Ford adding punt-return duties to job description


Ford adding punt-return duties to job description

NAPA -- Jacoby Ford is already one of the most dynamic kickoff return men in the NFL, as his team-record four returns for touchdowns, in 24 career games, attests.Now, he's looking to add punt-return duties to his resume. Just don't ask him if he sees himself in a Devin Hester-type role with the Raiders."I can see a Jacoby Ford role," he said this week. "I can definitely see my own role when I come in. Im definitely excited about doing punt returns. Thats something Ive been wanting to do for a long time now. But since Ive been here, I just wasnt allowed to. Now that Im going to definitely get the opportunity to do it, Im going to make the best of the opportunity and definitely try to score or just set the offense up to have a short field."In college, Ford returned 49 punts for 494 yards and two touchdowns at Clemson.With the Raiders, Ford will be playing for his third different head coach in as many years under Dennis Allen, having suited up for Tom Cable as a rookie and Hue Jackson last season.Ford was a fourth-round revelation as a rookie, and not just as a kick returner. He also proved to be a game-changer against Kansas City on Nov. 7, 2010, when he complied 306 all-purpose yards, returned a kick 94 yards for a touchdown and caught passes that set up game-tying and game-winning field goals.But injuries -- he suffered a broken hand in training camp, strained a hamstring in the season opener and sprained a foot in Week 10 -- limited him to just eight games last season. Plus, the quarterback in whose wedding he was supposed to stand up in was lost to injury in the sixth game and after Jason Campbell was no longer a factor, Ford seemed to have a hard time clicking with Carson Palmer.Neither health nor chemistry seem to be an issue now."Jacoby and I are really coming together," Palmer said. "It's hard when we have goal-line days and we've done some short-yardage the last couple practices. But when we were doing third downs and putting in the Red Zone a couple days, we were really clicking and firing on all cylinders. Just got to keep grinding, keep going. We're not where we want to be yet but we're coming along."Ford agreed."Just getting that chemistry with Carson going is definitely good," Ford said. "You go out there every day and you work with him. Just to have that camaraderie and that relationship with him makes it easy whenever we do get to the game."Weve definitely been on the same page a lot lately. Weve just kind of taken what we see from the practice film and just bringing it out here to the practice field and correcting any mistakes that we do have. Just kind of being in the right spot for him, especially down in the red zone, because hes just taught to cut it loose. Hes definitely going on trust."And that's exactly what the new regime seems to have in Ford. Especially with him being at the top of the depth chart for both return duties as well as taking first-team offensive snaps at receiver with Denarius Moore nursing a sore hamstring."They just wanted me to do the kickoffs and just kind of wait, kind of work me in," Ford said of previous coaching staffs. "The thing is, they didnt want to burn me out. Thats what our old special teams coach said. Just kind of stuck with kick return at first."Of course, the two returns are completely different."With the kickoff return, you dont have to worry about catching and moving right away (and) you can kind of set up your blocks," Ford said. "But punt return, everything happens a lot faster because you've got to get those good blocks on the outside and the good blocks on the inside, and if somebody does get loose, youre going to have to shake one guy and make him miss. You just have to be prepared for those bullets coming down at you."

New Raiders DC explains what attracted him to joining Jon Gruden


New Raiders DC explains what attracted him to joining Jon Gruden

Paul Guenther and Jay Gruden are great friends. The bond formed in Cincinnati, when both guys were Bengals assistants.

Jay Gruden moved on to Washington, and has been that club’s head coach since 2014. Last year, Jay Gruden tried to bring Guenther with him. The Bengals, however, wouldn’t let Guenther out of his contract.

It expired this month, allowing Jay’s brother Jon Gruden to purchase this hot commodity. The Bengals tried to keep him with a lucrative contract offer, but Guenther’s mind was made. He took the job as Gruden’s defensive coordinator, and the four-year contract that came with it. This is about more than money. Jon Gruden presented a unique opportunity worthy of Guenther moving on after 15 years in Cincinnati.

“I’ve known Jon for a long time,” Guenther said this week in a conference call. “Just the ability to come with him and start something fresh from the ground up really excited me. I’ve been in Cincinnati for a long time. My kids were basically raised there. I know a lot of the players. But to have this opportunity with Jon coming to the Raiders and the brand of the Raiders really attracted me. Overall, just an opportunity to come coach with him, see him do it, see how he runs this organization, this team, would be a great thing for me to learn from.”

The Guenther hire was important. He’ll be installing a new system and will have considerable clout running the defense with Gruden focused on the process of scoring points.

Guenther’s defense was built in Cincinnati, with current Minnesota head coach and former Bengals DC Mike Zimmer also contributing to the scheme. He runs a 4-3 defensive front with single-gap responsibilities. What you’ll see from Minnesota in the NFC championship will look a lot like the Silver and Black scheme next season.

“Structurally they’re very, very similar,” Guenther said. “I would say 80, 90 percent of the defense, the calls, the fronts, the coverages, the terminology is all about the same. I spent a long time with Mike. Really, when he came over from Dallas and Atlanta to Cincinnati, he had the system that was probably 60 percent intact and then we kind of built up to where we are today. Certainly, I have my own little things that I added to the defense as I went along. He’s added things. We’re always talking in the offseason, just because we’re close friends, about the things that he’s doing, things that I’m doing. I would say it’s very similar.”

The Bengals didn’t blltz much under Guenther, especially last season. He isn’t averse to bringing extra guys. He just didn’t need to dial up those plays with the Bengals pressuring the passer without extra help.

“It all depends on how many we can get home with four (pass rushers),” Guenther said. “I think the thing you really have to look at is the amount of pressure you’re getting on a quarterback. If you don’t have to blitz and you can get home with four guys.

“…I love blitzing, I got every blitz in the book up on my board here. We got it all – double A’s, overloads – any blitz you can imagine, we have it. That was what my role was with Mike Zimmer (when he was Bengals DC) coming up with the third-down blitzes. I’m certainly all for it, but I think from a team perspective, and you’ve got to really see how the game is going.”

Guenther inherits a defensive depth chart with some star power, young talent and holes aplenty. The Raiders have some issues at linebacker, safety, defensive tackle and cornerback. Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin are solid off the edge, but the unit needs a talent infusion. There’s roster flexibility, with high-priced veterans easily cut if Guenther and Gruden so choose.

“I believe there’s a lot of good players here, a lot of good, young players,” he said. “You’ve got to get them out and develop them and get them to understand your system. But I think there’s a lot of good pieces here for a foundation for sure. Obviously, every year, whether you’re the number one defense in the league or the number 32 defense in the league, you’re always looking to add pieces and fill out your lineup card. That’s what we’re going to be working through this spring and through the draft and through free agency as well as developing the young players that we have here. This day and age in the NFL when you draft guys and you think they’re worthy, you have to get them out on the field. You can’t sit on these guys for a couple of years because before you know it, their rookie contracts are over and they’re out the door. I certainly think there’s some good, young prospects here that I’m eager to work with.”

NFL review shows Raiders complied with Rooney Rule


NFL review shows Raiders complied with Rooney Rule

ALAMEDA — The NFL said Friday that the Oakland Raiders complied with the "Rooney Rule" when they hired Jon Gruden as head coach.

The league said a review found the Raiders conducted "bona fide" interviews with minority candidates during their search for a replacement for the fired Jack Del Rio. The "Rooney Rule" requires NFL teams to consider at least one minority candidate before making an offer to a head coaching candidate. The team officially hired Gruden on Jan. 6.

General manager Reggie McKenzie said last week that he fulfilled the Rooney Rule by interviewing two minority candidates. He interviewed former Raiders tight ends coach Bobby Johnson and USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin for the position. 

The Fritz Pollard Alliance called for an investigation last week out of concern that Raiders owner Mark Davis came to an agreement with Gruden before the team interviewed any minority candidates. Raiders owner Mark Davis said during Gruden's introductory press conference that he was leaning towards Gruden after a Christmas meeting in Philadelphia. That timeline suggests Davis made up his mind to hire Gruden well before interviewing Johnson or Martin. 

The Fritz Pollard Alliance, an organization dedicated to promoting diversity and equality of job opportunity on the coaching, front office and scouting staffs of NFL teams, believes the Raiders violated the Rooney Rule. 

“We strongly disagree with the NFL’s conclusion that the Raiders did not violate the Rooney Rule,” the Fritz Pollard Alliance said in a statement. “We believe the facts overwhelmingly point in the other direction. In his enthusiasm to hire Jon Gruden, Raiders’ owner Mark Davis failed to fulfill his obligation under the Rule and should step forward and acknowledge he violated the Rule.”

“...The NFL broke ground when it created the Rooney Rule, but it made the wrong call in refusing to penalize Mark Davis in this instance. Davis crossed the line, and we are disappointed in the League’s decision. The Rooney Rule and all of the League’s equal opportunity efforts need to be strengthened. We have called for meetings with the League to ensure that a process like this never happens again.”

NBC Sports Bay Area reporter Scott Bair contributed to this report.