Allen, Knapp keep faith in offensive system

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Allen, Knapp keep faith in offensive system

ALAMEDA -- Coming into the season, the obvious question to incoming coach Dennis Allen was this: Why change the offense when it was the team's strength a year ago?

And when the offense struggled early in the year under new and returning offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, the howls only intensified, especially with running back Darren McFadden going from league MVP candidate (when healthy) to, well, a guy averaging a career low in yards per carry.

Staring at a 3-10 record with only one home home game to play, and the very real chance of finishing 3-13 after consecutive 8-8 finishes, Allen is still sold on Knapp's version of the West Coast offense and the accompanying zone-blocking scheme and, truthfully, there has been some improvement recently.

"Yeah, absolutely," Allen said when asked if he still had faith in the system. "Absolutely. There's been a lot of change, and when there is a lot of change, sometimes you don't get the results that you're looking for right away. But when you believe in something, and you stick to it and you know it's the right plan, it ends up working out."

Of course, Knapp is a believer. He was hired to incorporate it by Allen.

"I’ve been to too many places and had too much experience to know it’s a very productive scheme," Knapp said. "Like it is for anywhere you go, when coaching changes occur you want the coaches who are the teachers to teach what they know best. If you do that with the coaches, they’re going to have answers for the issues that come up in the system."

The Raiders last season had the No. 9-ranked offense overall, No. 7 rushing and No. 11 passing. This season's rankings through 13 games? No. 13 overall, No. 30 rushing and No. 7 passing.

"Early on, we couldn’t run the ball worth a lick. Then about middle of the year, we had improvement in the run game. In the passing game we’ve had inconsistency when it comes to protection and catching the ball consistently. But we’ve had some high moments too. There’s been growing pains but it’s a part of the transition, You’d much rather have a coach come in and teach what he knows best then have to try to teach a system he doesn’t know at all. That’s going to take time."

And there it is: Allen wanted Knapp to teach his system to the personnel, to have the players adapt to scheme, rather than adapt scheme to the strengths of the players. So of course there was going to be growing pains. But did anyone expect the cramps to be so painful at times?

"Every place I’ve been to it’s usually going to take at least a year’s transition time to get everything taught and the parts we’ve changed," Knapp said. "You have to remember now, we’ve changed both linemen. We talked about the center and the tackle earlier that played quite a bit. Our top two running backs went down in the same game so then we converted a fullback to running back. Then you have some young receivers who are learning how to play the game at this level as well as learning a new system.

"If you take a business structure and you make those changes it’s going to take a year’s time to process everything and learn it. Once they master it, you can add to it. Right now, it’s taking some time."

So while so many fans are screaming for regime change, so to speak, the Raiders are again preaching patience and perspective.

"It just takes some time to be more efficient," Knapp said. "We made some progress. I’m very pleased with the fact that we’re the top 10 in passing and we’ve improved in the running game the last six weeks. We’re not where we need to be in scoring points. That’s what I’d like to get better at, finishing drives and getting more big plays for touchdowns."

The Raiders are averaging 19.1 points in 2012, after scoring 22.4 points a year ago. And while that is considered a "team" stat -- you can score on special teams as well as on defense -- the point is clear.

More time together in the system should remedy things, Knapp said.

"Hopefully, more consistency and higher scoring points, because we’re not able to keep those drives long enough right now to get the points on the board, so by keeping the system in place and keeping the bulk of the players here, now we keep the drives alive and we get our point total up into the mid-20s, and that’s what we want to be," he said.

"If you’re in the mid-20s to high 20s, you’re going to be in the top 10 of the league in scoring, and that’s ultimately what has to happen because to get 11 guys on the same page you need some reps and experience together and with a year’s offseason work of that and a better offseason system, the performance level usually goes up the next season."

According to the Associated Press, though, in his three previous stops as an offensive coordinator, in San Francisco, Atlanta and Oakland, Knapp's teams' scoring went down in Year 2 by 1.1 points per game and yards gained have also went down by 4.5 yards per game.

Still, Oakland is a different animal, and he even compared it to a "start-up" in the business model in training camp. Many saw this year's Raiders team as an expansion franchise, of sorts, with so many new and moving parts.

Asked if he thought the pieces were in place for the offensive scheme to work well next year, Knapp was sure of it.

"But I think there’s still going to have to be pieces added," Knapp said. "It’s always an evolving process. I was at Houston, right, the last two years, so my first year in Houston we finished, I believe it was 6-10. That was the fifth year in the system. They had just finished, I think, 30th or 32nd in running. Then, all of a sudden, a guy named Arian Foster showed up, undrafted.

"You don’t know who’s going to add, that’s a part of this profession. The system is going to be in place but you’re going to change the pieces because of the salary cap, because of the draft and free agency, and sometimes that guy that comes in fits the system so well it takes off in itself and so there’s always going to be change. We look to help add to the system next year as well."

Healthy Edwards, NFL Draft could help Raiders improve interior pass rush

Healthy Edwards, NFL Draft could help Raiders improve interior pass rush

The Raiders had an NFL-worst 25 sacks last season, and that’s with Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin in their employ. That duo had 18 sacks (and 11 forced fumbles) between them. That left only seven for everyone else. Stacy McGee and Denico Autry had 2.5 each, and McGee isn’t here anymore.

Mario Edwards Jr. was certainly missed last season, when he missed 14 games with a preseason hip injury. The versatile defensive lineman is a solid edge run defender and internal pass rusher in the sub package.

If he’s healthy, Edwards Jr. could pose a real threat rushing the passer next to Irvin or Mack.

“Having Mario healthy will make us a better defense, and that’s not just as a pass rusher,” general manager Reggie McKenzie said in March. “He’s a solid run player. We’ve just got to have him healthy.

“But we’ll continue to add there, too.”

McKenzie subtracted one Tuesday, releasing Dan Williams to free salary cap space. He hasn’t yet added a defensive tackle in free agency, but could certainly do so in next week’s NFL draft.

There’s some quality interior pass rushers in this class. Let’s take a look at some options the Raiders could select and when:

Good fits: The Raiders select 24th overall in this draft, far lower than years past. Some quality defensive tackles might be a proper fit there, especially with depth at positions of need.

They could use some versatility, players like Edwards Jr. who can play multiple techniques. Michigan State’s Malik McDowell is an strong, athletic freak who analysts believe needs to improve his effort and technique. McDowell could develop into a top talent and be viewed as a steal at No. 24, or not realize full potential.

Michigan’s Chris Wormley is a versatile player in the Edwards Jr. mold, a player who seems to fit Raiders needs. Analysts says inconsistency is troubling but has the leadership quality and character the Raiders love. He can be a base end and move inside when required. He also has the size at 6-foot-5, 298 pounds and could develop well at the NFL level while making an immediate impact.

Florida’s Caleb Brantley is also an intriguing prospect adept at reaching the offensive backfield. Analysts say he’s a powerful player with quickness and an ability to work through blocks despite being slightly undersized. Brantley is potential to be a quality NFL pass rusher, and is confident in his ability. He didn’t play a high snap count at Florida, but the Raiders might use him in sub packages as a rookie and fill an important role right away. He’s viewed as a second round pick, and the Silver and Black might cross fingers he’s available at No. 56.

Auburn’s Montravius Adams could help if the Raiders are looking for more of a run stuffer. Clemson’s Carlos Watkins could also play multiple spots and could be available later in the middle rounds. Old Dominion’s Rashaad Coward also fits that mold and would be available in later rounds, though he hasn’t had much pass-rush production.

Controversial RB Joe Mixon impressed Raiders during pre-draft visit

Controversial RB Joe Mixon impressed Raiders during pre-draft visit

ALAMEDA – The Raiders visited with former Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon at the team’s Alameda facility on March 21.

General manager Reggie McKenzie came away impressed by the controversial figure notorious for punching a female in 2014 while at Oklahoma, who has spent significant portions of the pre-NFL draft process trying to show that violent incident caught on video doesn't define him.

“We thought he was a really good kid. He came off very well and explained each and everything, the questions that we had,” McKenzie said Friday in a pre-draft press conference. “He had an explanation and he was up front about everything. The kid really came across as a good kid.”

Mixon is also a premiere talent going pro, but there’s no telling how far his off-field issues will drop him in next week’s NFL draft. There’s debate where he’ll be taken, though many expect Mixon to go in the first two rounds.

He was not invited to the NFL scouting combine due to an incident where he punched victim Amelia Molitor and fractured several bones in her face. Mixon has made several pre-draft visits and meet with dozens at Oklahoma’s pro day trying to explain his actions and why he’s a safe pick in this year’s NFL draft.

Mixon and Molitor released a joint statement on Friday announcing the settlement of a civil suit, with both parties hoping to move on from an ugly incident after which the victim spoke out about being harassed.

“I am happy we were able to bring the lawsuit to an end,” Molitor said in a statement. “Joe and I were able to meet privately, without any attorneys, and talk about our experiences since that night. I am encouraged that we will both be able to move forward from here with our lives. From our private discussions I am satisfied that we are going to put this behind us and work towards helping others who may have found themselves in similar circumstances. I greatly appreciate his apology and I think the feelings he expressed were sincere. We both could have handled things differently. I believe if we had a chance to go back to that moment in time, the situation would not have ended the way it did.”

The running back is obviously a polarizing public figure, and the team that drafts him could take flak for selecting him.

“When stuff like this happens, whether it’s domestic violence or drunken driving, whatever issue that comes up, we’ll be prepared to answer questions,” McKenzie said. “We’ll do our research and if we make a decision, we’re going to prepare to have answers for each and every decision that we make.”

Raiders owner Mark Davis has taken a hardline stance against players involved in domestic violence incidents – this was technically assault of a man on a woman, as Mixon and Molitor were not in a relationship -- and he would have to okay a Mixon selection. The Raiders put considerable thought and research into select players with character concerns.

“What we do, we research everything. We get all of the information. We will not make a decision until all the information is in front of us,” McKenzie said. “With certain issues, like domestic violence, we consider that and we really look into everything that is surrounding that. Every decision will be well-researched so if it’s one way or the other, we are going to make it where that decision is based on all the facts, all the research and on the kid moving forward. But yes, we hold that very dear to what we do, as far as who we bring in, absolutely. We will not tolerate that at all.”