Raiders

John Pagano forges unique path while staying in the family business

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John Pagano forges unique path while staying in the family business

ALAMEDA – John Pagano was born into the coaching profession. His father Sam was a legendary high school coach in Boulder, Colorado. His older brother Chuck rapidly rose through the NFL ranks and has been Indianapolis Colts head coach since 2012.

John idolized them both, and was determined to follow in their footsteps without riding coattails. He didn’t want favoritism from his family, nor did he get it. John Pagano has forged his own path to this current post as a Raiders assistant head coach and the Silver and Black’s defensive play caller. It’s a long one. John Pagano has been an NFL assistant coach since 1996, though most of those 22 years were spent in one spot.

He coached 15 seasons for the then San Diego Chargers, the tenure’s last third as defensive coordinator. He was let go last offseason after Anthony Lynn was hired, and Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio snatched him up quickly as an assistant head coach on defense.

He absorbed play-calling duties when Ken Norton Jr. got fired. It isn’t expected to be a temporary post. Del Rio said he could envision Pagano sticking around, which will allow him to really make a mark on this defense.

Pagano comes from his family’s coaching tree, but considers Wade Phillips key in shaping his defensive philosophy. Pagano worked under Phillips from 2004-06 in San Diego, and considers that an important time in his growth as a coach.

“I learned a lot from my father and my brother, but the biggest influence is probably Wade Phillips,” Pagano said on this week’s episode of the Raiders Insider Podcast, which focused on Pagano’s coaching influences and philosophy. “Understanding how he talked to the players, the philosophy of how he wanted to teach things and the opportunity he gave me (in San Diego) to grow in the National Football League. I’ve taken a lot from Wade, and what I’ve learned from him is to focus on putting guys in position to make plays. That’s our job. …Ultimately it’s about the players, and 11 guys hunting with unbelievable effort.”

John Pagano wants Raiders defenders playing fast, loose and aggressive. His message: Do simple things right. Don’t overthink. Read and react instead. See ball, get ball.

Leave the complexity to him. Pagano’s defenses should be masters of disguise, giving simple instructions complex looks. Or, in other cases, doing different things from the same look.

The immediate goal, especially since taking over as Raiders defensive play caller last week, is to unburden his guys. He simplified things heading into a victory over Denver to help the Raiders defense play faster.

“I thought they played fast,” Pagano said. “That’s what you’re looking for effort-wise. Doing simple better is a simple process. It’s doing the things back when we were kids, tackling, covering and communicating. We have to keep doing simple better. That’s our motto here these next couple weeks.”

Pagano made some defensive tweaks after taking control following Ken Norton Jr.’s firing. Cornerbacks shadowed preferred matchups. He moved Khalil Mack around the defensive front. He also made it less certain uncertain where the pass rush was coming from.

“You have to be able to disguise, to make things look very similar, whether it’s a coverage or a pressure,” Pagano said. “Our guys are starting to understand it’s about being in certain positions. It’s more than just the ball being snapped. It’s about understanding pre-snap rules and pre-snap alignments. It’s an opportunity for our guys to excel at a higher level.”

Derek Carr has shown mastery of Gruden’s scheme in short time

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Derek Carr has shown mastery of Gruden’s scheme in short time

Jon Gruden’s heaps responsibility on his quarterback. That’s true of most NFL schemes, but the Raiders head coach challenges his signal callers know all the terminology and concepts and adjustments and variables built into most every play.

He tests them constantly, changing defensive looks in practice, forcing quarterbacks to recall details on call in front of team meetings. It’s hard to handle by design.

Few can handle it well. Rich Gannon was one. Derek Carr is another.

The Raiders current franchise quarterback’s comprehension rate and recall under pressure has been welcome, but his insatiable desire for more might impress Gruden most.

“I think he’s one of the best, in terms of processing information,” Gruden said. “I think he craves new things. He wants more… ‘What do we have today? What are we doing today? What’s new? What do we got?’ He has a photographic memory. It comes so easy to him. He’s got the offense mastered more than I do.”

That last part’s hyperbole, but his exaggeration’s meant to make a point. Carr is pushing hard to get Gruden’s scheme down cold and apply its rules like his coach would.

Carr’s mastery is evident in practice, where he seems in complete control of the first unit. That has combined with his arm strength, quick release and accuracy that gives many confidence Carr will thrive this regular season and beyond working with Gruden. It might not have come quite so easy.

“There’s a lot of hard work for sure, a lot of hours spent trying to master it,” Carr said. “You think like he thinks, which has been fun and interesting for me to learn.

“In order to do that, the time you have to put in is a lot. It’s a lot. And both of us worked really hard on getting on the same page. I think we’re always going to continue to grow together and think about things differently and then figure it out. The main thing is when we hit the field, that’s us, that’s what he and I are putting on the field, the product at the same time. We didn’t want it to look like we’ve only been together for a short period of time. We wanted it to look like these guys have been around each other, it seems, like forever.”

Carr and Gruden have come a long way in a relatively short time. Learning a system like this takes time and includes several stages, starting with root concepts and terminology. The quarterback said the early days were spent cramming for a test, memorizing a ton early on. Gruden is constantly teaching new things, but continues to review and repeat to help quarterbacks learn.

“He does a great job, his teaching, progression for quarterbacks, the system, every single day he’ll hit on the new things but he’ll always remind you of what we did the past couple days,” Carr said. “So, you’re hitting it about seven to eight times before you really move on, to where it really becomes repetition and you become used to it.

“It has been a lot of work to get to the point to where it’s not just, ‘yeah, I memorized something on a paper.’ Well, I have to memorized every detail of it, and then know it inside and out and still know the defense inside and out and how do we beat it, how do we get to certain things? Initially, it was just, ‘what can I remember?’ As you continue to reference it and go back over it, it just becomes who we are.”

Raiders camp report: Jon Gruden's 'white tiger' returns to practice

Raiders camp report: Jon Gruden's 'white tiger' returns to practice

NAPA – The Raiders got Martavis Bryant back to practice Wednesday after two days away dealing with headaches. The explosive receiver primarily worked with the third unit during team drills as he continues to mesh with Jon Gruden’s system.

The Raiders head coach prefers his receivers learn every position and route in the tree, something that comes with steady reps and scheme study. Gruden also likes his players available and grinding with teammates through the dregs of training camp.

Bryant missed practice with illness last week and two straight sessions to start this one while reportedly dealing with migraines. Those headaches can be debilitating for sure.

Gruden wants his players working out as much as possible, and had a funny way of expressing the point.

“We’re calling Martavis the white tiger,” Gruden said. “I used to go to Busch Gardens in Tampa. We call (receiver Joey) Galloway the white tiger in Tampa. You go to Busch Gardens and they’ve got a white tiger. You go 12 times or 13 times, the white tiger was always in his cage. But the white tiger came out today. Bryant came out.

“I don’t know if you get that analogy, but sometimes he comes out to play and sometimes he doesn’t. It’s good to see him because he’s really special, like the white tiger. It’s late in the day here.”

Three things: 1. Gruden can be pretty funny. 2. He wants Bryant participating more. 3. He knows Bryant is a special talent.

While the draft day acquisition hasn’t wowed in training camp, expect him to having a prominent role in the Raiders offense. His speed is invaluable, and big-play ability rare. Bryant hasn’t spoken to the media since he was traded from Pittsburgh for a third-round pick, but said then he wants to be known as a complete receiver. There’s plenty of time to prove he’s capable of that. Quarterback Derek Carr said there’s a sense of urgency to his preparation, and receivers coach Edgar Bennett is well known as a solid teacher, who can help Bryant along the way. ,

Gruden on Penn trying right tackle

Donald Penn is trying a new position, working at right tackle in two practices since coming off the physically unable to perform list. It’s an experiment at this stage, to see if Penn can move across the line. It also keeps first-round rookie Kolton Miller working on the left, but the Raiders are still tinkering with offensive line arrangement as the preseason wears along.

“We haven’t settled on any starting lineups yet,” Gruden said. “We really didn’t want to disrupt Kolton’s status right now without being sure where Donald exactly was physically. This is an opportunity to get Penn back on the field with us. Not only to test the ankle, test his conditioning, but to get his timing down and get back in the channel of our offense. Then we’ll address this later next week.”

Battle in the slot

Receiver Griff Whalen has been working with the first-unit offense since Friday’s exhibition against Detroit, manning the slot of Ryan Switzer. He’s also heavily involved in return duties, which will be key deciding roster spots on the back end of the receiver depth chart.

“Well it’s very competitive situation,” Gruden said. “(Whalen and Switzer are) neck-and-neck. As you said, special teams will have a big part of that, but also shear production. You have to be able to go in there and make plays. You have to be able to go in there and block linebackers sometimes and big safeties. You have to know a lot of assignments because Derek [Carr] is going to change the play at the last second. It’s neck and neck with those guys.”

Seth Roberts returned to action on Wednesday, and Gruden maintains he’s in the mix working inside as well.

Injury update

Cornerback Daryl Worley returned to work after a Monday collision with Rashaan Melvin, but was limited to individual drills. Seth Roberts and Bryant also returned to practice.

Gruden said didn’t have an update on Obi Melifonwu’s continued absence with a lower body injury – he reportedly saw a specialist on Wednesday – but said an update could come next week when the team returns to Alameda.

Marcus Gilchrist, Breno Giacomini remain out of work. Jon Feliciano joined them after leaving Tuesday’s practice early. Jared Cook was given a veteran rest day.

Eddy Pineiro left practice early on Wednesday for an unknown reason and did not return. Mike Nugent kicked during this practice, which included several hurried (by design) field goal attempts.

This ‘n that

The Raiders claimed defensive tackle Gabe Wright off waivers from Miami. He was released after getting into an altercation with a teammate. He came after Kenyon Drake during practice while the Miami running back wasn’t wearing a helmet. Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin was placed on injured reserve in a corresponding move. … WR Keon Hatcher made an excellent catch, reaching up to grab a deep pass from Connor Cook with Shareece Wright draped all over him. …Gareon Conley had excellent coverage to break up a pass intended for Maratvis Bryant, proving a recent hip injury hasn’t impacted the cornerback’s speed. …Quarterback EJ Manuel has struggled mightily with the quarterback-center exchange. He lost a fumbled snap in last week’s game against Detroit, and has done so several times in camp. He had one Wednesday, right after being inserted with the second team over Cook. … The Raiders conducted a lighter practice without pads, one that remained intense in temp and rep count.