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford and Rod Streater in 2013. The combination of Olson and Saunders completes what Raiders football is all about on offense.
The good ole power-run with the vertical game is back in Oakland!
Offensive Line: Tony Sparano
To run the ball effectively and get the vertical game on track, the offensive line will have to be solid. The Raiders offensive line was one of best units in the NFL in 2011 and one of the worst in 2012.
The personnel was pretty much the same in both years, with coaching being the big difference. Coaching is important, as even Upshaw, Shell and Wisniewski needed good coaching to have the careers they had.
Tony Sparano has been brought in to give the Raiders just that as the assistant head coach and offensive line coach. This is a solid hire, as the last time he held the same positions for the Dallas Cowboys in 2007, he did so well that he got himself a head coaching gig as a result.
The fit is really good here, because the Cowboys are known to have a huge, power-blocking offensive line. With center Stefen Wisniewski and left tackle Jared Veldheer to build around, look for Sparano to get the offensive line back to the top.
Linebackers Coach: Bob Sanders
Another mistake the new regime made is hiring linebackers coach Johnny Holland. Not that he was ever great, but Rolando McClain seemed to regress after improving a bit under Rob Fredrickson in 2011.
Rookie Miles Burris wasn't so good himself, as veteran Phillip Wheeler was the bright spot in the crew. Holland was fired at season's end, and McClain looks like he's heading out of Raider Nation, too.
So now, former Packers defensive coordinator Bob Sanders is the linebackers coach for the Raiders. While his coordinator experience is there, Sanders was Zach Thomas' linebackers coach when Thomas went to three straight Pro Bowls in the early 2000s.
As his defensive coordinator, Sanders led then Packers linebacker Nick Barnett to his best season in 2007. The two had since reunited the last couple of years to give the Buffalo Bills a lift on defense.
I don't know who the Raiders are bringing in for Sanders to coach, but we will now get a chance to see if the Raiders defense gets a lift from him. Identity-wise, Sanders was a 4-3 coordinator and linebackers coach in Buffalo in the 4-3.
Is this a hint that the Raiders will stay in a base 4-3?
Special Teams Coach: Bobby April
Special teams has been a bright for the Raiders in recent years leading up to 2012. Punter Shane Lechler, kicker Sebastien Janikowski and return man Jacoby Ford led the charge there.
But in 2012, in comes Hoffman, and suddenly the Raiders get nothing from the return game. Ford, the team's return specialist, was injured—that's no excuse, because the Raiders' return game was decent when Ford got hurt last year.
This year, I have to wonder how a healthy Ford would have done, because the execution of the special teams unit wasn't there. Not only are the Raiders not getting anything out of the return game, but they're giving up everything, as shown against the Chargers.
That led to the firing Hoffman, and in turn, the Raiders have hired Bobby April to replace him. April has an impeccable reputation as a special teams coach, so Raiders fans should be encouraged by this hire.
Just last year, April had Matt McBriar, his punter with the Philadelphia Eagles, average 46.5 yards per punt. He also orchestrated a 98-yard punt return for a touchdown by Damaris Johnson.
I can't wait to see what he does with kicker Sebastien Janikowski, punter Marquett King, and return-man Jacoby Ford.
Will big plays on special teams be back?
The firing and hiring of coaches this offseason in combination with the coaches they kept seems to have regained that old Raiders identity. As much as McKenzie and Allen want a new identity, they were right to bring back power-blocking and the vertical game, as it was effective right before they got here.
It fits the players already there, and they don't have enough time to overhaul a whole roster to fit what they like. Special teams will be back in Oakland as well as the long, game-winning field goals, booming, coffin-corner punts, blocked punts and long returns for touchdowns that have always been Raiders traditions.
The defense is a mystery because of the incomplete personnel, but with the linebackers coach hire, the Raiders should be more difficult to run on. It's good to see that Sanders has defensive coordinator experience to help Tarver.
It's also good that Sparano, the assistant head coach and offensive line coach, has head coaching experience to help Allen. But most importantly, the new coaches will provide the Raiders personnel with tactics that put them in position to succeed.
That in itself should lead to the Raiders being much more successful as a team in 2013.
Just win, baby!