ALAMEDA -- Beleaguered Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Knapp knew what was coming.Before even taking the podium following Thursday's practice, he turned to the assembled media and smiled a, well, a knowing smile."Lets keep things in perspective for a second here," Knapp said, before any questions were asked. "Weve played two games in the regular season on offense. Weve had two different centers and a right tackle who played half a game last week. We need some patience. You cant develop a scheme in two weeks in a regular season, especially when last week we faced the No. 3-ranked rush defense from 2011 and the week before they held the No. 2 rush offense in the league to 2.4 yards per carry, the Houston Texans."That was a good team we faced last week. The scheme will be fine. It just takes some time."And there it is. The Raiders are not sweating the offense's lackluster showing, especially the run game, in starting out 0-2 with the run game being basically nonexistent. At least, not publicly.Darren McFadden, who was the most explosive running back in the NFL last season before a Lisfranc injury ended his season seven games in, has been rendered a non-factor thus far, averaging 2.1 yards per carry in Knapp's new West Coast Offense that relies on a zone-blocking scheme.And now, here come the Pittsburgh Steelers and their tough defense.NFL CAPSULE: Raiders vs. SteelersDuring training camp, Knapp compared installing a new offense to a start-up company. So he's not really surprised by the lack of success running the ball so far. But not for the reasons you'd think. The gameplans for the first two games, Knapp said, called for the Raiders to throw the ball more than to run it."That wasour strategy going in and we had success doing it," he said. "Part of it is strategy and part of it is going to be a learning curve. We have to go through the experience of games against different defensive schemes that our guys will learn then changing the parts, the position of center is critical to what we do. He had a good learning experience last week."Thats the first time hes played, in defense of (Stefen Wisniewski). He played six snaps in the first preseason game and that was it. He jumped in there and did a very admirable job considering how little time hes had to play live."Of course, with the success the Raiders had last season in the power-blocking system, many wonder why the Raiders, under rookie coach Dennis Allen, had to change the offense at all.In fact, former offensive line coach Bob Wylie told SiriusXM Radio this week that McFadden was simply too fast to succeed in the more wait-and-see ZBS.RELATED: Gutierrez: Can McFadden thrive with zone-blocking scheme?"I have to speak to my experiences," Knapp said. "The guy who was in Houston (Arian Foster) was a pretty fast runner as well, and he fit in fine with the zone scheme. He also was a young back with an offensive line that had run the scheme for five years and he reaped the benefits of having a line that knew all the nuances."Justin Fargas, when we were here in '08, ran for 1,000 yards and he had a lot of speed, too. I feel very comfortable that the backs we haveDarren McFadden, I dont care what offense you put him in, hes going to be fine. Hes a good running back in all schemes. Well be fine."The issue, then, with the ZBS is that it takes an offensive line more time than usual to learn it and implement it, especially since the line cannot practice cut-blocking on its own team.So, how long does it take to implement this system?"A lot of it depends on who the parts are," Knapp said. "At four different places, Atlanta, here, Seattle and then when I was in Houston, it was already in play, there was a different running back, five different linemen and a different coach. And all places theyve had success where we did it at. It depends on that group of players. Were a little bit younger right now on the O-line than I have been at other places so it takes a little bit longer for them to learn the nuances. A lot of the experiences goes on Sundays."You think about it. We faced one defense the last six months, our own. Now were playing different schemes. So youre going to have some learning parts that go through game experience to help develop the offense."Then how close is it to working? And no, don't hold your breath, Raiders fans."It will take a little while, it will take a little while," Knapp said. "I dont know what the set time is. A lot of it will be changed week to week based on who were playing. Its making progress, its making progress. It may not look up statistically but in the execution on cut blocks, combination blocks, were seeing progress being made."
ALAMEDA – Obi Melifonwu participated in a Raiders practice Tuesday afternoon, his first session in months.
The second-round safety has been on injured reserve all season and hasn’t done football activities of any kind since suffering a knee injury in a preseason game in Dallas.
He had arthroscopic knee surgery and was put on the shelf for the season’s first half. Melifonwu's professional career barely started and then quickly stopped. That's why Wednesday's practice was such a big deal.
“It was awesome to get back out there, finally,” Melfonwu said. “It’s been a while. It was beyond fun to just be out there and practice with the team."
He nearing a return to game action. That’s why the Raiders designated him to return off injured reserve. Wednesday marks the start of a three-week practice window where the Raiders can decide whether to put him on the 53-roster.
He’s expected to do so when eligible. Melifonwu was first able to practice this week, and can join the 53-man roster after Week 8. His NFL debut could come in Week 9 at Miami.
He can't wait, especially because he's physically ready now.
"I feel 100 percent," Meilfonwu said. I feel fine."
The Raiders still struggle covering the aforementioned skill players, using young linebackers or an undersized safety against those guys. The Raiders have given up the most yards to tight ends and running backs in the NFL this season. Melifonwu was drafted to help cover tight ends and running backs right away in sub packages, with a long-term eye on a full-time starting spot.
"I bring versatility, and I think I’m a guy who can fit into a lot of different spots," Melifonwu said. "Wherever the coaches need me to fit and help the team win, I’m all for it."
He has missed significant development time while out. He also missed most of training camp with an apparent ankle injury. The team hopes he can be ready to contribute when eligible despite missing so much time. The downtime was difficult, but Melifonwu now hopes to hit the ground running.
"It was definitely tough," he said. "As a competitor, you always want to be out there helping your team win. As a guy who hasn’t been hurt, it was pretty tough. It comes with playing football. I’m just glad to be out there now."
NaVorro Bowman hasn’t been a Raider long. The inside linebacker visited the team’s training complex Monday morning, signed a one-year, $3 million contract that afternoon and was on the practice field a few hours later.
Bowman’s in something of a rush. His new team plays the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night. Bowman plans to face them.
That’ll take a crash course in Raiders defense. There’s new terminology to learn and roles to master, even if he hones on a specific package.
It won’t be easy. Even a perfect week might come up short with but one real practice in an incredibly quick turnaround.
It’s rational to think he won’t be ready, fair to give him two weeks practice before a Raiders debut.
That’s not the tack he’ll take.
“Hey,” Bowman said, with a wry smile. “I’m going to show you something.”
He understands the situation. The Raiders are 2-4, in desperate need of an AFC West win. A loss might put the Raiders too far down to rebound. The four-time All-Pro knows he’s needed, and believes he can help if he can get some scheme down.
“It’ll take a lot of hours, a lot of studying, a lot of repeating the same words and things like that,” Bowman said after Monday’s walk-through. “It’s part of being a good football player. You have to put the time in. It doesn’t come easy.
“I’m the guy to do it. I won’t let them down. I’ll put the work in that’s needed to be done.”
Immersing in brand new can be a cleansing process. Bowman left the only NFL team he’s ever known Friday when the 49ers cut him loose. He wanted to spend his career with one team. After seven-plus seasons, a switch was required. He didn’t like losing snaps. The 49ers wanted to go younger at the position. A trade was attempted. He didn’t like the suitor, and the 49ers respectfully pulled back. An outright cut was the decisive action.
It gave Bowman an opportunity to choose his next step. He didn’t go far. Bowman’s new job sits 35 miles north in Alameda, which offered plenty of advantages for a family man.
“My twin girls are five and my son is eight and they’re in school,” Bowman said. “They’re doing really well so you always want to keep that going as a parent. You don’t want to keep switching them in and out. That played a big part in what I was going to do. For the Raiders to show as much enthusiasm in wanting me to come here made my decision a lot easier.”
Enthusiasm was evident in two ways. The bottom line comes first. The Raiders offered $3 million to make this deal quick, adding a solid sum to the $6.75 million base salary guaranteed by the 49ers under his previous contract.
The second was clear in a Monday morning conversation with Jack Del Rio. The Raiders head coach spoke plainly, saying Bowman could make a major impact as a player and veteran leader of a shockingly young position group.
“It was really upfront, letting me know their position and how bad they want me,” Bowman said. “He let me know exactly what he wanted to get out of me coming here and being a presence for this defense. Being more vocal, getting guys to understand the urgency to be really good at the NFL level.”
His lessons start Tuesday morning. Starting weakside linebacker Cory James introduced himself in the locker room Monday and asked Bowman when he’ll start watching film. The answer: bright and early.
Bowman has a game to play Thursday. That’s possible because he didn’t have to relocate. He can just hit the ground running. He’s been constantly learning new systems during the 49ers coaching carousel, so he’d a quick learning. He also sees similar concepts between schemes.
“It’s not too different,” Bowman said. “The terminology is really the hard part. I’m a fast learner. I went out there today and I think I did pretty well. I’ll get in here early tomorrow and learn from my mistakes and try to keep getting better.”
That’s Bowman’s first goal. He also wants to show knee and Achilles’ tendon injuries haven’t sapped his effectiveness as many believe.
“I’m only 29 years old,” Bowman said. “I still have a lot of juice left in me.”