Raiders

Evidence suggests Marshawn Lynch is not bad for the Raiders

Evidence suggests Marshawn Lynch is not bad for the Raiders

God love Marshawn Lynch, for all he is, and all he isn’t.

All he is, is an Oakland icon. Not a Raider icon, or a Cal icon, or a Seahawks icon. An Oakland icon, because he did the most Oaklandish things Thursday night, and became a national debate point on Friday – while seemingly giving nary a toss about either.

He ran onto the field from the sideline to intervene in a potential fight in the Chiefs-Raiders piefight at the Coliseum. He grabbed an official and got ejected. He left the locker room, presumably to go home while the game was still going on, only to turn up in the stands to watch the end, go back to the locker room to celebrate with his teammates, and then BART home with Kansas City’s Marcus Peters, one of Lynch’s truest homies, who instigated the near to-do by hitting Oakland quarterback Derek Carr late.

Any of these things would have made Football America turn purple. All of them became a period piece, and the next debating bone upon which Football America will chew.

Namely, whether Lynch is a problem for the team that sought him out. They look to Jack Del Rio to teach the man some decorum esprit de corps, or fly in the face of owner Mark Davis and show him the door.

Likely, neither will happen. Del Rio may grind his teeth about Lynch, and he occasionally does, but there is no evidence other than the bleating of the drool-based punditocracy, that Lynch impedes progress. He has been singled out as a reason the Raider offense hasn’t functioned very well this year, and their late burst Thursday night will fuel that correlation-causation fire.

But the offense has sputtered on its own, and in varied ways. It has been conservative, predictable and even timid, and that is not Lynch’s doing. Playmaker (or playbreaker) Amari Cooper was targeted 18 times in the first two games, 21 times in weeks 3 through 6, and 19 times Thursday night, as the Raiders tried to decide whether he was sufficiently trustworthy.

Frankly, the oh-the-hell-with-it ethos that made them such a tough out last year had disappeared, and that isn’t a Lynch construct either.

But Thursday night, they reverted to their 2016 ways. Del Rio, Carr and offensive coordinator Todd Downing decided they had no choice but to take Cooper as he is, and made him the focus in 25 percent of their plays and more than a third of their passes.

But that’s the football stuff. The debate turns are going to be about Lynch, and whether he is bad for the proper working order of the Raiders. The evidence suggests that he isn’t, and that he isn’t really what will define this team anyway.

What will define it, it seems increasingly clear, is how willing it is to do what feels good rather than what is metrically approved. The Raiders cast themselves last year as a 53-man attitude, and showed Thursday night that the attitude plan still works, hand in glove with precision and work habits and all the other ethics that induce people to play a madman’s game.

How much you choose to credit (or blame) Marshawn Lynch for that attitude is up to you. But if it helps, he won’t be listening. Unless maybe you bump into him on BART.

Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice

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Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice

ALAMEDA – Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin were out at Raiders practice Wednesday for the stretching period. Both edge rushers left one-at-a-time during the individual period, which was open to the press, headed into the main building and did not return.

There was no perceived reaction, certainly no surprise, from the coaching staff or players on the field. Irvin and new defensive coordinator John Pagano were seen joking around on the field before practice began in earnest. 

Both Irvin and Mack were given a practice off. A Raiders official called it a day off/rest-type day that was not injury related. The Silver and Black typically practice in pads or shells on Wednesday, but were in jerseys and sweats in the interest of recovery.

This day off's timing did raise an eyebrow.

Wednesday marked the first practice Irvin has missed since training camp. Mack hasn’t missed one in months.

Mack and Irvin’s downtime also came a day after beloved defensive coordinator Ken Norton’s firing.

Several defensive players were upset about Norton's firing, but Mack and Irvin especially were among those loyal to Norton. Mack and Norton developed a bond after the coach was named defensive coordinator in 2015. Norton and Irvin go way back to their days together in Seattle. Irvin credits Norton for helping him get on the right path and stay there.

Neither player was happy Norton got the axe. Irvin made his displeasure clear, tweeting “BULLS***” shortly after news of Norton’s demise broke. Mack told ESPN “I like to keep my thoughts private.” Defensive stars declined comment Wednesday or didn't appear in the locker room when the media was present. 

It isn’t immediately clear if the non-injury related day off was related to Norton’s dismissal. Head coach Jack Del Rio won’t speak to the media again until Friday. New defensive coordinator John Pagano is scheduled to speak Thursday afternoon.

Del Rio addressed the media before Wednesday’s practice, and was asked how he’ll handle players unhappy with the in-season shake-up.

“I don’t try and 'handle' them,” Del Rio said. “I think the biggest thing is to understand the relationship, respect that, give him a little space and then at the end of the day, we’re going to get on with our work. But, I’m human. It wasn’t easy for me either.”

Del Rio: 'Nobody should feel comfortable,' following Norton firing

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Del Rio: 'Nobody should feel comfortable,' following Norton firing

ALAMEDA – Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio put out a statement Tuesday explaining why he fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

He went into greater detail Wednesday afternoon, his first time facing the media since a change was made

Specifics will be discussed further down this story. We don’t, however, want to bury the lede.

Del Rio’s main message wasn’t about Norton. It applied to all in Silver and Black. This season has not met lofty expectations. That is unacceptable.

“I know one thing,” Del Rio said. “Nobody should feel comfortable, because what I’ve been watching is not good enough.”

Del Rio didn’t absolve himself from blame. Norton got fired, but everyone has played a part in this disappointing 4-6 record.

“It’s always shared,” Del Rio said. “A change was made, obviously. We all share in it, all of us, starting with me. It’s coaches and players. It’s a team game, and we’re all in it together. And nobody is coming to help us.”

The Raiders must look inward to start a prolonged winning streak they’ve shown little evidence they can create.

The seat will be warm under players and coaches alike, even if only one change was made. Expect further shakeup on the coaching staff after the season, if vast improvements don’t come down the stretch, possibly with several position coaches being shown the door. More than a few higher profile players could be cut or allowed to leave, especially on defense.

While Del Rio has taken more heat the past month than at any other time in his Raiders tenure, expect him to be around a longer term. He was given a contract extension in February, and has significant capitol built after changing the culture in Oakland and re-teaching this team how to win. One bad year, even if this season continues heading downhill, shouldn’t erase that.

Del Rio was looking to shake things up, and Norton was the obvious move. Experienced play caller John Pagano was on staff – he was Chargers defensive coordinator from 2012-2016 – and firing the popular Pagano’s style could create some new waves and looks that any offensive Norton would make an impact in the locker room and prove this story’s opening quote, that no one should feel comfortable.

Del Rio hopes firing Norton will be a shock to the defense’s system.

“I really felt like I needed to shake things up,” Del Rio said. “We couldn’t continue doing what we’ve been doing to this point. So I made the call. The whole idea is to change what we’re doing and make sure…what I’m looking for at the end of the day is for us to play fast on defense. We weren’t playing fast enough. We weren’t playing confident enough.”