Paul Guenther sees Raiders' defense progress after hardest coaching year


Paul Guenther sees Raiders' defense progress after hardest coaching year

Paul Guenther watched his first Raiders defense fall apart before him.

Key veterans disappeared in what felt like a Thanos snap, disintegrating before the defensive coordinator had a real chance to deploy them.

Khalil Mack was a ghost, never once working with Guenther before he was traded to Chicago. Justin Ellis got hurt. Then Derrick Johnson left and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie retired. Bruce Irvin grew pouty and eventually cut with no takers at the trade deadline.

The Raiders' defensive coordinator was left with a skeleton crew that wasn’t intimidating a full strength and, if we can extend the Avengers analogy one step farther, couldn’t sneak through the Quantum Realm to make it all right again.

He had to weather an awful season where all the struggles, all the points allowed made 2018 “by far my hardest year in coaching."

The Raiders gave up nearly 30 points per game and a shocking 6.3 yards per play, both NFL lows. They had just 13 sacks, a full 17 lower than the next team and one of smallest totals in league history over 16 games.

Guenther was certainly frustrated by such lack of production from the same playbook that worked so well in Cincinnati. He wasn’t used to this, and said so several times late in the season.

It wasn’t a line. The Bengals were consistently good under his coordination. And here’s a hard truth for any play-caller: A coach can only do so much. Talent and depth are required for success. The Raiders didn’t have enough of either, and that’s not Guenther’s fault.

These struggles were new and at times maddening, but defenders take their cues from their coach. Frustrations had to be kept at bay, with Guenther’s eyes only on tasks at hand and making the most of each opportunity.

“Ultimate professional. That’s just the way I would describe him,” linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. “He came in, you could never really tell that it was hard for him. He just kept at it, kept coaching, kept making sure that we were prepared in every way, shape or form and just kept giving it his all. We never wavered, just kept showing up every day even though the results weren’t what we wanted. We still showed up every day and gave it our all.”

That’s proof Guenther found a proper mindset, one set in the present while using the experience to learn and grow and improve down the line.

“Going through a year like that and understanding, 'hey, this is what it was like, only helped me as a coach,'” he said. “It’s something that you don’t always want to go through, having a rough year like we did, but obviously you start to learn how to build these things. How to build your lineup card and what it should look like and how you envisioned it. That was the positive for me.

“I always tell the players, if you don’t learn from failure, you’re making a mistake. You have to learn from what we did good and what we did bad and build off of that in the future.”

Guenther took the offseason to decompress, recalibrate and add some new wrinkles to his defense. He got trusted field general Vontaze Burfict to help run the show, with an improved secondary, linebacker depth and more young pass rushers off the edge.

“I just felt like the kind of players we were looking for, we’ve added a lot of those guys throughout the draft and free agency,” Guenther said. “We got guys that kind of fit what we’re doing. Right now in the NFL everyone [is saying,] ‘Oh, we’re going to surprise everybody.’ And all these great predictions. Right now everybody feels great about their team. I’m just trying to get them better every day.”

The Raiders defense has more talent than a year ago, with no signs of attrition or controversy to disrupt this year’s work. Guenther’s unit should be better in 2019, with a full understanding that more defensive upgrades and in-house player development are required to reach lofty standards and ultimate goals.

Last year was hard on every defender, but there’s optimism that progress has been made and better is on the immediate horizon.

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“It was a tough season, obviously,” defensive tackle Maurice Hurst said. “We had a lot of bodies coming in and out of our locker room and it can be extremely tough to put in new defenses and get guys that come in and have to play after sitting on a couch, or whatever. You don’t grow chemistry, you don’t trust one another, so there wasn’t that trust factor that we are starting to develop. We got some great leaders, guys that have played in Super Bowls, guys that have been on winning teams and winning defenses.

"So, I think you just put that all together, and their standard, and make it our own, it’s going to be something special.”

Why versatile rookie Lynn Bowden could be Raiders’ secret weapon

Why versatile rookie Lynn Bowden could be Raiders’ secret weapon

Word of warning to anyone wondering how the Raiders are preparing to utilize rookie Lynn Bowden this season: Don’t bother asking him. He isn’t at liberty to say.

“I’m really not permitted to speak about that right now,” Bowden said while taking a break from the Raiders virtual OTA’s.

The mum’s the word response wasn’t relayed out of anger or deceit. The outgoing Bowden can’t wait to get on the field in his first NFL season and is beyond excited to help the Raiders anyway he can. He’s open and frank about all that and doesn’t mind expressing it one bit.

Read more on Las Vegas Review-Journal

Trayvon Mullen has Drew Brees, Saints on bulletin board after comments

Trayvon Mullen has Drew Brees, Saints on bulletin board after comments

The New Orleans Saints' visit to Las Vegas on September 21 already was set to be a marquee game in the NFL with the Raiders set to debut Allegiant Stadium for the first time on "Monday Night Football."

The matchup with Drew Brees got another layer Wednesday after the Saints quarterback said he still saw players who kneel during the national anthem to protest police violence as "disrespecting the flag." Brees' comments came while millions of citizens across the country protest police brutality in the wake of George Floyd's death in police custody. Brees posted a photo on Instagram supporting the Black Lives Matter movement Tuesday and then promptly showed he still didn't understand why former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee during the national anthem back in 2016.

As Brees' comments circulated, Raiders cornerback Trayvon Mullen made it known he's looking forward to facing Brees now more than ever with offensive tackle Trent Brown echoing the feeling.

Brees offered an apology for his "insensitive" comments Thursday saying he "missed the mark." While some have accepted Brees' apology, many around the NFL and sports world saw it as an apology for being dragged mercilessly on Twitter and television and not for his actual statement.

The conversation around Kaepernick's protest and taking a knee during the anthem has been reignited after Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, died in police custody after Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. A video showed Floyd telling Chauvin and three other officers who were watching that he couldn't breathe and asking for Chauvin to let up. It was later announced Floyd had died in police custody. Chauvin was arrested and has been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree muder and second-degree manslaughter. The three other officers were arrested Wednesday and have been charged with aiding and abetting in both cases.

Kaepernick started taking a knee during the national anthem in 2016 as a way to protest police brutality and systemic racism. He chose to take a knee in protest after a discussion with Nate Boyer, a former Green Beret, because he wanted to make sure he was protesting in a respectful manner. Kaepernick has not played in the NFL since 2016.

Citizens have marched in protests in cities across American since Floyd's death, looking to put an end to police brutality and systemic racism. A number of NFL players have spoken out since Floyd's death, with Raiders quarterback Derek Carr vowing to no longer stick to sports as he tries to unite people.

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Brees' comments drew warranted criticism from across the sports world, with fans, peers and teammates all chiming in to tell Brees how wrong he was on the issue of kneeling in protest during the national anthem.

The Raiders need to get off to a fast start in order to breathe life into a push for the playoffs. Brees has owned the Raiders in his career, but the Silver and Black added a lot of talent to a defense that ranked 31st in DVOA last year. A defense that will be led by a rising star corner in Mullen, who has this game circled.

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