Paul Guenther

Paul Guenther will captain effort to get Khalil Mack caught up when he reports

Paul Guenther will captain effort to get Khalil Mack caught up when he reports

NAPA – Khalil Mack isn’t with the Raiders in training camp. The elite edge rusher is holding out for a long-term contract that could set the market for defensive players, and has stayed away from his team since the offseason program started back in April.

He hasn’t practiced under Jon Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. He doesn’t know all Guenther has in store for Mack. He won’t be anchored to one edge, ordered to see ball carrier, kill ball carrier.

“When he gets here, he’s going to find out that he’ll have a lot of new matchups,” Guenther said on the Raiders Insider Podcast. “We have an ability to move him around. We have guys like Bruce Irvin and Arden Key, who can move around as rushers, too. They won’t always know where Khalil is at when we play on Sundays.

“Hopefully, when everything gets rectified here and we get rolling, he’ll see that.”

It remains uncertain when Mack will report to the Raiders. A deal is not close, and Mack seems set on staying away until a pact is reached. That may change if the impasse gets close to the regular season and the loss of game checks, owed as part of a $13.846 million fifth-year option he’s owed in 2018, becomes a real thing.

Guenther isn’t concerned about all that. He wants Mack in camp posthaste, but has a plan for whenever the Raiders’ best player does arrive. Guenther will teach a crash course in his scheme to get him as ready as possible to make an immediate impact.

While the nature of Mack’s position and him being in impeccable shape will help him return, he’ll operate within a new system with new terminology. Guenther will personally get him up to speed.

“When he shows up, I’ll be his position coach for about a week,” Guenther said. “I’ll catch him up. We have a plan for that. Hopefully he can get here sooner than later. If that doesn’t occur, then we’ve got some guys out here working their tails off and competing and we’ll roll with them.”

Guenther expects to roll with a speed rushing package during obvious passing downs that could include Mack, Irvin, Key and the hottest interior rusher between Maurice Hurst, PJ Hall or Mario Edwards.

“I look forward to seeing that one day,” Guenther said. “If that works, I won’t have draw up crazy blitzes to reach the quarterback. That’s ideal, because teams who win the NFL can rush four and get home. They have seven guys in coverage and they don’t give up explosive plays. Having guys like that we can roll through can make us more disruptive.”

Paul Guenther adept teaching Raiders to play new style of defense

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AP

Paul Guenther adept teaching Raiders to play new style of defense

NAPA – Paul Guenther breaks the offseason and training camp into three phases. He installs the new Raiders defense in each one. Repetition, it seems, leads to mastery.

The last phase starts in training camp, but the final installation runs unlike the previous two.

Lectures are over. In Napa, students become the teacher. Guenther randomly calls players to the front of the class to decipher plays and call out the adjustments required to make them work well.

Guenther’s teaching methods have worked well. Scheme retention was strong following a summer off, a positive that allowed the Raiders to hit the ground running in training camp.

That’s no easy task. Guenther’s defense is vast, loaded with plays that include deception and disguise. It’s well respected, with a long track record of success. It doesn’t matter, Guenther says, if he can’t transfer his knowledge to those who execute.

“Football is a simple game made complicated by coaches,” Guenther said on this week’s Raiders Insider Podcast. “You have to teach the system in a way that all 11 guys understand everyone else is doing. You can’t exist in the little world of your position group. They have to know how others fit around them. If they understand why I’m making calls, and what everyone is supposed to do, then they can make in-game adjustments on Sundays. We need to be fast-minded. The only way you can play fast is to have the system down.”

Players rave about Guenther the teacher. Derrick Johnson called him a mastermind. Leon Hall says players learn well because he can identify with every position group.

Marcus Gilchrist enters the season with his fourth team and fifth defensive coordinator. The safety knows the importance of getting a message across, and considers Guenther great at it.

“Probably one of the best ones I’ve been around in my eight years,” he said. “Getting guys to understand whatever their role is on this defense or a certain coverage, whatever scheme that it is, probably the best that I’ve been around at getting guys to learn a scheme and being able to teach it the right way.”

Guenther can sense when somebody doesn’t get it, even when they’re unwilling to raise a hand.

“If there’s a look of uncertainty on your face or in your body language, he’s going to see it and help you understand it,” weakside linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. “He’s not just going to give you a coaching point and then back off and expect you to have it. He wants you to think the way he’s thinking. He wants us to take ownership of the scheme.”

The scheme works. It came from Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati and refined by Guenther the past four seasons.

Zimmer was his biggest influence, someone who helped establish his own defensive philosophy.

“He’s incredibly smart,” Zimmer said in March. “He was able to add to the things we did in Cincinnati, and was creative finding new ways to get the job done.”

Guenther thrived on his own, after Zimmer left to become Minnesota's head coach in 2014. The Bengals finished in the top half in scoring defense each year under Guenther, with two campaigns in the top 10.

The Raiders, by contrast, never finished above 20th in that same span.

Guenther is equal parts tactician, motivator and college professor, with a track record of success unknown in these parts over the last decade.

Head coach Jon Gruden has given Guenther relative autonomy over the defense, with control to implement the scheme and arrange the depth chart. Guenther had a chance to leave Cincinnati in 2014, with offers to join Zimmer in Minnesota or Jay Gruden in Washington. He stayed home then, but felt it time to move on with Jon Gruden came calling. Guenther was part of the Gruden package, and is an integral part of this coaching staff.

Guenther and Jon Gruden are close friends, but have developed a rivalry that ratchets up practice intensity.

“Coach Gruden is on me all the time instilling that, ‘I want to kick Coach Guenther’s butt every day,’” quarterback Derek Carr said. “I think he wants to embarrass us as well. That little rivalry, that little work is the same. But you’ll see us all three at dinner together – we’re a team – but it definitely helps us come the season.

“…Ask any quarterback in the NFL, Coach Guenther is one of the best in the NFL and it’s not even close. He gives you the most problems, he presents the most challenges, he makes you think more than anybody. He’s one of the best and I’m glad he’s here.”

Guenther doesn’t blitz much but disguises his intentions well and works to find favorable matchups for his best players. He wants to establish a tough defense that knows its stuff. That’s why teaching the scheme right in the offseason and training camp is vital to regular-season success.

“We’re going to be a physical team,” Guenther said. “When you come to play the Raiders, you’d better pack a lunch pail. We’re going to be smart situationally, we’re going to create turnovers and we’re going to get after the quarterback. I grew up watching the old Raiders defenses. I’m trying to get us back to that.”

New Raiders DC explains what attracted him to joining Jon Gruden

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AP

New Raiders DC explains what attracted him to joining Jon Gruden

Paul Guenther and Jay Gruden are great friends. The bond formed in Cincinnati, when both guys were Bengals assistants.

Jay Gruden moved on to Washington, and has been that club’s head coach since 2014. Last year, Jay Gruden tried to bring Guenther with him. The Bengals, however, wouldn’t let Guenther out of his contract.

It expired this month, allowing Jay’s brother Jon Gruden to purchase this hot commodity. The Bengals tried to keep him with a lucrative contract offer, but Guenther’s mind was made. He took the job as Gruden’s defensive coordinator, and the four-year contract that came with it. This is about more than money. Jon Gruden presented a unique opportunity worthy of Guenther moving on after 15 years in Cincinnati.

“I’ve known Jon for a long time,” Guenther said this week in a conference call. “Just the ability to come with him and start something fresh from the ground up really excited me. I’ve been in Cincinnati for a long time. My kids were basically raised there. I know a lot of the players. But to have this opportunity with Jon coming to the Raiders and the brand of the Raiders really attracted me. Overall, just an opportunity to come coach with him, see him do it, see how he runs this organization, this team, would be a great thing for me to learn from.”

The Guenther hire was important. He’ll be installing a new system and will have considerable clout running the defense with Gruden focused on the process of scoring points.

Guenther’s defense was built in Cincinnati, with current Minnesota head coach and former Bengals DC Mike Zimmer also contributing to the scheme. He runs a 4-3 defensive front with single-gap responsibilities. What you’ll see from Minnesota in the NFC championship will look a lot like the Silver and Black scheme next season.

“Structurally they’re very, very similar,” Guenther said. “I would say 80, 90 percent of the defense, the calls, the fronts, the coverages, the terminology is all about the same. I spent a long time with Mike. Really, when he came over from Dallas and Atlanta to Cincinnati, he had the system that was probably 60 percent intact and then we kind of built up to where we are today. Certainly, I have my own little things that I added to the defense as I went along. He’s added things. We’re always talking in the offseason, just because we’re close friends, about the things that he’s doing, things that I’m doing. I would say it’s very similar.”

The Bengals didn’t blltz much under Guenther, especially last season. He isn’t averse to bringing extra guys. He just didn’t need to dial up those plays with the Bengals pressuring the passer without extra help.

“It all depends on how many we can get home with four (pass rushers),” Guenther said. “I think the thing you really have to look at is the amount of pressure you’re getting on a quarterback. If you don’t have to blitz and you can get home with four guys.

“…I love blitzing, I got every blitz in the book up on my board here. We got it all – double A’s, overloads – any blitz you can imagine, we have it. That was what my role was with Mike Zimmer (when he was Bengals DC) coming up with the third-down blitzes. I’m certainly all for it, but I think from a team perspective, and you’ve got to really see how the game is going.”

Guenther inherits a defensive depth chart with some star power, young talent and holes aplenty. The Raiders have some issues at linebacker, safety, defensive tackle and cornerback. Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin are solid off the edge, but the unit needs a talent infusion. There’s roster flexibility, with high-priced veterans easily cut if Guenther and Gruden so choose.

“I believe there’s a lot of good players here, a lot of good, young players,” he said. “You’ve got to get them out and develop them and get them to understand your system. But I think there’s a lot of good pieces here for a foundation for sure. Obviously, every year, whether you’re the number one defense in the league or the number 32 defense in the league, you’re always looking to add pieces and fill out your lineup card. That’s what we’re going to be working through this spring and through the draft and through free agency as well as developing the young players that we have here. This day and age in the NFL when you draft guys and you think they’re worthy, you have to get them out on the field. You can’t sit on these guys for a couple of years because before you know it, their rookie contracts are over and they’re out the door. I certainly think there’s some good, young prospects here that I’m eager to work with.”