ALAMEDA -- Yeah, you could say the Raiders have been looking forward to this weekend's game at Kansas City for a while. Or at least, since the schedule itself was released in April.In the kinder, gentler way of putting things, the Raiders get to renew acquaintances with an old friend in Chiefs cornerback Stanford Routt, who signed with Kansas City after being cut by the Raiders in a cost-cutting move.In a more harsh manner, the Raiders get to go against Routt, the most penalized player in the NFL last year with 17, and if they're licking their chops at the prospect of going at him in trying to win their sixth straight game at Arrowhead Stadium, they're not showing it outwardly.The truth, though? Probably somewhere between the two thoughts. Though no doubt Routt is a big topic of discussion in the Raiders locker room.So, should Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer target Routt with aplomb Sunday?"I wish he would," said safety Mike Mitchell, close friends with Routt whose locker was next to his. "I wish we would run at him every play and throw at him every play, just so he has to work. Lets make him work. Lets make it hard on him, lets not make it easy on him. I feel thats how he would want it and its definitely how we want it. We want to make him compete."Two offseasons ago, with Nnamdi Asomugha headed to Philadelphia, Routt was re-signed by Al Davis to a three-year, 31.5-million contract, with 20 million guaranteed and then re-structured to a five-year, 54.5-million deal in training camp with the same 20 million guaranteed. But due a 5 million base salary by Oakland in 2012, and the day before a 5 million "signing bonus" was to kick in, new Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie cut Routt, on Feb. 9.Eleven days later, Routt signed a reported three-year, 20-million deal with 4 million guaranteed with Kansas City after visiting Buffalo and Cincinnati."Its hilarious, when we released him, he told me, 'Im not mad, Im getting paid by half the AFC West,'" Mitchell said. "My whole thing, I just want to make him earn his money. I want to run at him every play, I want to throw at him every play. Make him earn that money."In 2011, Routt had a career-high four interceptions but surrendered an NFL-high eight touchdown passes and his "burn rate" rose to 47.4 percent after being among the league leaders at 39.4 percent in 2010. His 17 penalties last year, including nine in the last three games, were: eight for holding, seven for pass interference, one for illegal use of hands and a personal foul.So far this year Routt's burn rate of 58.1 percent (18 of 31) for 328 yards with a touchdown allowed."Hes looked pretty good," said Palmer, with a straight face."Two weeks ago against Tampa Bay, he had some balls caught on him that he actually tipped and just (a) bad bounce, the ball bounces the wrong way and it ended up in the receiver's hands for big plays. But its a good secondary. They've got Eric Berry back there. (Brandon) Flowers is a real good physical corner and Stanford can run with just about anybody in the league. Its a good group all around."Asked if he was able to glean anything from Routt's tendencies as a teammate last year, Palmer shook his head."Not really," he said. "I mean, you dont practice against the starting defense all that often, especially once the season starts. You do in training camp. Didn't have a chance to go against him much."But Ive seen him play on film and he can run, and hes a big, long, lanky corner, and he does a good job getting his hands on balls."Raiders running back Darren McFadden giggled when asked how weird it was going to be seeing Routt, a teammate for four years, on the other side of the field."It's going to be different seeing him over there but you know, it's football, guys move around," McFadden said. "You play against guys that you've played with before so it's one of those deals you just have to play it like another game."For years, the two would trash-talk each other about who was faster. So did they ever have that footrace?"Nah, we didn't get to settle that," McFadden said with a huge smile, before he grew serious. "I'm always going to be able to take it."So come Sunday, if there's a footrace where McFadden has the ball and Routt is giving chase, who wins?"I think I'm going to win," McFadden said. "Yeah."The Raiders, though, are thinking about more than a simple sprint.
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.”
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.