NAPA -- The script has been flipped and the roles reversed. Somewhat.Because a decade ago -- in a stadium the Raiders used to call home -- Carson Palmer was the mentor and Matt Leinart the student. Now, while Palmer remains the unquestioned starter, as he was entering his senior season at USC, it is Leinart who he has had to lean on while learning a new offense.Same offense Leinart played in the past two years at Houston under his quarterbacks coach, Greg Knaap, the former Raiders offensive coordinator who is now returning to Oakland in the same capacity under first-year head coach Dennis Allen.Ironic, no?"It's an interesting turn of events," Leinart said Tuesday. "To be with Carson again, it's crazy. It's 10 years removed since he left USC. It's 10 years, we're back together, which is fun. It's interesting because Carson's been around the game a long time, (but) for me, being part of this offense a few years, I'm still competing my butt off, but this is the first year I've really felt like that veteran leader to help the young guys."Because we're a young football team, so this is the first year I've really felt like I'm helping the young guys."Except Palmer is not that young. Not in regular years -- he's going to be 33 years old on Dec. 27 -- or football years -- he's entering his 10th NFL season after being the No. 1 overall pick of the 2003 draft as the reigning Heisman Trophy winner."He's the same guy," Leinart said with a knowing grin. "Three kids now, married, but he's got the same personality. That's why we get along so good, both being from Orange County and kind of the same personality, lifestyle type thing. He's no different, though, than he was when he was 21."Leinart, though, grew up rooting for the Raiders, even as he succeeded Palmer at USC and won his own Heisman two years later, in 2004. Palmer was simply a football fan. And now, Palmer is getting coached up by Leinart in Knapp's version of the West Coast offense with a zone-blocking scheme.Yet while Palmer does not see the irony in it all, he is appreciative of Leinart's, ahem, coaching."No disrespect to my quarterback coach, Coach Flip (John DeFilippo) and Coach Knapp, but its different when you hear it from a player, for whatever reason," Palmer said. "Your coach can tell you the same thing over and over again and every once in a while Matt will chime in and say, You know, I hit this on this play against this team or whatever. Its nice to get a coaching point from a player some times. Not all the time, but sometimes."Hes got experience in it because hes done it and if he hasnt done it, hes seen it done by another quarterback in (Matt) Schaub or T.J. Yates or whoever it was. Its really nice to get kind of the same coaching points, but its a little more believable when you get it from a player sometimes."Leinart, though, was not about to take the credit. Not when he's been around Palmer most of his adult life."I know he's getting coached better then he's ever been coached," Leinart said. "And that's nothing against the other former coaches. But just the way Coach Knapp coaches, and this offense, I think it's different for Carson but it's something that I think he can thrive in."This is an offense that is very similar to what we ran at USC with Coach (Norm) Chow and (Steve) Sarkesian and all those guys, Coach (Lane) Kiffin, and it's funny, I know myself and Carson both like getting out of the pocket and throwing on the run. Some offenses you don't do that a whole lot. But in this offense, with all the misdirection stuff we do and the running game we have, that bootleg stuff, that's why Houston is so good at it."And why the Raiders believe they can do it toowith Leinart acting as a conduit for his old college teammate.
STANFORD – Todd Downing has long been responsible for intently analyzing college quarterbacks entering the NFL Draft. He certainly did so during two seasons as Raiders quarterbacks coach, adding input to personnel department evaluations on young signal callers.
This offseason, he’s using a wide-angle lens. Downing is the Raiders offensive coordinator now, promoted to the position after Bill Musgrave was allowed to leave on an expired contract.
Coaches enter the draft evaluation process relatively late – they have a season to coach, after all – but Downing prides himself on working hard in evaluating talent. Working with general manager Reggie McKenzie’s staff, coaches feel like their voice is being heard.
That’s important to a coordinator especially, who must make a scheme work with talent around him.
“Reggie and his staff have always done a tremendous job of listening to our vision for the offense or the defense,” Downing said Thursday at Stanford’s pro day. “It’s been a joy to work with those guys over the past three years.
“(Head coach Jack Del Rio) really expects us to be accountable for our position group. Now that I’m the coordinator, there’s more of a broad scope when looking at offensive talent in the draft. When you work that hard (evaluating players), I think the scouts know that your opinion is well grounded, and that validates it a little bit.”
Downing is always on the lookout for weapons, especially while making tweaks to the Raiders offense. The Silver and Black found a few, adding tight end Jared Cook, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, offensive lineman Marshal Newhouse and quarterback EJ Manuel.
Quarterback Derek Carr helped him get some. The full-time East Bay resident has been active recruiting free agents, trying to improve an already strong Raiders offense.
“You guys know how passionate he is about this game, and about this team and backing up this franchise,” Downing said. “(His involvement in recruiting) didn’t surprise any of us. He’s pretty hands on when it comes to football. He lives in the area, so he hopped in when we needed it and it paid off.”
Cook and Patterson especially could add dimensions to a well-rounded Raiders attack. Cook has made some big plays in the past, and should be a reliable receiving tight end the Raiders have lacked in recent seasons.
“He has a skill set that will be fun to play with (schematically),” Downing said. “We’re excited to see what he can do, and I know Derek is excited to add him. He has a history of making plays in this league, and that’s something we’re excited to have.”
Patterson’s primarily known as a kick returner – he’s a two-time All Pro on special teams – but the Raiders hope he’ll be active on offense.
“With guys like that, you just find a way to get them the rock and let them do the rest of the work,” Downing said. “They make me look good. I can call a simple play and he takes it the distance and it looks like I designed something special.”
A week after signing a deal with the Vikings, former Raiders running back Latavius Murray has undergone ankle surgery.
The Vikings made the announcement Wednesday afternoon.
Minnesota issued the following statement regarding the surgery:
"Vikings RB Latavius Murray had successful ankle surgery today. The surgery was performed by Dr. Bob Anderson in Charlotte, North Carolina. We were aware of the required surgery prior to signing Latavius on March 16. Latavius is expected to fully recover and be available for training camp."
Murray's deal with the Vikings is reported worth $15 million over three years, but can reportedly be voied after the first year.
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Murray became the Raiders' primary running back midway through the 2015 season. In his three years in Oakland, Murray carried the ball 543 times for 2,278 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2015.