Ken Norton Jr

Irvin opens up on anger from Norton Jr's firing: 'He has changed my life'

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AP

Irvin opens up on anger from Norton Jr's firing: 'He has changed my life'

ALAMEDA – Bruce Irvin was upset the Raiders fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. The prolific edge rusher made that clear shortly after the Norton news broke, with a tweet that contained one word, written in all caps.

"BULLSHIT."

Irvin’s reaction was no shock. Irvin and Norton Jr. are extremely close, dating back to their days in Seattle. Irvin was a 2012 first-round pick and Norton his position coach, someone who taught him how to be a complete linebacker and stay away from off-field issues that plagued him so.

Irvin signed a four-year deal with the Raiders in 2016, in large part, to reunite with his old friend and mentor. Norton joined head coach Jack Del Rio’s original staff back in 2015, and was let go following a Week 11 blowout loss to New England in Mexico City.

Seeing Norton sacrificed for team-wide defensive failures was a difficult thing for many, Irvin the most.

“Ken Norton’s like a father to me. He has changed my life in so many ways, not only on the field but off the field,” Irvin said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area’s Fallon Smith, on this week’s episode of Raiders Central. “It was a tough situation. I basically came to Oakland for him, and he was let go. But I do believe it’s a production business and, and we weren’t getting it done. He knew that, and understands the business part of it. If you don’t produce, you won’t have a job long.”

Understanding the situation didn’t numb the sting. Never shy about expressing himself, Irvin made his feelings public.

“The tweet was just me,” Irvin said. “I’m a very outspoken person, anyway. I’m going to say what I want to say when I want to say it. I was mad at the moment, but I talked to Jack and he understood. He didn’t hold anything against me. He just gave me a few days, and it blew over.”

Anger subsided. Some guilt remains.

Norton was extremely popular in the locker room. While there was some sentiment there that he became a fall guy, defensive players believe they could’ve done more to keep Norton’s job.

“Definitely. Guys like me, Reggie and Khalil, we definitely felt like it was on us that we had lost our guy,” Irvin said. “It is what it is. We all understand the business part of it. We didn’t produce and it cost him his job. We have to keep fighting and keep playing. That’s what he’d want us to do.”

Del Rio hoped to create a spark by letting Norton go. That has happened. The defense has eight sacks and three turnovers in consecutive wins under new defensive play caller John Pagano. Irvin in particular has been strong. He has 10 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles in that span.

The team's defensive efforts against lackluster quarterbacks Paxton Lynch (Denver) and Geno Smith (New York Giants) should be graded on a curve, but it’s a positive step nonetheless for a Raiders team now tied atop the AFC West.

Irvin was asked if Pagano’s influence or improved execution has produced better play.

“It’s a little bit of both,” he said. “Guys saw the Norton situation, and that kind of got guys fired up, I would say, and more focused. Once again, I think guys are looking at that situation and thinking, ‘Man, we can get fired, too.’ It’s not only coaches. It falls on the players, too. It was a wake-up call for us, and guys really started to hone in and get in their books. We’re practicing better, and it’s starting to translate on Sundays now.”

While Irvin believes Norton should still be employed here, he has been impressed by Pagano in his expanded role.

“He has done a great job,” Irvin said. “He’s a guy who knows football. He was in San Diego for 15 years. He has done a great job of letting me and Mack just go. That’s what we’re good at, just going for it. These past few weeks he has done a great job dialing up blitzes and sending us, knowing his personnel and what guys are good at and letting them do what they’re good at.”

Raiders notes: Did Mack, Irvin protest the firing of Norton Jr.?

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AP

Raiders notes: Did Mack, Irvin protest the firing of Norton Jr.?

ALAMEDA – Edge rushers Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack were given a rest day on Wednesday, which raised a few eyebrows.

Mack hadn’t missed practice in months. Irvin hadn’t been sidelined since the start of training camp. Both guys stretched and then left the field during individual drills a day after defensive coordinator Ken Norton was fired. Mack and Irvin were extremely loyal to Norton. An easy parallel could be drawn between the firing and Mack and Irvin’s rare, non-injury related missed practice.

Head coach Jack Del Rio said Friday there was no connection.

“Not even in the slightest really,” Del Rio said. “…We’re in good shape. The guys understand. It wasn’t anything personal.”

Del Rio insisted the rest was designed and scheduled.

“It’s something we do. It’s kind of a ‘Woodson Wednesday,’” Del Rio said. “We did it a lot with Charles toward the end of his career. We’ve had good success with guys that have taken a heavy load, being smart with them on that Wednesday. So, it’s just a rest day.”

Irvin and Mack have declined to comment on Norton’s firing and the missed Wednesday practice.

Johnny Holton concussion watch: Raiders receiver Johnny Holton is in the NFL’s concussion protocol, though he should be cleared out of it before Sunday’s clash against the Denver Broncos.

He ended up there in a roundabout way. The Raiders announced he was being evaluated for a concussion early in a 33-8 loss to New England, but returned later in the first half.

Then he missed Wednesday’s practice with concussion-like symptoms. That raised a red flag. Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio explained the sequence of events in greater detail on Friday.

“I’m at the mercy of those that are the experts in that field. He got a scratch on his eye. That was what occurred there (against New England),” Del Rio said. “(He) came in this week and had some symptoms, so we put him into the protocol and he went through the protocol. I believe he’s in the final steps now of clearing. We’ll get that final clearance he’ll play. If we don’t, he’ll be down.

“That’s a question mark going in that hasn’t yet been fully resolved, but since he came in and had the symptoms he had, those have gone away and everything else is checking out. We anticipate having him.”

Horton is formally considered questionable on the team’s official injury report. As a note, all head injuries are evaluated and diagnosed by independent medical personnel not directly affiliated with the team.

Amerson out again: Cornerback David Amerson will miss a fourth straight game with a foot injury that has kept him from practicing the last few weeks.

It just can’t get right, leaving the Raiders with the same beleaguered cornerback corps from recent weeks, with Sean Smith and TJ Carrie expected to play significant snaps. Dexter McDonald remains in a mix joined by career safety Obi Melifonwu, who played cornerback Sunday against New England.

"There can be injuries, there can be anything,” new defensive play caller John Pagano said. “He’s got to take advantage of next time when he’s called upon in those certain roles to be able to go out there and do the things that we need to do. there’s always going to be growing pains with young players. He’s got to grow up real quick and understand that we cannot let the ball go over our heads on those deep balls.”

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

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USATSI

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.”