ALAMEDA -- Beleaguered Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Knapp knew what was coming.Before even taking the podium following Thursday's practice, he turned to the assembled media and smiled a, well, a knowing smile."Lets keep things in perspective for a second here," Knapp said, before any questions were asked. "Weve played two games in the regular season on offense. Weve had two different centers and a right tackle who played half a game last week. We need some patience. You cant develop a scheme in two weeks in a regular season, especially when last week we faced the No. 3-ranked rush defense from 2011 and the week before they held the No. 2 rush offense in the league to 2.4 yards per carry, the Houston Texans."That was a good team we faced last week. The scheme will be fine. It just takes some time."And there it is. The Raiders are not sweating the offense's lackluster showing, especially the run game, in starting out 0-2 with the run game being basically nonexistent. At least, not publicly.Darren McFadden, who was the most explosive running back in the NFL last season before a Lisfranc injury ended his season seven games in, has been rendered a non-factor thus far, averaging 2.1 yards per carry in Knapp's new West Coast Offense that relies on a zone-blocking scheme.And now, here come the Pittsburgh Steelers and their tough defense.NFL CAPSULE: Raiders vs. SteelersDuring training camp, Knapp compared installing a new offense to a start-up company. So he's not really surprised by the lack of success running the ball so far. But not for the reasons you'd think. The gameplans for the first two games, Knapp said, called for the Raiders to throw the ball more than to run it."That wasour strategy going in and we had success doing it," he said. "Part of it is strategy and part of it is going to be a learning curve. We have to go through the experience of games against different defensive schemes that our guys will learn then changing the parts, the position of center is critical to what we do. He had a good learning experience last week."Thats the first time hes played, in defense of (Stefen Wisniewski). He played six snaps in the first preseason game and that was it. He jumped in there and did a very admirable job considering how little time hes had to play live."Of course, with the success the Raiders had last season in the power-blocking system, many wonder why the Raiders, under rookie coach Dennis Allen, had to change the offense at all.In fact, former offensive line coach Bob Wylie told SiriusXM Radio this week that McFadden was simply too fast to succeed in the more wait-and-see ZBS.RELATED: Gutierrez: Can McFadden thrive with zone-blocking scheme?"I have to speak to my experiences," Knapp said. "The guy who was in Houston (Arian Foster) was a pretty fast runner as well, and he fit in fine with the zone scheme. He also was a young back with an offensive line that had run the scheme for five years and he reaped the benefits of having a line that knew all the nuances."Justin Fargas, when we were here in '08, ran for 1,000 yards and he had a lot of speed, too. I feel very comfortable that the backs we haveDarren McFadden, I dont care what offense you put him in, hes going to be fine. Hes a good running back in all schemes. Well be fine."The issue, then, with the ZBS is that it takes an offensive line more time than usual to learn it and implement it, especially since the line cannot practice cut-blocking on its own team.So, how long does it take to implement this system?"A lot of it depends on who the parts are," Knapp said. "At four different places, Atlanta, here, Seattle and then when I was in Houston, it was already in play, there was a different running back, five different linemen and a different coach. And all places theyve had success where we did it at. It depends on that group of players. Were a little bit younger right now on the O-line than I have been at other places so it takes a little bit longer for them to learn the nuances. A lot of the experiences goes on Sundays."You think about it. We faced one defense the last six months, our own. Now were playing different schemes. So youre going to have some learning parts that go through game experience to help develop the offense."Then how close is it to working? And no, don't hold your breath, Raiders fans."It will take a little while, it will take a little while," Knapp said. "I dont know what the set time is. A lot of it will be changed week to week based on who were playing. Its making progress, its making progress. It may not look up statistically but in the execution on cut blocks, combination blocks, were seeing progress being made."
Editor's Note: The above video is from Dec. 24, 2016.
Donald Penn was nothing short of awesome last season. The veteran Raiders left tackle proved impenetrable, allowing just one sack and 27 quarterback pressures in 676 pass-blocking snaps.
He ranked high among the NFL’s best left tackles at 33, engulfed a career renaissance that began after joining the Raiders three years ago. Penn made the Pro Bowl. He was a vital piece of a 12-4 team that helped the Raiders reach the playoffs.
He hasn’t reveled much in that. Penn’s driven by opportunities missed, and one mishap that haunts him still.
Penn locked horns with Indianapolis linebacker Trent Cole off the left edge during a Week 16 contest against the Colts, and slipped as he was tracking his man away from the pocket. Penn’s feet got tangled and the big man fell. Cole remained upright, darted in and sacked quarterback Derek Carr.
It was Penn’s only sack allowed all season. And Carr got hurt. He suffered a broken fibula that ended his season and realistic hopes of a Raiders playoff run.
Nearly five months have passed since that fluke play. Carr is healthy and a full participant in the Raiders offseason program. The Raiders offensive line might be better after allowing a league-low 18 sacks last season.
There’s plenty to be excited about as the Raiders enter OTAs and a mandatory minicamp. Penn can’t help but lament that isolated incident when Carr went down.
“You have to be an athlete. You try not to think about it too much,” Penn said Tuesday. “You wish you could go back and get it back. I’ve taken that same set I don’t know how many times, on the same field and never just slipped out of nowhere. I’m not going to put it on myself. I should have been able to do something better. You know me, I’m never going to blame the slip for happening. I should have blocked him and held on to him and taken him down with me. That play sticks with me.”
That isn’t all bad. It fuels Penn to continue growing as a player, even at 34 coming off an excellent Pro Bowl season.
“I’m going to try to do what I can do better and make sure it never happens again,” Penn said. “I’ve never gotten a quarterback hurt in my life since I’ve been playing. That was a first. That’s something I take pride in. I’m going to try my hardest to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Penn wants a different ending to this season. Last year the Raiders lost the AFC West crown and a shot to win the team’s first playoff game. Penn suffered a knee injury the following week that kept him from playing in the postseason.
The goal is to realize vast potential now that the Raiders offense is back healthy again.
“I’m all about karma and stuff like that,” Penn said. “Maybe (God is) trying to tell us that this is our year. We have to put in the work to get it. I know D.C. is happy, I’m dang sure happy to get him back. We’re growing and masterminding this offense trying to make it as explosive as possible.”
ALAMEDA – Rookies have been immersed in the Raiders system most of this month, but still have a lot to learn before training camp begins this summer.
There’s significant work ahead this spring during OTAs and mid-June’s mandatory minicamp, and young players will do so from the second and third teams. Even the highly touted ones.
First-round draft pick Gareon Conley played slot cornerback with the second unit and outside cornerback on the third during Tuesday’s OTA open to the media. It’s a position the slick, speedy cover man will vacate posthaste, but the Raiders prefer rookies earn their stripes.
“All of our young guys are going to earn their way,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We have a good football team. We’re going to let them earn their way. We’ll let them compete. We’re early in the competition, so we’ll just go through the offseason and continue to get (Conley) involved and get him reps. These guys will ascend and take their positions as they earn it. We’re really happy with the way he’s started.”
The Raiders didn’t feature a single rookie on their first units Tuesday. Second-round safety Obi Melifonwu, fourth-round offensive tackle David Sharpe and middle linebacker Marquel Lee were featured on the second unit.
Here are some other observations from Tuesday’s OTA sessions.
-- Del Rio said Marshall Newhouse had the inside track to be the team’s starting right tackle. The versatile veteran worked there with the first team, joining a front five otherwise intact from a season ago.
-- Second-year pro Connor Cook, who switched from No. 8 to No. 18 this offseason, ran the second offensive unit. E.J. Manuel worked with the third team.
-- Inside linebacker Ben Heeney worked on a side field with a trainer during Tuesday’s practice, as he continues to rehab from surgery to repair an ankle broken early last season. Jelani Jenkins also did side work after practicing on Monday.
Cory James and Tyrell Adams worked with the first unit at inside linebacker.
-- Veteran running back Marshawn Lynch was limited to individual drills for a second straight day as the Raiders ease him back into football activity.
-- Offensive lineman Austin Howard is working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery, and only practice during individual drills.
-- Cornerback Sean Smith had offseason surgery, but was a full participant in Tuesday’s session.
-- Third-round defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes remains away from the Raiders complex due to an NFL rule preventing players from schools still in session to work with their teams. He won’t re-join the squad until training camp. Undrafted rookie Nicholas Morrow is in a similar spot, but will return next week.
-- Edge rusher Shilique Calhoun played last season at 250 pounds, but looks decidedly bigger now. He told the team website he’s up to 270 pounds.