Raiders

Raiders will face a familiar foe calling plays for Broncos

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USATI

Raiders will face a familiar foe calling plays for Broncos

ALAMEDA – The Denver Broncos shook up their coaching staff prior to Sunday’s game with the Raiders, firing offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and promoting quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave to that spot.

The name should sound familiar to anyone who doesn’t suffer Dory-style short-term memory loss. Musgrave was the Raiders offensive coordinator in 2015 and 2016 and introduced a system still used in these parts, to far greater effect.

Musgrave orchestrated the No. 6-ranked offense last year, with 120 rushing yards and 253 passing yards per game. They were seventh with 26 points per game.

Head coach Jack Del Rio still decided to let Musgrave’s contract expire. The two didn’t always agree, and the Raiders chose to keep the coveted Downing in house with a promotion.

The offense has not maintained previous course.

All those numbers are down under new coordinator Todd Downing, largely operating with the same talent base plus receiving tight end Jared Cook.

They’re averaging 50 less yards and 5.5 fewer points, thus far.

Del Rio was asked on his 95.7-FM radio show whether he regretting making the switch. His answer was swift and direct.

“No, I do not,” Del Rio said. “And I wish (Musgrave) the best this week. Really, I do.”

Del Rio doesn’t wish him too well heading into an important matchup at Oakland Coliseum. The Broncos offense has struggled mightily this season, and will go with 2016 first-round pick Paton Lynch for the first time this season.

Del Rio insists the Raiders are going up against the system, not the new (yet familiar) play caller.

“You can’t change dramatically what you’ve done with your system in Week 12 or Week 13,” Del Rio said. “We’ll prepare ourselves and be ready to go against the system. Understand that there may be some things that Bill likes a little more than what Mike might do.”

The Raiders know Musgrave well and vice versa, which should make for an intriguing chess match at Oakland Coliseum.

Camp preview: Raiders RBs should share the load, but there could be one tough cut

Camp preview: Raiders RBs should share the load, but there could be one tough cut

Jon Gruden typically spreads the love among his running backs. There’s never a true split – his primary back has exceeded 180 carries in all 11 of his seasons as head coach – but his backups have received 90-plus carries six times. Multiple backs have averages 650-plus all-purpose yards eight times under Gruden.

That wasn’t the case last season, with Marshawn Lynch did most of the damage. The Raiders haven’t diversified their rushing attack much (save 2016) in recent seasons, a trend that will change under Gruden.

Lynch remains the bell cow, but Doug Martin could play a significant role in this offense.

Don’t forget about the fullbacks, a rarely used position revived under Gruden. That’s good news for Keith Smith, who should be heavily involved offensively, especially in the passing game.

The blocking scheme will vary, with multiple zone concepts and the good, ol’ fashioned power the offensive line’s built for. There should be carries to go around in this group, though Lynch will get the lion’s share.

Who’s Here

RB Marshawn Lynch, RB Doug Martin, RB DeAndre Washington, RB Jalen Richard, RB Chris Warren, FB Keith Smith, FB Ryan Yurachek

Best Of The Bunch: Lynch

Most professional rushers fall off the map at 30 years old. All the hits, working hard over so many yards can take a toll. Lynch didn’t show such wear in last season’s second half.

This generation’s toughest takedown ran strong late in the year, improving on a slow start to 2017. Lynch didn’t meld with the Raiders system right away, but showed resolve down the stretch following a one-game suspension for his role in a brawl with Kansas City. He should fare better with new offensive line coach Tom Cable, who ran the blocking scheme during his salad days in Seattle.

He might not produce the 1,339 yards he averaged from 2011-14, but Lynch will still be primary battering ram in Gruden’s offense. Even at 32 years old, Lynch should still produce.

Top Camp Battle: Washington vs. Richard

This pair turned pro in 2016, with both members making an impact as rookies and second-year pros. One problem: They ran the same. Coaches were asked time and again to differentiate the two, without many evident separations. Both guys are smaller in stature. Both guys can slash and sprint and catch passes out of the backfield. Both guys return punts and kicks. Both fit in Gruden’s offense, but both could be considered complimentary pieces.

Another problem: Gruden probably doesn’t need two guys for one role, especially with Lynch and Martin expected to assume large roles and fullback Keith Smith in an important offensive role. That might make for an intense camp battle this summer and one tough cut for an NFL-caliber back.

Longshot: Warren

The undrafted rookie from Texas is an intriguing prospect, a bulldozer at 6-foot-2, 246 pounds. His power and size means he could be a hybrid back capable of blocks and carries from the backfield. Roster spots are hard to come by in this position group, but a strong summer (and quality special teams play) could put him in the mix for a surprise roster spot. Some practice squad seasoning might help, and prep him for an injury-related promotion.

Overview

We haven’t talked enough about Martin yet. That changes now. The 29-year old Stockton native impressed this spring – we know, pads weren’t on yet – and showed great burst. This might be Martin’s last chance to revive his career after two down years. He seems hell bent on maximizing it.

Don’t sleep on him earning a larger-than-expected role in the offense.

Former Raiders interim head coach, 49ers assistant Tony Sparano dies

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USATSI

Former Raiders interim head coach, 49ers assistant Tony Sparano dies

Former Raiders interim head coach Tony Sparano died unexpectedly on Sunday morning. He was 56.

The Minnesota Vikings announced his passing, though an exact cause of death is unknown.

He was the Vikings offensive line coach, a position he held since 2016. Sparano had been an NFL coach for nearly two decades, with stints in Oakland and San Francisco. He was also Miami's head coach from 2008-11.

He was hired to run the Raiders offensive line in 2013, and was promoted to interim head coach after Dennis Allen was fired four games into the 2014 campaign.

Sparano showed well in that role, kept the team playing hard during a difficult 3-13 season and nearly had the interim tag removed. He was a finalist for 2015 head coaching job, though Jack Del Rio ultimately got the job.

He left the organization then, and spent the 2015 season as 49ers tight ends coach. He ended up in Minnesota after that.

Sparano helped the Raiders finished 2014 with a three wins over their final six games, which started an upward trend that carried through 2016. He also remained patient with then-rookie starter Derek Carr.

Left tackle Donald Penn joined the Raiders in 2014, and experienced a career renaissance that season under Sparano.

The Silver and Black mourned Sparano's loss.

"The Raiders family was deeply saddened to learn of Tony Sparano's passing this morning," the team said in a statement. "Tony had a deep passion for football and was embraced by the Raider Nation during his time with the Silver and Black. Tony will be sadly missed by the entire NFL community. Our hearts are with (his wife) Jeanette and the Sparano family during this extremely difficult time."

The 49ers also paid respects to the longtime NFL coach.

“The 49ers organization is deeply saddened by the passing of Tony Sparano,” the 49ers said in a statement. “We share our heartfelt condolences with the Sparano family and the Minnesota Vikings.”

Sparano is survived by his wife Jeanette, their three children and four grandchildren.