Raiders

How Raiders assistants work overtime to prepare new players to make impact

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USATSI

How Raiders assistants work overtime to prepare new players to make impact

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Raiders used seven linebackers last season. All of them were in camp with the Raiders, and those numbers only altered after a few veteran cuts and a practice squad promotion.

This season has been a different story. The Raiders have used nine thus far, with Preston Brown set to be the position group’s 10th contributor here on Sunday against the New York Jets or, more likely, later this season.

All those additions extend position coach David Lippincott’s days and work nights while devoting significant effort into getting new guys up to speed in a hurry.

Why is he working overtime? The Raiders lost Marquel Lee to the injured reserve. Vontaze Burfict has been suspended for the rest of this season. Brandon Marshall had two stints with the Raiders but never stuck.

The Raiders turned over every rock looking for help, signing rookie Dakota Allen and promoting practice squad players Justin Phillips and Quinton Polling for spells. Veteran Will Compton was added a few weeks before Brown, as the Raiders tried to find functional depth behind Tahir Whitehead and Nicholas Morrow.

None of those new guys worked with the Raiders this offseason, leaving Lippincott to get them ready to contribute during the season while game-planning for the next opponent.

That’s no easy task.

“You definitely try to streamline what you do,” Lippincott said. “And you can’t give it all to them right away. You have them come in a little bit early and meet with them in the morning to figure out what you need to hit in a small period of time. If you overload them, they generally can’t handle it. It’s too much, too fast. Whatever game planning time we have, I have to go meet with the staff and then come back to the new guys. You really have to manage the time well.”

Lippincott and his fellow position coaches have done an excellent job getting new guys to making contributions quickly. Receivers coach Edgar Bennett had to do it several times, especially after the Raiders traded for Zay Jones and Trevor Davis. Secondary coach Jim O’Neill had to get D.J. Swearinger ready to start in a week. Brenston Buckner got Dion Jordan up and active in just a few days.

The results have been overwhelmingly positive to this point.

“That’s a sign of a high effort coaching staff,” head coach Jon Gruden said, “ ... and a group of guys that are willing to give anybody a chance if they deserve it.”

Gruden’s right. Getting new guys ready to play well on the fly takes significant time and effort. Lippincott detailed that process from a linebacker’s perspective in a Thursday interview with NBC Sports Bay Area.

“The first thing we do is find out what they’ve done and how it relates to what we do,” Lippincott said. “You have to establish what you have to teach them and what you can skip over. It could be anywhere from rules of coverage or run fits or fronts. Some people make run similar coverages with different techniques, and those are things we have to address. From there, you have to shore up the run game and the coverages. The blitzes they have to do on their own. It’s more of an individual assignment they need to execute.

“The good thing about defense is that it’s somewhat universal. Guys are going to run a handful of coverages the same way. It helps that, in that instance, we’re just changing terminology.”

The players have to remain committed to an intense process that doesn’t let up after the first week. Coaches teach the basics and specific packages, and then hone on the week’s game plan. The latter will vary based upon the opponent, so new guys are always learning and developing and absorbing things most teammates learned during the offseason program.

Two things make this process a bit easier: Technology and no need for transportation.

Lippincott made teaching tapes for his new linebackers that are downloaded on an iPad that include game-film examples, slides with defensive rules and illustrated breakdowns of a given assignment.

It also helps that most of the new players are staying close by. There’s a hotel close to the Raiders facility where newcomers generally stay, meaning they’re always walking distance of more instruction.

“You give them a little bit, then you let them get away from it and work on their own while I go game plan with the other coaches,” Lippincott said. “After that, they can come back and we’ll have dinner together and attack another concept. After they go home that night, the install for the week is done and they can study that and go over my teaching tapes again.”

After a week’s practice, assistants have to relay what the new player has mastered and what he’s able to do right away. If a player has to replace and injury unexpectedly, and perform without full mastery, Lippincott will relay which plays the new guy is ready for. Swearinger, Compton and Jordan were able to contribute right away in specific packages. Receivers have to know a ton, so Jones sat out a week and Davis didn’t do much his first game.

Brown has had an easier time adjusting than most, but there's still plenty of work to be done. He joined the Raiders following two years with the Bengals, who essentially ran defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s defense in 2018 after he left to join the Raiders. He knows most of the concepts and even some of the terminology but has been attached to Lippincott most of the prep week, learning a scheme he'll apply this week or the next. 

“Coach has been outstanding,” Brown said. “I have been spending a lot of extra time with him trying to get everything down and getting ready to contribute. Any time I can steal to learn is helpful. I know a lot of what we’re doing here, but it’s all the little things, the checks, motions and shifts that I have to get locked down. I know the base plays, but there’s still plenty of work to go this week and after that.”

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Roles will expand with knowledge and competence proven in practice. Not every addition works out, but new players that have panned out kept the Raiders afloat at positions of weakness, especially on a defense beset by serious injuries.

“We’ve had a lot of guys at all three different levels that we had to get and bring in and get ready to play,” Guenther said. “You’ve got safeties, you got [Will] Compton, you got Dion Jordan coming in here. The coaches have done a tremendous job getting these guys ready to play and getting them to understand how we do it. The technique, the footwork, all that stuff. Not just the call and, ‘hey this is where I go,’ but how to do it the right way. The coaches deserve a lot of credit for that.”

Mark Davis opens up as Raiders' second Oakland era dawns, Vegas awaits

Mark Davis opens up as Raiders' second Oakland era dawns, Vegas awaits

Growing up around the franchise his father, the legendary Al Davis, controlled for a half century, Mark Davis is never far from the memories that come when sifting through history. Which has made this year, the Raiders' last in Oakland, so fraught with emotion.

But not for the obvious reason, the team leaving its ancestral home.

Oh, sure, there is regret about how the Raiders' return to Oakland unfolded, the team coming back in 1995, after 13 years in Los Angeles, hoping but failing to regain the football dominance and local devotion that defined it from the mid-1960s through 1980. Part II never reached the heights of Part I, with Super Bowl victories, and the team and community forming a bond so tight that, to many, their 1982 departure was not unlike losing a family member.

That precise feeling has landed upon Davis this year. He is operating beneath a shroud of sorrow not because the team has all but extinguished its playoff hopes or because the last game in the faded, fabled Oakland Coliseum, scheduled for Sunday afternoon, will signal the end an era.

It’s because the Raiders are family to Davis, and many of his family members have left over the past 12 months.

Josh Atkinson, son of former Raider George Atkinson, passed away last December. His service in January was the beginning. In the months since, the Raiders have lost, to name a few, former running back Clem Daniels (March), former linebacker Dan Connors (April), former assistant coach Gunther Cunningham (May), Hall of Fame semifinalist Cliff Branch (August), former linebacker Neiron Ball (September) and Hall of Fame cornerback Willie Brown (October).

George Atkinson III, twin brother of Josh, died Nov. 29, three days before what would have been his 27th birthday.

“I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” Davis said Friday. “To lose Cliff and Willie, so close together ... Willie was one of my mom’s best friends. And Cliff was my best friend. Those were really tough.

“It started with Josh. That was the early bookend. And now George, two weeks ago, is the other bookend. I hope. We still have another three weeks to go.”

Davis copes with the grief, he says, by compartmentalizing everything. There is an NFL team to run, meetings to attend -- such as two days in Dallas earlier this week -– and decisions to make that could affect the lives of thousands of people.

He understands there will be broken hearts, once more, when the team packs up and heads to Las Vegas. He also hopes fans will continue to support the team that in many ways gave Oakland an identity that spread around the globe.

“There’s no question about it,” Davis said. “The Raiders and Oakland grew up together. We were the stepchild of San Francisco. We were just Oakland. And I believe my dad took special pride in that and in building it up.

“The Raiders were born in Oakland, and Oakland will always be part of our DNA. There’s no doubt about that.”

The magic that made the Raiders special beyond the confines of the NFL was built in the 1960s and 1970s, behind stars such as Ken Stabler, Jack Tatum, Gene Upshaw, Lester Hayes, Jim Plunkett, Brown and Branch. They were high-profile, near-mythic figures, none more than Al Davis, the swaggering brash man at the top, taking no prisoners.

Part II in Oakland mostly was a disaster. The finances pleased no one. The team floundered through its worst of times. When Al Davis died in 2011, the Raiders had not had a winning season in eight years.

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Which is why Mark Davis spent six years, beginning shortly after his father’s death, chasing Jon Gruden, whose culture change in 1998 pushed the team to three consecutive postseasons. Gruden finally relented in January 2018, lured back by a 10-year contract worth $100 million.

“We’re in a better place now,” Davis said. “We’ve got stability for the next 10 years.”

As the team goes to Vegas, the memories, good and bad, remain mostly in Oakland. Still, Davis’ fondest recall of Raiders in Oakland, Part II, is rather surprising inasmuch it did not occur in Gruden’s first term as coach or in any of the four playoff seasons over the past 24 years.

No, it came during the unremarkable two years during which Dennis Allen was the coach.

“The most memorable night, to me, was that Thursday night game against the Chiefs,” Davis said of a game played in 2014. “We were 0-10. It was pouring rain. The place was sold out and crazy. The crowd filled it up. We beat them (24-20) and got our first win of the season.

“That night was a reminder of what the Raider Nation is all about, and how they’ve supported the team and, hopefully, will continue to support the team in the future.”

That future will take place in Las Vegas, where $2 billion, 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium, with a retractable dome, reportedly is 75 percent complete and expected to be ready to open before the 2020 season. It will have grass turf on a field that can be slid into and out of the stadium, as is the case with University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals.

This, Davis insists, is the result of failed negotiations to keep the Raiders in Oakland. After numerous attempts over the past decade to strike a deal that would allow the team to remain in place, it reached a point where it became clear to Davis and his fellow NFL owners that the bargaining would not reach a satisfactory conclusion.

[RELATED: Raiders legends will struggle with Coliseum goodbye]

Vegas was waiting. The desert mecca flashed wads of cash and acres of land, and, well, Davis and his group decided to jump.

“The Oakland Raiders were established in 1960,” Davis said. “The Los Angeles Raiders were established in 1982. And the Las Vegas Raiders are being established in 2020. It’s a new era, and we’ve got a new residence.”

Davis said he’s not particularly nostalgic about Part II in Oakland. He went through all of that back in 1982. It’s about business now, and cherishing memories created by years of football but ultimately populated by people within the Raiders family.

Raiders' Tyrell Williams playing through 'significant' plantar fasciitis

Raiders' Tyrell Williams playing through 'significant' plantar fasciitis

ALAMEDA – Tyrell Williams scored four touchdowns in his first four games as a member of the Raiders, with 216 receiving yards to boot. The veteran receiver seemed to be integrating himself well into a new offense, but he was already battling a nasty bout of plantar fasciitis.

The nagging, extremely painful foot ailment struck in Week 2, but he didn’t bow out of the lineup until Week 4. Williams missed two games before coming back into the fray to help a weakened and floundering Raiders receiver corps.

Williams has had some good moments and some pretty bad ones since his return, with lower efficiency than he’s used to. While Williams won’t excuse lackluster play, Raiders coaches have come to his defense when asked about his health.

Williams’ plantar fasciitis is still bugging him. Pretty bad, as a matter of fact, despite him practicing fully on a consistent basis.

“Yeah, it’s been a real challenge,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said Friday. “We’ve had a lot of foot problems around here this year. He’s been dealing with it really since the second week of the season and he missed a few games. He came back and hasn’t really healed. He’s managed it. We try to manage him on the practice field, but give him credit, he’s playing through pain and we thank him for that.”

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It’s something Williams will continue to fight through as the Raiders head toward the end of the season. Rest is the best medicine, and he won’t be able to do that for a few more weeks.

“It’s a pretty significant injury, but he’s battling through it,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “He’s taking medication before every game trying to manage the pain, but certainly every week that’s something he’s had to deal with.”