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Camp Report (826): Raiders break camp

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Camp Report (826): Raiders break camp

Aug. 26, 2011GUTIERREZ ARCHIVE
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Paul Gutierrez
CSNCalifornia.comPractice No. 22Summary: For their final practice of training camp in Napa, the Raiders went long and hard and fully-padded, though they did not tackle to the ground. After taking Thursday off, and before a walk-through Saturday at their Alameda compound, the Raiders spent most of the final full practice in front of the media working on special teams and red-zone offense. Plus, there were a couple of new faces in camp in quarterback Terrelle Pryor and cornerback Lito Sheppard. There were some light-hearted moments, as when receiver Chad Jackson was flagged for lining up offsides and Jackson pleaded his case to the rent-a-ref, going so far as to spike his mouthpiece. And when placekicker Sebastian Janikowski nearly took out the Raiders' camera atop the hydraulic lift behind the south goal posts on a 39-yard field goal. But especially when assistant coach, safeties, Kevin Ross berated Jeremy Ware after he dropped an interception in position drills, saying, "JuJu, you spiked it. This ain't volleyball." For a Raiders camp, it was particularly, well, staid. "That's the way it should be," said rookie head coach Hue Jackson. "I don't want drama. It's hard to become a good football team when there's a bunch of drama surrounding your team. We head into this season on a clean slate when it starts."
RELATED: Sheppard hopes to shepherd young Raiders CBs
Injury report: Defensive tackle Richard Seymour started practice but did not feel comfortable and took the rest of the afternoon off. As such, 16 players sat out practice with various "nicks," including receivers Louis Murphy (hamstringgroin), Chaz Schilens (sprained right knee) and Shawn Bayes, tight end Kevin Boss (left knee sprain), fullback James McCluskey, offensive linemen Lou Eliades, Ben Lamaak and Roy Schuening (left hand), linebacker Travis Goethel (knee), defensive backs Hiram Eugene (dislocated left hip), Chris Johnson (oil change, yes, he said oil change), Mike Mitchell (left knee), Zac Etheridge (knee) and DeMarcus Van Dyke and defensive tackle John Henderson. Offensive play of the day: Is there a better way to end practice for the offense than with a touchdown? Rolling out to his right, Kyle Boller found Rock Cartwright underneath and dumped a pass to him underneath. Cartwright cruised into the end zone untouched and three horns signified the end of practice and thus, the end of camp in Napa.Defensive play of the day: Minutes before the touchdown, though, the defense got the best of the offense. Boller was rolling right and saw receiver Damola Adeniji flash open in the back of the end zone. Boller, though, did not see safety Jerome Boyd spying the play. Boyd jumped the pass and came up with the end zone interception.Returning to work: Middle linebacker Rolando McClain was back on the field after sitting out the previous two practices and enjoying the team's off day on Thursday. Same with rookie tight end David Ausberry. Cornerback Chris Johnson, meanwhile, was working on agility drills on the side.Eye on reps: In his first time under center in his first NFL camp, Terrelle Pryor took 16 snaps as the fourth-string quarterback. He completed four of nine passes, though many of his throws looked like wounded ducks, and fumbled two of his first six snaps from third-string center Alex Parsons, while handing off or pitching the ball on five running plays.Personnel report: Terrelle Pryor got in his first practice less than 24 hours after the third-round supplemental draft pick signed his contract. Also, the Raiders signed 10th-year cornerback Lito Sheppard to provide leadership and depth to the dinged-up and youthful secondary. The Raiders also released undrafted rookie free agent quarterback Jordan La Secla as well as waivedinjured undrafted rookie free agent guard Alan Pelc. The Raiders are at 89 players on their roster -- the max is 90 -- but have to be down to 80 by Tuesday at 1 p.m. PT, and at 53 by 1 p.m. PT on Sept. 3. Also, Ricky Hunley has appeared on the team's Web Site as the team's assistant linebacker coach.Quotable: "Coach won't let me wear No. 2. Why? I don't know. You tell me. He won't let me wear No. 2. I'm just going off what coach tells me." Quarterback Terrelle Pryor, on why he's wearing No. 6, rather than the number he wore in college. As an aside, the last Raiders QB to sport No. 2 was JaMarcus Russell.Next practice: Saturday, closed walk-through in Alameda.

Why firing Ken Norton Jr. won't solve the Raiders' bigger, deeper problems

Why firing Ken Norton Jr. won't solve the Raiders' bigger, deeper problems

ALAMEDA – Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio was twice asked about making in-season changes at his Monday press conference.

He wouldn’t rule it out. Del Rio said he would do anything necessary to help the team “win now,” and later said "we're not getting into staff questions this week."

Then he fired Ken Norton Jr. the next day, hoping the dismissal will provide a spark.

It might. More likely, it might not do enough.

It is a shot across the bow at its base, a signal that subpar play won't be tolerated. 

“We played under our talent level,” defensive tackle Justin Ellis said, “Those things come with consequences.”

New play caller John Pagano has a unique style and knows how to bring creative pressure, disguise a simple play as complex and exploit weak links, but he won’t be using his system this season. He’ll still be working within Norton/Del Rio’s scheme and, more importantly, he’s still playing chess with existing, often inferior pieces. The Raiders understand that, and likely won't judge him on this final stretch alone. 

Why? The defense doesn’t have enough talent in the secondary, the interior defensive line or the inside linebacker corps. That’s not on Norton or Pagano.

Pagano can’t do a thing about an offense struggling mightily to catch passes, block consistently and let plays develop downfield.

The Raiders have some major talent problems, with rush and coverage rarely working together as desired. That, and some uninspired schematics, have produced awful statistics.

The Raiders don’t have an interception, and are the first team to go 10 games without a pick. They’re on track to have the second-worst opposing completion percentage (72.3) and passer rating (113.3) in NFL history, per the Associated Press.

They’re also last in sacks for the second straight year, with just 14 this season despite having reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack.

They're thin because last year's second and third round picks, Jihad Ward and Shilique Calhoun aren't contributing. This year's draft class had to make an immediate impact, but Gareon Conley played two games, Obi Melifonwu spent eight games on IR and Eddie Vanderdoes as underwhelmed after a promising start.

Highly paid free agents haven't performed well enough, and many could be shown the door.

It’s possible roughly half of the starting lineup doesn’t return next season, with Sean Smith, Reggie Nelson, Bruce Irvin and NaVorro Bowman likely out the door as free agents or roster cuts.

In sum, this isn’t all Norton’s fault.

He was, however, the easiest cut. You can’t fire players en masse during the year, and Pagano was an easy replacement without disrupting the position coaches. Pagano has extensive experience calling plays. He was the then-San Diego Chargers’ defensive coordinator from 2012-16.

Norton wasn’t an innovative play caller. He was passed over for coordinator jobs while serving as Seattle’s linebackers coach, after Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn were hired as head coaches. Del Rio, who played with Norton in Dallas back from 1989-91, hired Norton shortly after being hired by the Raiders.

The Raiders' defense has never been good under Norton/Del Rio, and Norton was on a hot seat most of last season. It was surprising when Pagano was hired that Norton was retained and allowed to continue despite underwhelming performance.

Norton was immensely popular in the locker room, especially with members of the front seven. Mack and Irvin in particular were Norton guys. Norton and Irvin go way back to Irvin’s Seattle days, where the coach helped the player get and stay on the right path.

That’s why this firing was deeply felt on Tuesday. The players were told in an afternoon meeting, following a walk-through focused on corrections from Sunday’s New England loss.

"The axe came down on everybody," free safety Reggie Nelson said. "Everybody felt it in this building. Players, we love Norton, regardless. Unfortunately, the production wasn't a high standard this year and it's a production league. He's not playing. We are.”

The Raiders are 4-6, and can’t afford to lose many more games. They might need to be perfect down the stretch to avoid a messy tiebreaker situation. That’s a tough ask for a team that’s been woefully inconsistent on both sides. This team was always expected to shoot for the middle defensively and have a potentially great offense score points by the bushel.

The offense has been most disappointing, performing far below its pay grade and talent level. There was no movement on that side of the ball. The Raiders hope, with fingers firmly crossed, this defensive change provide the spark necessary to create turnovers and quarterback pressure than has been lacking in a disastrous season to this point.

Raiders fire defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

Raiders fire defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

Ken Norton Jr.'s time with the Raiders is up.

With the team underperforming, Oakland has fired Norton as the defensive coordinator, the team announced Tuesday afternoon. John Pagano will handle the play calling duties when the Raiders take on the Broncos this Sunday.

Head coach Jack Del Rio issued the following statement regarding the news:

“After careful thought, I have made a difficult decision to part ways with Ken Norton, Jr. as defensive coordinator. I have the utmost respect for Ken as a person and as a coach, but I feel that moving John Pagano into the play-calling role will best utilize his wealth of experience. I appreciate Ken’s passion and commitment to the Raiders since coming aboard and wish him the best going forward.”

The Raiders defense under Norton this season ranks 26th in the NFL in yards allow per game (367.0), is allowing 24.7 points per game and has yet to record an interception through 10 games.

"We played under our talent level. Those things come with consequences," defensive lineman Justin Ellis told reporters shortly after the news broke.

"The axe fell on all of us. We love Coach Norton. We didn’t want to see this happen," safety Reggie Nelson said.

Norton joined Del Rio's staff prior to the 2015 season.