Mark Davis addresses Reggie McKenzie's 'different role' with Jon Gruden aboard


Mark Davis addresses Reggie McKenzie's 'different role' with Jon Gruden aboard

ORLANDO, Fla. – Mark Davis set up a linear power structure on the football side of the Raiders organization after Al Davis died. General manager Reggie McKenzie was on top, with a head coach below him.

McKenzie had final say on roster construction, period. If McKenzie wanted a guy, he got him. He was in charge of the salary cap, and handed a head coach a 53-man roster to handle.

That was the case with Dennis Allen. That was the case with Jack Del Rio, though McKenzie’s second head coach had some say in personnel decisions.

Jon Gruden’s arrival has changed things up. McKenzie’s no longer the authority on all things football.

Gruden has influence, maybe even the final say on player acquisition. That was clear when he received at 10-year, $100 million contract to lead the Silver and Black a second time.

That was evident over the last week, when the Raiders signed one free agent after another to fit new offensive and defensive schemes. Gruden got his guys.

Davis said that McKenzie’s role has changed somewhat since Gruden came aboard, one of many topics discussed during an 30-minute interview at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla.

“They have roles to play. At this point in time, the role Reggie plays now is a little different than the role he played with Jack (Del Rio), a little different than his role working with Dennis (Allen),” Davis said. “It evolves. He has built the team to where we are now, and we’re in pretty good shape with the cap and everything else. Now he has a head coach who’s going to be running this thing for the next 10 years. His vision is going to be most important building what type of team we’ve got. That vision, and that direction is going to be helpful to Reggie more so than not. I think they’ll work together very well.”

Davis envisions McKenzie and Gruden working well together. That was his hope when Gruden got hired in January, and that remains the case despite questions about how head coach and general manger would share influence on football decisions.

“Jon’s the head coach and he’s going to be here a while, so it’s important that he gets the players he wants and builds a team he wants to build,” Davis said. “Reggie is there with his staff to find the players, and also to keep the (salary) cap and everything else in order.”

Davis has always been honest about what he doesn’t know. He never wanted to take his late father Al’s role on the football side. He wanted to hire experts to make those choices. He has the guys he wants in place – Davis was influential in Del Rio’s hiring, and eventually landed his white whale in Gruden – and has given them power to do what they think is right.

“I’m done with the football side,” Davis said. “I got Reggie in place early. That was huge. But it was a six-year process to get Jon to be the head coach. I wanted him way back then, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I continually kept after Jon to see if he was interested. If he decided to come back, I hoped it would be with the Raiders. This year, he finally came on board.

That allows me to see a long-term process working out on the football side. Jon will be our coach for the next 10 years, or until he gets tired of me (laughing). With him and Reggie on the football side of the building, and (director of football administration) Tom Delaney of course, they really do a great job. From the football side, I play devil’s advocate on certain things, but those guys make the decisions.”

Davis finally has his people in place, and the stability he craved after taking over as controlling owner of the franchise.

“It has been six years since my dad passed,” Davis said. “Looking at the position we’re in to where we are today, I couldn’t be prouder of the people in this organization. To see them come into their own and take the bull by the horns on the business side, it’s really something.”

Raiders OTA primer: Five questions entering important offseason phase

Raiders OTA primer: Five questions entering important offseason phase

The Raiders are progressing right through the offseason program, which starts its third and final phase on Tuesday when organized team activities formally begin. The first phase is all about conditioning and meetings. The second allows on-field workouts, without helmets or offense vs. defense work.

They can put it all together over the next four weeks. Well, almost. Players can put helmets on at least, but there’s no live contact over the course of 10 OTA practices and a mandatory minicamp in mid-June.

Units can go against each other these days, a vital part of learning/mastering Raiders schemes. And the competition for roster spots formally starts Monday. Nothing will be decided for months, but players can make an early impression on an organization looking for improved production in most spots. The 2019 Raiders really start coming together now.

Here are some key questions to keep an eye on throughout OTAs and minicamp:

Will veteran LBs flash old form?

Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall know how to run a defensive front seven. Both guys have done so for the Bengals and Broncos, respectively, for several years. Injuries (and maybe age) have pushed them out of old markets and toward the Silver and Black, where they’re looking to restart careers representing new colors.

Recent past creates question marks about whether they can find old form and be three-down mainstays for a Raiders defense needing stability inside. Burfict’s intimate knowledge of Paul Guenther’s scheme while working with him Cincinnati should help tremendously. So should Burfict’s aggressive play inside.

Marshall’s a cerebral sort and a sure tackler capable of playing any linebacker spot.

Those guys could help a great deal. Keyword: could. Don’t forget the optimism surrounding Derrick Johnson last offseason, when spring promises of upgraded play were never met.

Marshall and Burfict will start fitting into this Raiders' defense during OTAs, and we’ll see how much spring remains in veteran steps. Both guys are working on one-year contracts but hope to remain for a longer term. They’ll have to prove themselves deserving in 2019 to stick around.

How will TE shakeup shake out?

The Raiders have mixed up their tight end position group this offseason, letting Jared Cook walk in free agency before cutting Lee Smith recently.

Darren Waller’s set for a big receiving role that he’ll have to earn in OTAs and training camp. He has all the speed and athleticism needed for success, but he must be reliable in the pattern to get targets in the passing game.

Fourth-round pick Foster Moreau will compete for a role, alongside Luke Willson and Derek Carrier. The group will look different, and those guys must step up and fill an important blocking role in the run game, especially. Competition for snaps should be fierce in that group. OTAs will give some a leg up heading into training camp.

Chemistry class in session?

Quarterback Derek Carr worked extensively with new receivers Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams at universities and even public parks trying to establish an early rapport with his new receivers. The offseason program has afforded regular opportunities to do so with them and other newbies Ryan Grant and J.J. Nelson and even fifth-round draft pick Hunter Renfrow.

Thus far, they’ve only worked against air. Adding coverage and defensive resistance will be a solid litmus test to see if the timing is in fact right. There’s no real worry even if not, considering how much time remains to get it right.

Will three first-rounders make a good OTA impression?

The Raiders used three first-round picks on guys who need pads to truly be evaluated. That’s especially true for defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell (No. 4 overall) and running back Josh Jacobs (No. 24), who won’t really be able to thump until training camp.

Athleticism and burst and elusiveness could be seen clearly in OTAs, where these guys could jump right into top units. Safety Johnathan Abram will be asked to cover and do a bit of everything, but he might be brought along initially behind Karl Joseph at strong safety. That doesn’t mean the hierarchy will remain, but it could ease Abram’s initial transition.

The Raiders are counting on all three first-rounders to make an immediate impact, and they’d like to hit the ground running and show positive flashes while learning the scheme.

[RELATED: AB posts cryptic tweet after Big Ben apology]

Who jumps out in cornerback rotation?

Gareon Conley seems set to start at one outside cornerback spot. Daryl Worley’s favored to start on the opposite end, with safety Lamarcus Joyner sliding into the slot when required. Veteran Nevin Lawson will have something to say about that. And the Raiders didn’t draft Trayon Mullen at No. 40 overall to sit around and play fourth fiddle.

Expect some competition from that position group during OTAs and beyond, as we find out who can excel playing the physical coverage style Guenther requires. Rashaan Melvin never figured it out, and had a rough 2018. There’s enough talent here that a slow start could hurt fighting for regular-season snaps, as we see how a premium position group fares against a loaded receiver corps that will start testing coverage ability immediately.

Antonio Brown posts cryptic tweet after Ben Roethlisberger apology

Antonio Brown posts cryptic tweet after Ben Roethlisberger apology

Sometimes you have to accept an apology you never received. That could have been Antonio Brown's mentality following a hindered relationship between him and his former quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. 

That may not be true, but if it was -- he has nothing to worry about now following Big Ben's recent, public apology.

The Steelers' signal caller talked it all out with Bob Pompeani of KDKA in Pittsburgh. It appeared he accepted full responsibility for his part in the broken relationship with his former wide receiver. Roethlisberger admitted he feels bad for the criticism he made of Brown when he claimed the wide receiver didn't read the coverage accurately during a game-ending turnover against the Broncos:

Brown appeared to have a reaction to Roethlisberger's comments:

And while we cannot confirm this tweet is 100 percent geared toward the situation, we do know that AB's relationship with Big Ben and the Steelers deteriorated around the same time erratic behavior ensued. This included skipping team meetings the last week of the season and not playing in a crucial  Week 17 game. Brown was soon thereafter traded to the Raiders for two NFL draft picks. 

[RELATED: Steelers use AB trade pick on wide receiver]

The apology from the six-time Pro Bowl quarterback appears to be genuine, but this "sorry," could be too little too late.