Season review -- Raiders OL


Season review -- Raiders OL

It was one of the bigger question marks coming into the season and seen as one of the Raiders' biggest weaknesses. The offensive line was being rebuilt on the fly after losing veteran left guard Robert Gallery to free agency, coach Tom Cable to Al Davis' axe and had a second-year player at left tackle and a rookie to replace Gallery. But new O-line coach Bob Wylie molded the line together with more than glue and duct tape in switching from Cable's zone-blocking scheme. In fact, the line was a strength early on as Jason Campbell was only sacked twice through four games. And even after the midseason switch to Carson Palmer under center and losing Darren McFadden to injury and replacing him with Michael Bush, the Raiders still had the No. 11-ranked passing game in the NFL, the No. 7-ranked running game. It all starts up front with the grunts on the O-line.
Grade: B-OFFENSIVE LINEJared Veldheer -- A relatively unknown third-round draft pick coming out of tiny Division-II Hillsdale College in 2010, Veldheer made a huge leap in his second professional season. Charged with protecting the quarterback's blind side, the left tackle's crowning moment was his shutout of Minnesota's Jared Allen, who ended up leading the league with 22 sacks. Veldheer is starting to get national notice, as evidenced by the two All-Pro votes. Not bad for a guy that had a disastrous rookie debutat center.
Stefen Wisniewski -- Initially called the team's starting center from the moment he was drafted in the second round, No. 48 overall, out of Penn State, Li'l Wiz made the transition immediately to left guard and never looked back. But whenever Samson Satele was injured, Wisniewski made a seamless transition and, may observers claim, the Raiders running game operated more smoothly with him at center. An argument could be made that Wisniewski, who played every game, was Oakland's offensive rookie of the year.Samson Satele -- A somewhat surprising re-signing during training camp, it was assumed Satele was long gone, what with the Raiders moving on from Cable's zone-blocking scheme to a more power-blocking setup. Especially since, at 6-feet-3, 300 pounds, Satele is considered small for a center. But the fifth-year veteran helped settle the rest of the line and, though he was banged up, still started 15 games. Will be interesting to see if he returns or if the 6-3, 315-pound Wisniewski moves to center on a full-time basis.Cooper Carlisle -- Another surprise to return, what with his history as a zone-blocker, Carlisle nonetheless returned and had perhaps his finest season in his 12th year as an NFL lineman. In perhaps his finest performance of the season, the right guard limited Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a mere two tackles on Dec. 18. Though Suh would have the last laugh when he blocked Sebastian Janikowski's 65-yard game-winning field-goal attempt. Might Carlisle have a 13th year in him?Khalif Barnes -- Remember when Barnes was brought here in 2009 to stabilize the left tackle position before a broken ankle scuttled those plans? Barnes is a survivor and he has instead found life on the right side of the line, starting all 16 games at right tackle. They say an offensive lineman is best doing his job when you rarely notice him. Unfortunately for him, Barnes had a penchant for picking up penalties in waves. Were referees picking on him due to his reputation, or is there something more at work here?Stephon Heyer -- A locker room cutup in the mold of Barnes, Heyer could also provide steady play at virtually every spot on the offensive line save center. In fact, he started once at left guard when Wisniewski moved to center in place of the injured Satele. That was the night Michael Bush rumbled for 242 all-purpose yards in a primetime affair at San Diego on Nov. 10. As a team, the Raiders rushed for 191 yards against the Chargers. No wonder many thought Oakland was better served with Heyer at LG and Wisniewski at center.Joe Barksdale -- The Raiders' third-round draft pick out of LSU is the team's right tackle of the future and his play did nothing to dissuade that notion. He was active for all 16 games and was a fixture on "jumbo" packages. In fact, he often played on the interior. Barksdale, like Heyer and Barnes before him, is a light-hearted soul in the locker room and fancies himself a deep thinker in Cyberspace with his popular Blog. But on the field, he is all business.Bruce Campbell -- The true mystery of the line. An absolute physical specimen at 6-6, 315 pounds with off-the-charts measurables, Campbell was only active for four games. None since Oct. 9 at Houston. Then-coach Hue Jackson said Campbell, the Raiders' fourth-round draft pick in 2010, simply fell behind in training camp due to injury and never got up to speed with his competition on the line. Still, while Campbell was being groomed as the right guard of the future, he moved back to tackle during the season.

How John Pagano plans to impact Raiders defense: ‘There is always room for change’


How John Pagano plans to impact Raiders defense: ‘There is always room for change’

ALAMEDA – John Pagano can’t implement his scheme in a week. He can’t import his plays and preferences cultivated during five seasons as Chargers defensive coordinator. Full offseason programs and training camps are required for that.

Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. was fired on Tuesday. Pagano will call his first Raiders game five days later against Denver at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders’ assistant head coach – defense believes he can impact how the Silver and Black does business.

“There’s always room for change and there’s always room for doing things better,” Pagano said Thursday. “Without telling you our game plan, it’s about how we go out and execute the call, bottom line.”

Head coach Jack Del Rio said the Raiders weren’t playing fast enough. They weren’t creating enough turnovers, weren’t doing well enough on third down and weren’t regularly affecting the quarterback due to a lack of both rush and coverage.

That’s why Norton had to go.

Pagano’s first objective, which must get accomplished in a few days, is getting the Raiders to play with confidence. Then he can add some design wrinkles with some of his personality.

“You have to have that ability of going out there, knowing your assignment and playing faster,” Pagano said. “It’s not to say that there have been times where we’ve simplified things, but taking the thinking out of the game and making them react is, I think, most important. Going out there and playing fast and that’s doing the little extra things, the attention to details of studying and getting those things processed. See ball, go get ball.”

That last sentence sums up how Pagano wants his guys to play. He’s a quality play caller and creative blitzer with a knack making simple plays look complex. He can find and exploit opposing weak links. His defenses have always been good creating pressure and turnovers alike. The Raiders need more of both.

To do that Pagano wants to relieve a player’s mental burden and keep them focused on using talent well.

“The one thing I’ve always stressed and always been about is technique, fundamentals and unbelievable effort,” Pagano said. “I think those three things can get you home.”

The Raiders haven’t been home much as a defense. They’re tied for last with 14 sacks. They’re dead last with six turnovers. They’ve gone 10 games without an interception, the longest single-season drought in NFL history.

A lack of big defensive plays has killed the Raiders this season. It obviously increases points allowed. Good field position has been hard to come by. The offense has to earn everything the hard way. That’s a recipe for losing football, a maddening turn after the Raiders finished second with 30 takeaways last year.

Pagano has a chart listing “MOPs,” short for missed opportunities. There have been many, especially in a secondary he oversaw before this week.

“I talked to these guys this week about we need to do simple better,” Pagano said. “What is simple? It’s fundamentals of covering. It’s tackling. It’s communicating. It’s catching the ball when it comes. We’ve had opportunities. It’s not like we’re out there struggling and straining to dive and layout for the thing. It’s hit us in the hands where we’ve had many, many opportunities.”

Missed opportunities have also plagued a pass rush featuring reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack. Pagano brought up a moment early in Sunday’s lost to New England, when Treyvon Hester forced a fumble near three teammates that the Patriots somehow recovered.

Pagano’s goal is to improve performance. Players must buy in to do that. Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin headline a large group close to Norton, one with enough pride and professionalism to get behind a new playcaller in Pagano, who could be here long term.

“There is a human element to this,” Pagano said. “We are family. It’s sad any time a member of your family gets dismissed or something. At the end of the day, we have the Broncos coming in here on Sunday and we have to get our minds right to go play this game. That’s something that they’ve done a great job with this week, truly focusing in on what we need to do.”

Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice


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.”