Raiders

Gutierrez: Boss, Bush, key to offensive success

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Gutierrez: Boss, Bush, key to offensive success

Aug. 6, 2011GUTIERREZ ARCHIVE
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Paul Gutierrez
CSNCalifornia.comNAPA -- They couldn't be anymore different. From their physical characteristics to their football acumen to their job descriptions.And yet, running back Michael Bush and tight end Kevin Boss might very well jointly hold the key to the Raiders' early-season offensive success.That both made their 2011 training camp debuts on Saturday only adds to the intrigue, especially with Bush showing up three days after Darren McFadden suffered a fractured eye orbital bone and Boss replacing Zach Miller, the most consistent offensive threat the Raiders have had the past three years after he left for Seattle.Bush, of course, is a familiar face. He's been in Silver and Blackdom since 2007, a "damaged goods" fourth-round draft choice from Louisville who did not play a down that first season as he still recovered from a broken right leg suffered in the Cardinals' 2006 season opener.And therein sat the drama.WIth Bush maintaining a media moratorium this offseason -- one that included an arrest for suspicion of DUI -- speculation grew that he was not happy being classified a third-year player. That he wanted to be a fourth-year vet to reap the financial rewards of the new CBA that had such players becoming unrestricted free agents. Especially since he had not signed his first- and third-round tenders.So 10 days after he could have reported to camp with his teammates, and five days before he would have had to report, lest he be labeled a hold-out, Bush insisted there were no issues. In fact, he was within his rights to report when he did in this most unusual of offseasons, thanks to the lockout and shortened signing period."It's a business part of it," Bush said, explaining why Saturday was his personal D-Day for showing up in Wine Country. "I think it was just best for me to come in at this time instead of stretching it out. I just came in. The sooner I got here, the better I can get in the playbook and the better I can move forward."Rarely has he shown better dance moves on the field.Still, Bush said he never entertained any other offers -- the price would have been too steep for teams in such a rushed time frame, he said -- and signed the one-year tender, worth a reported 2.6 million. He did, however, say he was looking to talk long-term deal with the Raiders when the time is right."I was never a free agent," Bush said. "I had no intention of coming into the season thinking I was a free agent because, bottom line, my first year, I didn't play."I pretty much knew I'd be back here again."If only the Raiders fans had been so confident, right?Because while there is no doubt McFadden is the Raiders' electric lead back, he's hurt and out for at least two weeks. And Bush, who suffered a broken left thumb in the exhibition season last year and missed two regular season games, brings the thunder.He ran for a career-high 655 yards and a career-best eight touchdowns in 2010 and in the season finale at Kansas City, with McFadden out, Bush rumbled for 137 yards on 25 carries. He also caught four passes that frozen day.Which is why his showing up in good shape -- not football shape, mind you -- was good news for the Raiders. Even if he only carried the ball in live drills a handful of times."I felt like I hadn't been playing football for a while," he joked. "But it's O.K. I'll get it back."He won't, however, regain the feeling of Miller and Nnamdi Asomugha as teammates in Oakland."I kind of knew the Nnam situation," Bush said, "but it was more strange not seeing Zach."Enter Boss.At 6-feet-7, Boss is two inches taller than Miller, though he is not as thick in his upper body.He too, though, hit the ground running as Boss practiced in live drills. He made a nice catch in traffic once, but also jumped off sides another time."Kind of learn under fire," Boss said, describing his first practice. "It's maybe the best way, actually, just kind of throw you in there. You hear (the play) called in the huddle and try to process it as quick as you can."It's coming along, and tomorrow will be great to spend some time in the playbook and really get ahead of this thing."The Raiders have invested a reported four-year, 16-million contract in Boss, who has a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants and has caught 119 passes in his four-year career for 1,600 yards and 18 touchdowns.Boss said defensive line coach Mike Waufle, who was with him in New York when the Giants beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, was the first person associated with the Raiders to call him.Sounds like Tom Cable dialing up Miller from Seattle, right?But I digress. Boss visited Napa on Wednesday and worked out for the Raiders before heading back to New York to talk with the Giants on Thursday. Friday morning, the deal with Oakland was announced and Saturday, Boss and his surgically-repaired hip, which he says is 100 percent, were on the practice field.Right next to Bush."It's exciting," Boss said. "Whenever you have two backs like (Bush and McFadden) you're blocking for, it makes it exciting. You want to spring that key block that puts them in the end zone. It's going to be a lot of fun to have those two backs."No doubt, Bush feels the same about Boss. At least, he should.

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.