Raiders

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."

Ten questions as Raiders open training camp

Ten questions as Raiders open training camp

The Raiders are a good football team. Rosters of this caliber generally don’t carry much uncertainty even into training camp, but questions still remain heading into training camp. There are a few key position battles, some important rookies to watch and, of course, to figure out what’s going on at inside linebacker. Instead of asking and answering my own questions, fans put topics on the table by submitting questions on my Facebook page. I picked the 10 best questions heading into a training camp that should provide answers.

1. Who will be the starting linebackers in Week 1? (Johnny Carrasco)
Head coach Jack Del Rio told NFL Network this offseason that the Raiders didn’t adequately address their interior linebacker position. He was right. They don’t have much depth or experience at middle linebacker or weakside linebacker, positions vital in interior run defense and pass coverage.

Cory James and Tyrell Adams ran the first unit during the offseason, with fifth-round rookie Marquel Lee and free-agent signee Jelani Jenkins on the second unit. The Raiders will continue to evaluate talent currently on the roster, but it remains likely a veteran will be added to the group before summer’s out.

Last year’s starter Perry Riley remains on the open market. So does Ray Maualuga and Connor Orr. More guys will become available after roster cuts. Right now, starting spots at middle linebacker and weakside linebacker are as wide open as it gets.

2. I'm wondering who the last receiver on the active roster will be? I like Mickens and Holton and I know you like (KJ) Brent. Who wins? (Landon Weber)
There were several questions about the No. 3 receiver spot, but Seth Roberts will hold on to his position in the slot. Cordarrelle Patterson is the No. 4 guy, and could be involved more on offense than previous years in Minnesota.

Johnny Holton was the No. 5 guy last year, and his speed and special teams prowess could help keep the job. He’ll be pushed by first-year players Jaydon Mickens and K.J. Brent and some undrafted rookies. I do like Brent’s size and ability, but ultimately think Holton holds on to his roster spot.

3. Who will be the odd man out at safety (Nelson, Joseph, Obi)?? (Steve Guzman)
Reggie Nelson will play most every snap at free safety. Karl Joseph should do the same at strong safety. I still wouldn’t say there’s an odd man out. Second-round rookie Obi Melifonwu will have plenty to do as a rookie if he continues to develop this summer. The Raiders hope to use him in sub packages to cover tight ends or extra receivers in the slot. He has great size and coverage skills, and could be an asset especially with uncertainty at interior linebacker. All three guys should see significant snaps and play more to their strengths.

4. How many carriers per game are we expecting to see from Lynch? How much platooning should we expect in our backfield? (Joe Ram)
Marshawn Lynch has taken significant carries in seasons past, with at least 280 carries from 2011-14. He is now 31 and a year removed from football, so it’s unrealistic to think his carry county returns to previous levels.

The Raiders ran 434 times last year, with 195 carries given to lead back Latavius Murray. That total might be a target for Lynch, especially if Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington continue producing well. While his action should be limited in camp, the Raiders can adjust Lynch’s workload based upon health and effectiveness, with an eye on keeping him strong down the stretch.

5. I have (Shilique) Calhoun improving and having a bigger role on the D-line. Does anyone else look good in that group? (Alexander Duarte)
Calhoun wasn’t impactful as Bruce Irvin’s understudy, though he didn’t get many defensive snaps to show his stuff. He bulked up this offseason in hopes of fitting in better with this defense.

He’ll join a pass rush that finished last with 25 sacks last season and a supporting cast that must help Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin get to the quarterback. Mario Edwards Jr. will play a huge part in that. He’s an impactful interior pass rusher, and could fare well playing right next to one of the edge rushers. Rookie Eddie Vanderdoes could help right away on the inside, and coaches expect Jihad Ward to be more productive in his second season. The Raiders long to be impactful without blitzing, meaning the front must be consistently get penetration on their own.

6. What’s going on with Aldon Smith? Damn, the dude has served a long enough suspension. (Chris Pehrson)
Aldon Smith has stayed out of the public eye for the past few months, a positive from his perspective after run-ins with the law this spring. That included him being a passenger of a vehicle that hit an unmarked police car. The driver was arrested on suspicion of DUI and Smith didn’t seem right during interviews after the incident.

Bill Williamson of FanRag Sports reported Wednesday that Smith isn’t close to being reinstated to the league. The Raiders aren’t counting on Smith’s return soon. Also, as a note, Smith isn’t suspended. He has been banished from the NFL as a repeat offender of the league’s substance abuse policy, and commissioner Roger Goodell has complete authority on when and whether to review his application for reinstatement. There is no timetable to do so.

7. Do you think we can be a middle of the pack defense this season? (Peyman Bastani)
It’s certainly possible. If that’s the case, the Raiders should win a lot of games. Derek Carr’s offense is potent and should score a ton. Keeping teams down even a little might sap some drama from results and help the Raiders stack wins.

The pass defense must improve in order to do that, and the interior linebackers must provide consistent play against the run and pass. Can they do that? Time will tell.

8. How do you think the defensive backfield will work out, with rookies and depth? (Todd Sheehan)
Sean Smith and David Amerson should start at outside cornerback, with Gareon Conley in the slot. Reggie Nelson will be the free safety and Karl Joseph is the strong safety, with an ability to play both spots. Obi Melifonwu will help as a hybrid safety/linebacker in sub packages as well.

There will be some competition at cornerback. Conley could push for a full-time job, starting over Smith or Amerson in the base defense while moving inside in the nickel package. TJ Carrie is also in the mix, and can play inside and out.

9. Is (Marshall) Newhouse still leading the RT battle? (Cody Knudtson)
He is, even after missing work in the offseason program. The free agent signing has pole position right now, though Vadal Alexander will certainly push him throughout camp. Austin Howard is another factor, and will try to re-claim a starting spot he held most of the last two years. Should he come up short in that effort, he might end up on the chopping block in the interest of saving the Raiders some cash.

10. How much variation do you see from (assistant head coach – defense John Pagano)? Is he greasing the wheels or reinventing the secondary (Parker, via Twitter)
I would definitely choose option A. Pagano isn’t changing the Raiders defensive scheme. He’s working to improve its execution through better communication. He’ll spend significant time with the secondary on working better together and disguising coverage. He’ll also have input on the game plan – head coach Jack Del Rio also has significant say -- and how to use player strengths, but defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. remains the play caller.

Source: Raiders release one of their longest-tenured players

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AP

Source: Raiders release one of their longest-tenured players

Taiwan Jones was one of the longest tenured Raiders entering 2017, one of the few acquired by late owner Al Davis.

The Raiders released Jones on Thursday morning, a league source said, concluding his six-year run with the club.

The running back turned defensive back turned running back (again) carved a niche on special teams as a gunner and quality cover man.

He wasn’t an offensive asset, pushing him firmly on the roster bubble. It burst just before camp.

The San Francisco native and Antioch Deer Valley High alum was a popular locker room presence during his time in Oakland. His speed was always attractive, but durability and ball security issues dectracted from more positive traits.

Jones had just five offensive touches last season and just eight kickoff returns. Cordarrelle Patterson is an All-Pro returner and an excellent gunner. Johnny Holton also serves as a speedy cover man on special teams.

Releasing Jones now gives him a full preseason to latch on with another team.

Only long snapper Jon Condo and kicker Sebastian Janikowksi remain on the roster from the Al Davis era.

The Raiders now sit one player below the 90-man roster limit, a vacancy that should be filled soon.

ESPN first reported the news.