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“How Reggie McKenzie Turned Around the Oakland Raiders & What Lies Ahead”

reggie mckenzie

Patience: 

The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

 

The last 2 weeks I read 14 articles from 2015 on Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie.  They were from professional writers to homer Raider bloggers to ESPN and NFL.com.  Only ONE said keep Reggie McKenzie as a GM.  Oh how the seasons have changed.

The Ron Wolf Effect:

When most fans and many writers wanted Reggie McKenzie fired, I said to give him time.  I ripped on his poor moves as well but I also trust success.  The reason I said don’t fire Reggie was NOT because of Reggie McKenzie.  It was because of Ron Wolf.  Ron Wolf taught and mentored Reggie when he was at Green Bay.

When I wrote an article on the greatest Raider of all time, ¾ of the fans that read it didn’t even know who Ron Wolf was.  I remember my dad raving about him when I was a kid and beyond.  Wolf was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame along with Tim Brown.  Wolf continues to be excited about McKenzie as a GM.

https://jimjax4.wordpress.com/2015/08/07/ron-wolf-enters-the-hall-of-fame-with-tim-brown-the-greatest-raider-of-them-all/

You’ll Be Sitting With Them:

On a frigid day right before Christmas in 1967, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Joe Kuharich was asked about the angry boo’s in the stands after a tough loss.  “I pay little attention to the 60,000 assistants in the stands each Sunday.  If you listen to the fans, eventually you’ll be sitting with them”.

Reggie didn’t listen to fans and the media when they ripped him and he’s not listening to them now when they are praising him.  If you read your own press clippings you’ll start to believe them.  He smartly always limited his interaction with everyone just like Ron Wolf did.  Something most coaches and athletes should do more.

The Changing Atmosphere Surrounding Him:

We all do it; we are emotional about something and then we write or post something on social media that we later regret.  Either it was too harsh or nasty.  We didn’t really feel that way but it was just a knee jerk reaction out of disappointment or anger.

It’s funny to see many of the “strongest” we’ll say detractors of Reggie McKenzie now turning the other way.  People wonder why most “experts”, “insiders”, mock draft gurus, NFL draft gurus, (and many fans and social media masters for that matter); rarely talk about their past predictions unless it’s the ones they got right.  It’s because they don’t want the accountability and they are often wrong.  You hear them on radio talk shows, online, and social media.  They are often wrong but never in doubt.  Again, it’s ok to be wrong sometimes but if you are wrong most of the time; then use your inside voice.

I say this because many of his early detractors forgot that Reggie McKenzie had to fix a train wreck and he’s done pretty well so far.  I said it years ago when McKenzie was hired and fans were telling me how good the Raiders were.  No they were wrong; this wasn’t a good team for a long time.  No,they didn’t have a lot of talent.  No, giving these draft picks time was not going to make them good. The Raiders were a mess and I said this would be a 4-5 year process; that’s how bad this organization was and I think the Raiders are right on schedule.

The Al Davis Effect; Reggie Fixes the Mess: 

The teams of the 1970’s especially were loaded.  In the greatest era of the NFL, the players didn’t make much money.  Many had outside ventures.  The teams could spend as much money as they wanted and many teams had backups that could start for other teams.  Running a team was easier.

With a financial mess, Reggie McKenzie had a very difficult job.  In the new era of the NFL, there is the salary cap, partially guaranteed contracts and some players are making a lot of money.  Reggie McKenzie had to fix the bad situation the Raiders were in and rebuild.  You then have to fight the media and the fans that have no patience.  In today’s internet age, patience is waiting for lunch time when it’s 10 a.m. in the morning.

Mr. Davis was overpaying underachieving players, and he drafted very poorly.  Al Davis became obsessed with NFL combine numbers and size; especially 40 times; and it destroyed the Raiders.  Their list of bad draft picks; ESPECIALLY most of their Defensive Back Picks with the fast 40 times; are of legend.  When you don’t watch game films and pass up on the Calvin Johnsons’, Adrian Peterson’s and Aaron Rodgers, you are failing.

McKenzie was not in denial though.  He didn’t have Al Davis’ new mentality.  Mr. Davis was in denial like some of the fans were every year; “we are really good and we just need 1-2 key players.”  In reality for a long time the Raiders were NOT really good and they needed to rebuild.  It was like building a house but denying you have a bad foundation.  You were constantly adding floors or making over a room to make it look better when in reality it didn’t change a thing.  Reggie McKenzie got that you have to destroy the foundation and build a new one.  Let’s look at how he has done that in Oakland.

Reggie McKenzie’s Draft History:

Just like his signings, overall his drafts have improved with time.  The DJ Hayden pick made no sense especially when DT Star Lotulelei had fallen in their lap.  Hayden was another athlete playing football.  Some of the “experts” had Hayden as the best CB in the draft.  I watched Houston play a few times and was shocked.  What were they watching?  To see Lotulelei starting for the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl was painful.  McKenzie improved with time though and he’s picked up their QB and other key members along the way.

The 2014 draft was the start of the rejuvenating of the Raiders.  Five of the draft choices ended up being starters who mostly excelled.  Last year’s draft shows a lot of promise as well.  It’s a far cry from where the Raiders were in his first 2 years and it’s the core of their success.

Reggie’s Signings:

Some fans are now going the other way making McKenzie out to be a genius but as I always say, let’s deal with the facts.  The bad signings McKenzie has made are in abundance.  Matt Schaub, Matt Flynn, LaMarr Woodley, Curtis Lofton, Nate Allen, Shawntae Spencer, Andre Hardy, Antonio Smith, Tarell Brown, Maurice Jones-Drew, Roy Helu Jr., Carlos Rogers, Pat Lee, Mike Brisiel, Kevin Boothe, Ron Bartell, Colin Miller, and Dave Tollefson were just some of the epic fails the Raiders had in free agency.

Even with a couple of good pick-ups, his first 2 years of free agency was a nightmare for Reggie McKenzie.  Fast forwarding to 2014 the Raiders had an ok free agent class with more misses than hits.  The big miss was Lamar Woodley who much was expected of.  Donald Penn though was a key contributor with this class.

In 2015 the Raiders overall did a good job in free agency.  Dan Williams and Rodney Hudson were great additions and Lee Smith was a bulldozer as a run blocking tight end that also caught some passes.  Malcolm Smith had his first year as a starter go fairly well.  He tailed off late in the year especially against the run.

On the bad side, Roy Helu Jr. was never used properly and was a waste of a signing.  Curtis Lofton struggled mightily against the pass and Trent Richardson didn’t last long.  A lot was given to Nate Allen but he struggled tackling all year; and that was when he wasn’t injured.

The 2016 free agent class is already a very good one and there still are signings that are ahead.  This has already been the Raiders best free agent signing period; at least on paper; that they have had since Reggie was hired.  The longer Reggie has the job, the better he gets.

How Reggie McKenzie Grew Into a Good GM:

McKenzie is humble; and as a good leader you take the blame and admit your mistakes.  Many in sports; and life for that matter; don’t do that.  When you admit a mistake you can fix it.  His signing of players which are salary cap friendly and dropping them if they don’t work out is often greatly overlooked.

A huge mistake Reggie fixed was that in the early part of his career he would wait way too long to sign players.  He would say they weren’t going to be hasty in their signings but sometimes the Raiders got stuck with slim pickings in free agency because they were just too slow to sign players.

He also improved his draft.  After talking to Ron Wolf, he went back to getting football players.  The defensive line has always been the second most important part of your team behind a QB and they’ve spent lots of money and energy into the DL.  The Quarterback must go down, and go down hard was Ron Wolf & Al Davis’ motto.

What’s Next For Reggie and the Raiders:

As Reggie said last month, there is still much work for the Raiders to do and they haven’t won anything yet.  The Raiders don’t have the DL or the pass rush to win at a high level in the NFL yet, but the off season is still young.  Bruce Irvin has 14 sacks in the last 3 years and Mario Edwards is not a great pass rusher; and that’s if he comes back at all.  Aldon Smith is out for most of the year too.  It doesn’t matter who your DB’s are if you don’t have a pass rush.  I now have trust that McKenzie will not be in denial and the draft will yield another quality DL.  I would love to see either AShawn Robinson or Shaq Lawson drafted in the first round.  Mock drafts are all over the place so as always, they don’t know what players the teams are going to draft and neither do we.  If you get either one of these players, now you have something special.  Both have great work ethics and are hard workers.

The Raiders also need a safety and other bits and pieces.  They are not done in free agency yet and the NFL draft is also ahead.  The salary cap limits how good you can be; that’s the design; to create parity.  So the drafts are a key to success.

Overall though as time passes, Reggie McKenzie has improved every year he has been a GM.  Reggie McKenzie is definitely old school and as long as he doesn’t change and he keeps being humble and open minded, he will be fine.  Not everything works out so admitting mistakes and learning from them are huge keys to his success.  The nightmare of 13 straight non-winning seasons may finally be over and success seems to now be a probability and not just a hope.

 

 

 

 

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“Oakland Raiders First 2 Signings Bigger Than People Think; Meet the Players”

 

Bruce+Irvin+Seattle+Seahawks+Practice+iNtZcjL7tYUl

As fans, it’s hard to not get excited every year about your team.  Every fan base is the same.  Baseball has made it an art form.

For anyone that has followed and read me on my return the last year and a half, they know I’m obsessed with facts and being honest.  Facts are always greater than opinions.  I have the following I have because people trust me and I work hard for them; I want people to know the inside stuff, not the fluff.  I don’t have an editor or corporation telling me what I can and can’t say so I’m unique; I’m straight up.  So If I think a team did something good, I really believe it.  The Raiders did something good; twice.

For Raider fans the last 13 years have been very difficult.  Even with bad teams, the fan base has been very excited every year; but in reality they should be excited by all that is happening before this upcoming season.

With the start of free agency, the Raiders have signed their first two players.  Let’s look at why these signings were extra special.

kelechi-osemele.0.0

Kelechi Osemele (OL from Baltimore):

This signing solidifies the Raiders offensive line.  The OL was good last year but it should really shine this year with the signing of Kelechi Osemele.

Osemele is an old school Raider type and he’s only 26.  He’s huge at 6’ 5” 330 lbs. and he’s extremely physical.  In the back end of the zone blocking era, he’s an old school power run blocker, and a very physical pass blocker.  He also brings a great amount of versatility which will help.  He’s played both tackle and guard equally well which helps with depth and flexibility which is important during the salary cap era.  He earned a Super Bowl ring being a starter on a very good Baltimore Ravens offensive line his rookie year.

Derek Carr is a good quarterback but he is no where near the same quarterback when he’s under a pass rush.  The better the protection, the more successful he is.  It wasn’t a coincidence that he struggled at times during the second half of the season while the Raiders sacks against totals increased.

He was 31st in 4th quarter passer rating and last in interceptions in the 4th quarter.  These stats can be helped with this signing.  People liked to blame the OL totally but some of this wasn’t on them though; the Raiders didn’t adjust to teams playing two deep zone and taking away the long pass; but in reality the better you protect Derek Carr, the more offensive success the Raiders will have.  This signing is a very big one and I’m sure Carr and the Raiders are very excited.

Bruce-Irvin-Florida-04-10-15
Linebacker Bruce Irvin with Orlando Super Fan Camden Ayres

http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/eye-on-football/25143820/look-bruce-irvin-meets-seahawks-fans-in-florida-makes-one-kids-day

Bruce Irvin (LB from Seattle):

Bruce Irvin is one of those players whose importance is not seen in the stat sheets, but in the way he plays.  This is an underrated signing but for much different reasons than people think.  He’s played a key role in Seattle’s defense and they will have problems replacing him.

If you feel the Raiders are now going to rival the best pass rushes in the NFL then you really don’t get this signing.  In Irvin’s rookie year, he got 8 sacks with 16 tackles and many thought he’d be a huge pass rusher.  He has leveled out his pass rush stats the last 3 years getting 14 of them.  Last year he had 5.5 sacks and 38 tackles.  Not eye popping numbers but solid.

What Irvin DOES bring to the table for the Raiders is something that has been lacking in their defense for a long time.  As I stated in my preview of last year, the Raiders signings were good but the problem was that many of the defensive players were one dimensional.

Curtis Lofton at LB was a good tackler and good against the run, but he struggles covering the pass.  If teams passed on first down, Lofton was exposed.   Malcolm Smith is a good cover guy at LB but not that great against the run.  Dan Williams shored up the run defense but he’s not a pass rusher in any way.

What Irvin gives the Raiders is versatility and an ability to play all 4 downs.  He can rush the passer or play the run at DE, and he can stop the run and cover at LB.  He gives them a flexibility to move him around like he did at Seattle which helped their defense a lot.  His ability to play all downs was very important to their success.  The Seattle DL was very good and it helped to have a versatile player like Irvin that teams could not scheme against because they moved him around so much.  I hope the Raiders do the same with Irvin because he is a good talent in the prime of his career at 28.

Final Thoughts:

Free agency is always a crazy time.  Fans forget that there are 31 other teams that want these players, and many times it’s the signing of lesser known players that makes the team much better.  You can’t pick and choose who you want, and 90% of the rumors being thrown about are mostly wrong.  It’s fun to talk about though but in reality many of the things bantered about don’t come true.

The game has changed; DB’s just can’t cover players for long periods of time with the new rules protecting WR so a stud DL and pass rush isn’t a need anymore, it’s a must have.  In the early parts of free agency though, already the Raiders went far into shoring up their team for next year.  There is still a lot of work to do, but this is a great start.

“What The Oakland Raiders Look Like Right Now, and What Moves Can Help Them Improve Quickly”

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It’s been a good off season so far for the Oakland Raiders.  The Raiders still have much work to do though with their two most pressing needs; a fast #1 wide receiver and 1-2 good pass rushers still worrying many.

The first half of the off season is free agency and the draft and post draft signings are the second half.  Until the post NFL draft signings, you really don’t know what your team has as far as talent.

People are also finding out rumors as an adult are pretty much the same as those when we were kids; false.  Teams often leak lies to fool the media and other teams to get them off the track of what they really wanted to do.  Mike Silver gave up on the Raiders a long time ago realizing at times that the Raiders were playing the media like a fiddle.

Al Davis literally never said anything and sports writers would tell people who the Raiders were going to pick getting information from their “insiders” when in reality they had no clue.  All of these “insiders” that think they know what is going on are often pawns for the most part.  Why in the world would billion dollar corporations leak information to tell their competitors what they are going to do and what they want.  If they do that, all their leverage is lost.  The NFL and their owners may be greedy and narcissistic at times, but they aren’t stupid.  Again, it’s fun for fans but take it with a grain of salt.

Everyone for months had the Raiders taking a wide receiver for their first draft pick but I’ve CONSTANTLY disagreed.  I think there is no way that the Tennessee Titans are NOT taking a quarterback or at least trading down to a team that want’s a quarterback; namely Oregon QB Marcus Mariotta.

With that happening, all around good player DL Leonard Williams will be available and the Raiders HAVE to take him.  Their pass rush might be the worst in the NFL and they need 2 pass rushers.

I think in the free agency sector, none of the pass rushers that are left are really worth much money and they are not going to help very much.  With the release of DL Antonio Smith, I think the Raiders are looking to make a trade soon by freeing up a little more cap space.  A really good defensive end in New Orleans, Cameron Jordan has been rumored by some teams including the Raiders.  He’s young and his 28 sacks in 3 years is going to help some team a lot.

I personally felt that the Raiders should have a 2 year plan.  They had a lot of holes to fill and you can’t do it in just one off season.

Today, lets first look at the Offense and how each position looks as of now, and how it can be improved.

Quarterback:  Derek Carr, Matt McGloin, Christian Ponder

Even with so many internet people trying to stir the pot, Derek Carr is the Raiders starting quarterback for the 2015-16 season.  He showed a lot of potential and with hard work and improvement, the Raiders hope that he will turn into a good NFL quarterback for years to come.  He HAS to audible a lot more to help out the run game and he needs to handle a pass rush better, but overall, he survived the rookie season with a good grade for the most part.  The Raiders were anemic on offense on the road and that obviously has to improve.

Matt McGloin is an adequate backup.  The Raiders dropped Matt Schaub and added Christian Ponder.  People scratched their heads when the Vikings picked him in the first round and he never panned out.  He was benched several times at Florida St. for poor play but lets face it; if you are tall with a big arm, the NFL will always have a home for you.  Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was the coordinator for the Vikings so that is the connection to Ponder.  Ponders best play was handing off to Adrian Peterson in sprint draws.

Outlook:

Lets just say like most teams the Raiders hope their starter Derek Carr stays very, very healthy.

Sleeper Solutions:  

None.  Unless you can put Ken Stabler in a time machine, this should be the depth chart at Quarterback.

Running Back:  Latavius Murray, Roy Helu, Trent Richardson, George Atkinson III, Jamize Olawale

Gone are Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew.  The Raiders added 3rd down specialist Roy Helu, and much maligned Trent Richardson.

Helu is a very good third down back who can also carry the load on occasion.  He lead the NFL in yards per touch on third down and is a great pass catcher.  He is tough and durable and is a good signing.

After his rookie season teams found out Richardson has little to no vision and is a straight ahead runner.  In college he could run over people, but in the pro’s not so much.  Anything they can get out of him will make the Raiders happy.

Latavius Murray showed flashes of brilliance last year.  He’s big and fast, which is what Raiders OC Musgrave likes.  He must prove he can stay healthy though.

Marcel Reece was vastly underused last year and the hopes are that he will get 10-15 touches a game at an H-back or tight end position.  George Atkinson Jr. and Jamize Olawale are probably the odd men out.

The fullback used to be such a powerful weapon and now the NFL just wants them to block.  The Raiders need to use Reece more like an 80’s or 90’s full back and not just be a follower and do what all the other teams are doing.

Outlook:

Helu is a solid third down back and the hopes are that Murray can carry the load and stay healthy.  Anything Richardson can give is the berries and the hopes are that Marcel Reece will get more touches.

Sleeper Solution:

If the Raiders do draft a running back I would LOVE for them to take David Cobb from the Minnesota Gophers in the 3rd or 4th round.  He is built exactly like Marion Barber and he’s a load.  At 5’ 11” and 235, he won’t run off 80 yarders but he’s powerful and tough, somewhat elusive and is a work horse who finishes runs.  He has some speed and 54% of his yards came after the first contact which is pretty amazing.  He was made for the NFL power running game.

Wide Receiver:  James Jones, Rod Streater, Andre Holmes, Brice Butler, Kenbrell Thompkins, Seth Roberts

James Jones is a solid #2 WR and is a good red zone target.  Rod Streater is an average WR and I’m not getting why Kenbrell Thompkins gets so much playing time.  He has never been very productive in the NFL.

Andre Holmes needs to step up and achieve success instead of just having loads of potential. The wild card is Brice Butler.  He needs to get on the field.  His 47 yard touchdown catch and run against San Diego showed eye popping speed.

Outlook: 

The Raiders obviously still need a #1 wide receiver and they will for sure draft one.  Butler and Holmes have to get the bulk of the playing time after Jones.  This group has potential.  I’m not going to add to the thousands of posts on Kevin White and Amari Cooper.

Sleeper Solution: 

I still think the Titans are going to draft a quarterback and I see USC DL Leonard Williams being there at #4.  If he is and I’m the Raiders, I take Williams in a New York minute.  Without a pass rush the Raiders don’t win anything.

I then turn around in the second round and get the speed merchant big time playmaking wide receiver Devin Smith out of Ohio St. who should be there in the early second round.  He makes big plays at the biggest times and he is unique in that he doesn’t break stride or lose speed when he is going after a ball.  A guy named Cliff Branch had that same talent.

You now have Smith, Jones, Holmes and Butler.  Now you got the start of something.  Three speed burners and a great red zone target.  Not bad.

If the Raiders draft White or Cooper because Williams isn’t there, then I still get that too.  In the 2016 draft there are 6-8 really good possible first round pass rushers with possibly more to show up on the board.

Offensive Line:    Donald Penn, Gabe Jackson, Rodney Hudson, Khalif Barnes, Austin Howard

With the addition of Center Rodney Hudson, the Raiders have the makings of a really good OL.  Gabe Jackson is all they thought he would be and the OL protected Derek Carr well against the pass.  Donald Penn is solid at Tackle but he will be 32 next year and with it being a contract year he may not stay.

The Run game was blamed on the OL but when you have a quarterback that doesn’t audible, and play calling that would make Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler scratch their heads, you are not going to run the ball successfully. They were more conservative than Ronald Reagan in a red state.

The hopes are that with a more experienced quarterback, much better play calling and with more downfield weapons, the Raiders will have a much better running game.

Outlook:

Khalif Barnes was inconsistent last year.  Look for the Raiders to get another OL either in the later rounds of the draft or in free agency.

Sleeper Solution: 

None; unless they get an OL in the later rounds for depth, these will be the starters for the Raiders.

Tight EndMychal Rivera, Nick Kasa, Brian Leonhardt, Scott Simonson, Lee Smith

No one will mistake the Raiders tight ends for Dave Casper, Raymond Chester or Todd Christensen.  They definitely need some help.

Mychal Rivera was solid, but they didn’t throw to him much.  His blocking did improve and he can be a weapon.  Other than Rivera, there really isn’t any other pass catching threat.

The Raiders signed Lee Smith from the Buffalo Bills.  He is a big, brash run blocking tight end with very limited pass catching skills.

Outlook: 

I think eventually the Raiders may sign a veteran.

Sleeper Solution:

Zach Miller could also be an option.  He wasn’t used very well by the Seahawks.  He is 29 and was cut by Seattle for a failed physical last month.  Supposedly he’s able to pass one now and Tom Brady and the Patriot’s love his game and are quietly talking to him.

Marcel Reece would be perfect as a tight end in passing situations.  Reece is too talented to not give him the ball.

That’s a look at the offense of the Oakland Raiders.  Tomorrow we will take a look at the defense which has some very good additions.