Raiders' OL, edge rushers constructively helping each other


Raiders' OL, edge rushers constructively helping each other

NAPA – Khalil Mack is unblockable.

That’s not meant to be true, a hyperbolic claim bandied about to illustrate the Raiders edge rusher’s elite talent.

Mack proved it more literal than figurative during a training camp practice last week. He dipped down, squeaked by tackle Donald Penn in a flash and blew up that particular play.

Offensive line coach Mike Tice watched it unfold, analyzed the events and couldn’t think of a counter.

“The other day (Mack) bent down (extremely) close to the ground, went right around Donald and got a simulated sack,” he said. “We turned on the film that night and I said, ‘Donald, I don’t have anything.’ What am I going say? Bend all the way down there with him? It was unbelievable.”

Penn got beat that play. It doesn’t happen much. There’s good give and take between Penn, right tackle Menelik Watson and rushers coming off the edge. Mack and Bruce Irvin are regular sparring partners, and they make every snap a difficult endeavor.

“Those guys are real pros,” Tice said. “The communication between them and our tackles, especially Donald and Menelik, has been great. I enjoy seeing that. And simply going against (Mack), who is an elite player, and (Irvin), who is a really good player, will do nothing but help my guys. They are reaching out and embracing it. They know they’re going to get beat sometimes.

“We like working with those guys. It makes us better.”

While competition can run hot in the moment, opposing sides set up post-play review sessions to help the other side improve.

“What I like about it is it’s not just a competition,” Watson said. “We’re working on things together and we’re communicating. We let the other person know what we’re seeing and how to combat it. It’s not crap talk. It’s always constructive.”

Both sides understand the Raiders must block well and pressure the quarterback to be successful. Weapons are forged at the Napa Valley Marriott during these intense practice sessions. The sides often keep score, and it turns out pretty even.

Mack and Irvin rank among the best edge-rushing combos, while Penn is on a two-year hot streak. Watson’s an athletic freak purely capable when healthy, as he has been this camp.

The Raiders proved excellent pass protectors last season, with quarterback Derek Carr rarely getting grass stains. Mack was a force off the edge last year, and Irvin’s addition should strengthen that defensive attack.

The principal players don’t conceal trade secrets. They compare notes and show the other side how to win. Showing that many cards isn’t normal. Helping the other side could hurt their practice tape but help when it matters most.

“It’s very helpful having a guy like Donald Penn and a guy like Menelik Watson on that side of the ball because they let you know what you beat them with and we let them know what they got us with,” Mack said. “It’s kind of one of those things that, especially with having the experience that I’ve had and Bruce had and D.P., 11 years, almost. He knows what we did to beat him, so having that information it only helps us to use it against other guys.”

Five potential Reggie McKenzie replacements with Jon Gruden ties


Five potential Reggie McKenzie replacements with Jon Gruden ties

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders have a vacancy in their personnel department. General manager Reggie McKenzie was let go Monday, though his replacement won’t share the same title.

The Raiders issued a statement saying they’d search for a “new front office executive” starting immediately, a search that coach Jon Gruden says owner Mark Davis will conduct.

Gruden said he wasn’t sure if he’d be involved in the interview process, but he’s expected to have influence in this important hire.

Gruden wants someone McKenzie-esque to fill that role.

“(We’re looking for) similar qualities,” Gruden said. “We’d like a guy who works hard and loves football and this organization, who will scratch and claw and fight with the rest of us. It all starts there, in addition to the expertise in personnel. Great leadership skills, a great number of things go into this job. It’s a tough position in this league.”

Gruden said Davis will compile a list, and the two will discuss those options later this week.

[RELATED: Why Gruden-McKenzie pairing was doomed to fail]

It’s too early in the process to have a solid grasp on the leading candidates, but a few names from Gruden’s past (and present) could be options for the Raiders. A few new ones could emerge in time, but let’s look at a few Gruden connections who might fit well here with the Silver and Black.

Mark Dominik

NFL Network mentioned Dominik’s name as a possible front office addition. He was Tampa Bay’s director of pro personnel when Gruden was coaching the Buccaneers, and Dominik became GM after Gruden was fired following the 2008 season.

Dominik has the personnel chops to lead a scouting department, though he has been out of the NFL in recent years doing media work.

Bruce Allen

Allen and Gruden worked together in Oakland and Tampa Bay, and a third partnership could help get the Raiders organized and execute Gruden’s vision for the team.

Allen is adept at working with the salary cap, and he potentially could figure out how to get Gruden’s guys in the building. One major question: Will he have enough personnel clout to fight back against Gruden while making important decisions? That’s a quality that would help the organization make the right calls.

It seems uncertain -- maybe unlikely -- that their pairing would come together for a third time.

Louis Riddick

The highly respected ESPN analyst has been a top candidate for front-office jobs before, and he has an extensive résumé in personnel and scouting. Riddick and Gruden were simultaneously employed by the national sports network, and Riddick played for Gruden with the Raiders in 1998.

Riddick is a younger influence who could grow within the job and work his way to a GM post with full control at some point down the line.

Michael Lombardi

Lombardi has become a popular football analyst in recent seasons, but he worked with Gruden and Al Davis as a personnel executive starting in 1998. He also worked with Bill Belichick in New England, while the Patriots were winning Super Bowls.

He has plenty of experience and has worked with Gruden. Will that make a match back in Alameda?

Shaun Herock

Gruden had some nice things to say about the Raiders' director of college scouting. He’ll act as interim GM during this executive search and play an integral role in guiding the Raiders through the 2019 draft.

Jon Gruden hints Raiders owner Mark Davis decided to fire Reggie McKenzie

Jon Gruden hints Raiders owner Mark Davis decided to fire Reggie McKenzie

ALAMEDA -- Raiders coach Jon Gruden beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, decompressed some with his team and headed home following a job well done.

Owner Mark Davis had a different itinerary.

He met with Reggie McKenzie and told the general manager his time was up. He could finish the season or walk away right now. McKenzie chose the latter.

Gruden said Monday he didn't know what would transpire in that meeting.

“We won a game last night, and I went home,” Gruden said in his weekly press conference. “Obviously, there was a meeting last night, and obviously, changes have been made. I respect everything that this organization is about. I can’t exactly answer why this change was made last night, but changes were made. We have to continue to fight, and build this team back. That’s what we’re going to do.”

When asked directly whether firing McKenzie was a Davis decision, Gruden inferred that it was.

“We all work for the same man,” Gruden said.

Gruden said he wasn’t sure if he'd be involved in the interview process, though sources have said the head coach/Raiders football czar will have a say in the hiring. It's believed the hire will be someone Gruden knows well and trusts.

[RELATED: Hard to believe Gruden knew nothing of GM's firing]

While he said he didn’t know exactly what was going down with McKenzie, Gruden wasn’t surprised by the move.

The Raiders will hire a new personnel executive, though that person won’t necessarily be given the GM title. Gruden was set to meet with scouts Monday afternoon, and he said he’ll continue to show confidence in those on staff as the Raiders head into the offseason and ever closer to a pivotal NFL draft armed with three first-round draft picks.

Director of player personnel Joey Clinkscales remains employed at this time. Gruden said director of college scouting Shaun Herock will play a pivotal role over the next few months.

“He’s a talented personnel man with a lot of Raiders history,” Gruden said. “He’s our college scouting director, and we have a lot of good scouts. We have a lot of picks in this draft, so his leadership will be important. I expect him to be a big part of the organization moving forward.”