New Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing has been given the keys to a Corvette, not a clunker.
He understands that fact. That’s why he won’t start from scratch in his first season running the show.
He doesn't see a reason to change much from a Raiders attack that scored 26 points per game last season and was productive on the ground and through the air.
“I believe in efficiency. And if we’re efficient in a concept, I am not going to go changing it just for change’s sake," Downing said Wednesday afternoon in a conference call. "If we’re inefficient or we failed to live up to expectations in a certain concept, then I am going to figure out a way to tinker with it and make it work. If I can’t make it work, we simply won’t do it anymore.”
Downing is currently evaluating what worked in 2016, and what didn’t. He’ll search for ways to improve a talented unit without losing the continuity key to offensive progress with a personnel group expected to remain largely the same heading into the 2017 season.
Franchise quarterback Derek Carr and a hulking offensive line led last year’s efforts and will do so again next season. Carr will continue having freedom at the line of scrimmage and will have input in the game plan. Downing says there will be differences from last year’s offense, but they won’t be major.
“It will be very subtle,” Downing said. “We’re going to keep the same system terminology. There’s no reason to change any of that stuff. All we’re doing right now is finding the ways that we can all individually do our jobs better, prepare our positions better and how we can just quarter turn a couple things to make the offense as efficient as possible.”
Efficiency doesn’t always mean high yards per play. At times it’s about getting first downs and vital yards, areas where head coach Jack Del Rio was critical of his offense. He wanted to play “big boy ball” at times, using old school tactics in the run game to pick up important yards.
The running game was productive as a whole with 120 yards per game, but it could be consistently better and Downing said it might need some tweaks.
Del Rio thought his offensive staff needed some tweaks as well. That's why he let Bill Musgrave leave on an expired contract. He wanted to keep Downing in silver and black, especially as his young offensive mind drew interest from other clubs. Downing had a year left on his contract, which included a clause allowing him to interview for offensive coordinator jobs outside the organization.
The Raiders didn't want Downing to leave, especially considering his strong relationship with Carr. Del Rio made a switch shortly after a playoff loss at Houston that caught some off guard.
"I wouldn’t characterize it as a surprise because I’m ready for anything that comes my way in this profession, but I was looking forward to the opportunity to run an offense somewhere in the NFL in 2017," Downing said. "I just feel really fortunate that Coach Del Rio has the trust in me, moving forward, to have that opportunity be here.”
Downing’s transition from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator has been smooth thus far. The offensive staff remains intact save Musgrave – he’s now Denver’s quarterbacks coach – which has helped Downing hit the offseason evaluation hard.
“It’s an incredible blessing to have my first opportunity come this way,” Downing said. “I know everyone on the staff very well. I know how to communicate with them and what makes them tick, which gives me a great head start in that vein. We’re going through offseason cut-ups from last year, and we’ll able to have real and honest conversations about that without them feeling like I’m taking shots at their position. They know I was in the trenches with them.”
Scott Linehan isn’t in the trenches with Downing anymore, but his teachings certainly are. Dallas’ offensive coordinator was Downing’s mentor during stints in Minnesota and Detroit, and helped shape his philosophy in regard to game planning and play calling.
“He’s really my mentor in this profession,” Downing said. “He raised me, taught me how to coach quarterbacks. He taught me how to put together a game plan, so I certainly will use a lot of what he taught me.
“I think what’s unique about the situation here is I’m not installing an offense from the ground up. There is already a system in place and there is a lot about this system, to use a phrase before, that’s not broke. So, there will be things that we do a little differently than I did in my time with Scott, but he certainly is probably the biggest shaping influence in terms of how I will play out as an offensive coordinator.”