Saunders' knowledge key to Raiders offense

February 9, 2012, 12:11 am
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More than once I've written in this corner that Dennis Allen's first task as the Raiders' new head coach should have been to retain Al Saunders as his offensive coordinator.Almost.So close, in fact, you can now count Saunders' retention as a "senior offensive assistant" next to horseshoes and hand grenades in the streets of Silver and Blackdom.Saunders returning to Oakland might mean that much to not only the offense, but to the direction of the entire team as it rebuilds from within.
Yes, I know that Greg Knapp is returning to be Allen's playcalling O.C. and he figures to bring his brand of West Coast offense and zone-blocking scheme to Oakland. But rather than installing an entirely new system, Knapp can now be, ahem, assisted in the transformation by the staff's elder statesman.Knapp's West Coast offense sensibilities meshed a tad with Saunders' vertical-game acumen and knowledge of the roster?It makes sense. A lot of sense, especially when you throw in the continuity factor.Because remember, it was Saunders who actually devised each and every gameplan last season. Hue Jackson then used it like a menu, picking and choosing from it the actual plays to call on gameday. Plus, Saunders was the de facto quarterback coach. So he knows firsthand how much Carson Palmer could absorb in being flipped, so to speak, from a Darryl Lamonica mad bomber-type into a Rich Gannon accurate dink and dunker-type, and just where Terrelle Pryor is on the developmental scale.And even as the offense underwent makeover after makeover last season with season-ending injuries to Jason Campbell and Darren McFadden, season-altering injuries to Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore and the midseason additions of Palmer and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the offense was the strength of the 8-8 Raiders, who still finished one stop -- any stop against Buffalo or Detroit -- from going to the playoffs.Consider: Oakland was ninth in the NFL in total offense (379.5 yards per game), seventh in rushing offense (131.9), 11th in passing (247.6) and was tied for fifth in completions of 40 or more yards (14) and tied for seventh in rushing TDs (16).Imagine what Saunders can do with an entire offseason "advising" Knapp and reported new QB coach John DeFilippo and new receivers coach Ted Gilmore on how to best use so many many healthy weapons.REPORT: DeFilippo returning to Raiders
This is good news for Raiders fans. Very good news that is actually refreshing in that once Saunders, who was the lone assistant from Jackson's staff still under contract, was allowed to interview with Kansas City for the Chiefs' O.C. position, it seemed he was a goner. And that he would come back to haunt the Raiders.It seemed preordained.Instead, Saunders is able to finish a job he started last season. Or at least, try.