Q&A with Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie

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Q&A with Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie

ALAMEDA -- Raiders first-year general manager Reggie McKenzie sat down with seven writers in a closed, round-table, state-of-the-team question-and-answer session at team headquarters Friday and addressed issues from the team's poor play and 3-8 record, to his expectations for the season, to the two-game suspension handed, to middle linebacker Rolando McClain earlier in the day.The Q&A lasted 42 minutes. Following then, a transcript of the sit down with McKenzieQuestion: How frustrating has this been for you to see this team that has not met your hopes or expectations?Answer: I mean, you know, going into this thing from the offseason, I knew what road was in front of me and how we had to attack this thing. And as we all know, it's been well-documented, mostly by you guys, about what I had in front of me, including the players and coaches, what we all had in store. Now, with that being said, when Mark Davis and I began this quest, and talked about the future of the Raiders, and that's my ultimate goal, is to build this thing, into a consistent playoff contender and a Super Bowl winner. And we both agreed that we're going to build this thing the right way. Now, going into this training camp, I liked the prospects of the way it was going. I knew where the talent level was, and I knew we didn't have depth to lose players, not one, because I knew it was going to be a drop off. That's without a doubt. But to be where we are now, at 3-8, disappointing. And that's, you know, don't want to be here. I know the fans are not happy, I'm not happy, the coaches, I know the players are not happy. Nobody wants to be, you know, this was a terrible November. This November was just, I mean, it's a bad November. Now, you kind of knew, in September, beginning of the season, going to struggle a little bit. But the November part of the season has not been good at all. And that cannot continue to happen. And it's our job to fix it, starting with me. Player-wise, and the coaches trying to get the situations fixed. You guys see it. Big plays kill us on defense. It's hard to win when you're giving up big plays on defense. It's hard to win on defense that way. So, to answer your question, I was not looking at this as being a, at this point, 3-8. At this point. No.Q: Played great game at Atlanta but since then, been a cliff dive. How does that happen?

A: If I could put my finger on it, I would fix it myself. But, when you look at tape, how we attacked Atlanta, how we stopped the run, how we did not give up big runs. When you count the number of big plays in that game, you can start with that, and how we played on defense. That's why we were in that game. But since then, if you look at game by game, and see the big plays, now, our D-line is not getting knocked around the ball. We're stout up front. But when you talk about run game, run defense, the one thing that you worry about is getting knocked around up front. And our guys are not. But the bottom line is, the gaps. I mean, yeah, that's fixable, but you can't let it happen. So, that's part of it right there. That and a big pass play, especially on third down, when you think you can get off the field. Too many of those since then. Especially in November.Q: Gaps a coaching issue, disconnect with the scheme and the players? What have you seen as being the problem?

A: Well, seeing that I've played, I know some of my responsibilities and you watch practice, a lot of that is on the players -- just do your job. Just do your job. You can't, if you're going to attack, shed off the block, be responsible for this gap. And it's been preached -- this is your job, this is your gap. Most of it is thatNow sometimes I'm sure certain plays call for whether it's a slant, whether it's this. Now that's a call. A guy, you call a play, are you slanting, are you blitzing? Maybe that takes them out because whether we weren't good enough to beat a guy across his face or whether it wasn't the right call at that time. But for the most part it's just being able to do our job. So you can live with that because you can fix it. You can coach it up and say, hey, you know what you did. The 'My Bads' get kind of old after a while, you know.Q: They've been talking about gap discipline here for years, so is it something that's innate with the players? Warren Sapp complained about it when he was here.

A: Everybody wants to make a play so you try to beat a guy around the opposite way. I understand that. But from a consistent basis, the guy next to you or the guy behind you, everybody has to be on the same page. You spoke of Warren Sapp but I'm pretty sure his teammates knew what he may do so you have to compensate for that. But is it innate? I couldn't tell you that. Now you know some players get used to what they do, yeah. But that's what this whole my quest to change the culture of this thing ... that part of it you can't just change overnight because you can't just change a guy. Some guys you just can't change.Q: What kind of job has Dennis done?

A: I'm still pleased with Dennis. It's like, I'm a rookie in this thing, Dennis is a rookie in this thing. So I'm sure he has some rookie mistakes but overall I'm happy with Dennis.Q: So no matter what he's safe for next year?

A: You know what guys? Players, coaches, my scouts, I don't care, the equipment guy, I'm not going to get after ... from a standpoint of who's safe, who's in or out. I don't like to discuss anything during the season. It's my job to evaluate this team, and that's done on a weekly basis, so at the end of this thing I have my evaluation of not only coach Allen but every player and my thoughts of every coach. But that's a season evaluation. That's what I feel about that.Q: You talked about it being a long road to building a competitive team. In what areas are you further along on that road?

A: You're talking about from a players standpoint or organization? Well it was my number one job really to get what I feel is the backbone of the football team, my scouting department. I think I'm further along in that area than anything else.Q: Have you moved further along in terms of the roster? Do you feel you're closer to having a competitive roster than you were when you got here?

A: When I got here? When I got here it was millions and millions of dollars over the cap. I'm trying to figure out how to make these decisions from a cap standpoint. When that plays such a role into your decision-making ... some players you would like to keep if you have the money. But in the beginning of my statement when I talked about here's what you dealt with, Mark told me, 'Here's what we got. Here's what we're going to have to deal with for this first year. Here's your draft picks, here's the money.' Totally understand that. Now it's my job to figure out how you're going to manipulate it. Am I further along? Yes. We're under the cap, we trimmed the guys that we had to. But guys, this thing is going forward. We're going to get better from here on out, especially in the player personnel department. That's my quest and we get on that, really, on a weekly basis.Q: When do you step in on a player like Rolando?

A: I step in from point one. Dennis and I talk on a daily basis numerous times and I talk to Mark on a every other day basis all the time. Were all communicated and all on the same page. Everything that came out of his mouth I could have repeated it also. Coach Allen is the guy who will have to be in front of that team. I want him to be in charge of those players.Q: Will Dennis evaluate assistant coaches after season?

A: He is going to have an evaluation, absolutely. Am I going to have an evaluation also, absolutely. Absolutely.Q: The call for the staff will be his?

A: With my input. Youre talking about scheme and all that. I want to know everybody who is on the short list, long list. Thats just the way it goes guys. This is my football team. Its not a dictatorship by any means but its my football team and Im responsible. We have a great line of communication so thats not going to be an issue guys, at all. It really isnt. Its my job to evaluate the situation and Im going to get that done. Were going to do it the right way. I cant build a team without effectively evaluating whats going on. You have to do it the right way, week to week. Thats why the month of November ... we have five weeks to correct that. Ill be doing some evaluations in those five weeks.Q: Any regrets not leaving offense alone since zone blocking didnt work so well?

A: When youre talk about leaving the offense be youre talking leaving all the coaches be and youre saying thats going to guarantee the same results. You dont know that. Whether its power scheme, zone scheme, tome its all about knocking people off the ball, winning battles up front. I dont care what kind of scheme it is. Either its a good run call or a bad run call. It comes down to those type of things instead of just scheme. You have to mix it up, which we have been doing, especially as of late. Players got to win some battles too, physically.Q: How would you characterize Mark Davis level of frustration?

A: Like I said at the beginning, Mark and I talk all the time. The bottom line is we want to see progress. That November month nobody was pleased with. Nobody. He and I discussed that quite a bit trying to put the finger on it. But we want to see better play. We have five games to do it.Q: Do you now have cap flexibility to make moves you need to in offseason?

A: Some yeah. We should be in good enough situation to do some things. To do a lot of great things? We dont have great room but weve got ... Guys I mean what happened this offseason I dont wish that on anybody, maybe the other teams in our division. That was a struggle, especially coming in here as a rookie GM. I remember talking to Ted Thompson. His rookie year he was able to get Charles Woodson. I would have liked to have done that. I talked to guys all around the league. I didnt realize what the situation, how difficult and what other people thought about it. When you get the job people call and say, What are you going to do with that cap? Youre all what over the cap. How are you going to do that? We can get it done because you got to. But they didnt want to wish that on me. But guys, that part right there Im not crying over spilled milk. Thats no excuse to have a November because of some of the things we put forth and the way we played in Atlanta. It shows what the players can do, without a doubt. From a consistency thing, finishing drives. Defensively it was probably more disappointing because of the number of big plays time and time. After you stop them and have a great play, good play, then all of a sudden wham. Seven points. Easy. Kind of knocked the wind out of you, especially a team like this. Were not at that level where we can continue to overcome time and time again.Q: How much does it hurt that you dont have an elite pass rusher and how much of a priority will that be?

A: Two things -- I want to win up front, and thats on both sides of the ball, with the big boys, but also I want to somehow affect the quarterback position and thats by with good coverage, and corners and a free safety thats going to pick em off, or with somebody hitting them upside the head. Pass rush. A good push up the middle and somebody hes going to be scared of. Were going try and get, guys, were going to try and upgrade at a lot of positions, depth-wise, and get some impact players. Thats going to be on me.Q: Such a big emphasis in getting guys that you looked inside of and knew they loved football, that it was important to them. Do you think you have close to 53 guys like that? In that area are you pleased?

A: I hope that the guys come to that. I cant say that everybodys just totally like that, no. I really dont think theres an NFL team that has 53 guys like that. But the bottom line is that you have the majority of them like that and youve go the leadership that is strong that way, so when youve got some that deviate, then youve got a leader that can get em in check and show em this is the right way to do it. This is how we do it here. So when you look at a Ray Lewis, you can pretty much bet whether its a defensive player whos not totally into it the way he is, I doubt if hed show it much. You know what Im saying? Your surroundings. Thats what weve got to build. Thats part of the whole culture thing as far as, do you have a coach saying, dont do this. You dont want that. You want the players to doggone take it upon themselves and run it. Were not at that level.Q: Did you think coming in you had more of those kinds of guys, surprised at the lack of that this year?

A: You scout guys from other times and you hear about stuff. So I knew some of the players who were in those leadership positions, but Ive been around the LeRoy Butlers and the Reggie Whites and the Brett Favres, youre talking about natural leaders that the team is going to do it that way. I cant say that I had that. Knowing that coming in, no one came to me and told me, hey, you got a great leader in that, no, so to answer that question, no, I didnt know going in that I had a bunch of great leaders, no, I didnt.Q: How about now? Have any emerged that youve noticed?

A: Ive seen some guys show with some leadership qualities now. Sometimes when youve got a guy, who we suspended, being in that position, and calling plays at the beginning and during the offseason, and its hard for other to emerge that way. But then youve got new players, and youve got a guy you trade for in Carson Palmer, coming in at midseason last year trying to be an offensive leader, the dynamics, youve got to build the thing right.When you look at the whole package with Rolando, what you've seen on tape this year, what happened just recently, are you comfortable with what he's done? What's your overall take on the big picture with Rolando and can he come back to this team and be on this team in the future and fill one of those leadership roles?"No. 1, from a leadership standpoint, you cannot do what he did and call yourself a leader. Period. Now, what to do with him afterwards, you're talking about post-suspension, we'll let that play out. I don't want to make a decision or announcement at this time. But, you know, it's not good to act and do what he did.Q: What about what he's done in the games? What's your evaluation of him in the games?

A: That's another thing. From the evaluation standpoint, be it players and coaches, I really want to talk about that at the season's end because we still pretty much got a third of the season to play. I'm looking forward to seeing Omar Gaither in there and I want to see how he runs this team and plays in the middle. But I've had 11 games to evaluate Rolando up close. We'll finish that up at the end.Q: Can you look at a guy like Wheeler, who you got at a pretty decent price for a one-year contract -- will you look to target guys to bring back, maybe before the end of the season, not necessarily him. Or will you wait until after the season?

A: Without getting into which players and all that, yes, we are targeting. That's part of my deal, that's what I want to try to do, is to target and see how we can work it. But, yes, we are kind of targeting certain guys. We have quite a few free agents. We're going to try to target and see who we can get done before the league year (ends) or even before the season. But yes, we are targeting guys.Q: Do you guys view Michael Huff as a cornerback long-term?

A: No, he's a safety. I didn't have a lot of corners to begin with. We had at the start of the season one guy, two guys that were here last year. Michael Huff just gave us the ability because of his skill level, athleticism, he was our best option to do that with.Q: Is it important to you to see Terrelle Pryor play before the end of the year? Do you care?

A: I care because that's the only way I can evaluate him, is to play him. Now, when he plays, how much he plays, that will be a charge to the coaching staff, but yes. We've got a third of the season left, and this is a good time to try to figure out what works best for him.Q: What would be a successful season for you with a third of the season left?

A: I want us to not only play well in the last five games. You can go down -- defense, I don't want to give up big runs. That means our gap control has gotten to a minimum as far as making mistakes. Now if a guy breaks a tackle, you know, that's just there guy's better than our guy. And I'm fine with that. But to give them stuff. We're not good enough to just give guys, let alone points, but just to give them big plays like that. I'm looking for the offense to not just move the ball but score some points, get better in red zone, get better on third down, keep the chains moving, score points. More consistent special teams play, especially in coverage. I'm looking for a lot of things, but I'm looking for some wins.Q: Is this where you find out when it's 3-8 and five games to go when you're evaluating who really wants to play?

A: Who really wants to play, who really wants to be a Raider, who's going to play Raider football. I'm talking each and every one of us, coaches and players.Q: Is that a tall order to ask them to play well based upon how the last four games went?

A: No. It really isn't. It really isn't. Some of the guys physically are beat up. It might be pushing it, pushing those guys when you're talking about playing well. They're fighting through some injuries and some hurts. But no, it's not a tall order.Q: How do players play well against Atlanta and then not take same approach and play poorly week after week?

A: I dont know. When a guy sees, I played this defense this way and this is what happened can I guarantee that player will say that every game? Its hard to say yes because I dont think I know I dont have a handle on how or what Miles Burris is going to play this action or how Rolando is going to fit this run. Its hard to say whos going to do it the right way all the time. Its the coaches job to point it out and make him do it the right way. So, now I wish I had a whole lot of depth to rotate and figure out who can do it better, but were limited. From a standpoint of injuries make the rotation thinner. Guys, its the coaches job to coach them and the players job to do what they coach. It really is.Q: Have you been resistant to pick up free agents? Is that a philosophy or is that a cap thing?

A: No, the philosophy is to upgrade your roster. Did I think some of those guys would upgrade us on the field Guys, I research everything. Before Babins name hit the fan, I researched it. I looked at the tape. I researched everything and made the call. Thats my call.Q: Is it possible Rolando has played his last game?

A: Its going to be a possibility because we suspended him. Now, its always whats going to happen afterward. Whats his approach afterward? I know what he texted, Facebooked or all that stuff What he said, that hes gone. I think I am the one that is going to make that call, not him.Q: Have you talked with him since this all went down?

A: No.Q: Do you feel the need to?

A: Absolutely not.Q: Does he have to say anything or demonstrate anything to the coaches?

A: Yeah, yeah. Its going to be on him. I dont feel the need to approach him. So far, he is not apologetic.Q: Was there one action or a series of actions?

A: His suspension .. doesnt mean this is the first time 'ooh' We wouldnt suspend him unless it was something major, including all that stuff off the field and on the field and all that. I think a two-game suspension pretty much says its an issue.Q: Was Pat Lee cut based on play or was that a warningmessage to other players?

A: Pat Lee understands the defense and the one thing he could do is come in there and get you by games. From a need, I felt, what we really needed from a totality standpoint special teams play we needed productive play in all areas. So with Ron coming back, I felt like we had our season-opening starter coming back and those two kind of cancelled out to me. Now, I wish Pat Lee was more dominant and helped us out a little more on special teams. To his credit, he was kind of beat up physically too.

Will Raiders GM McKenzie break mold and draft inside linebacker early?

Will Raiders GM McKenzie break mold and draft inside linebacker early?

It’s not like the Raiders haven’t been looking for linebacker help. They just haven’t found any entering this week’s NFL draft.

They brought Zach Brown in for a visit, but he didn’t like the team’s offer and left without a contract. They have interest in bringing last year’s starting middle linebacker Perry Riley back, but their valuations don’t match right now and the veteran remains on the open market. They let two-year starter Malcolm Smith join the 49ers in free agency. 

Right now, the position group is a skeleton crew with brittle bones. Free-agent signing Jelani Jenkins is the only interior linebacker with double digit starts, and could man the weak side, or end up a roving backing.

There isn’t much experience or talent or depth there right now, meaning the Raiders might draft an inside linebacker early for the first time in general manager Reggie McKenzie’s tenure.

Sio Moore was a third round pick in 2013, but was a strongside linebacker and edge rusher before switching spots in deference to Khalil Mack. Outside that, McKenzie took Miles Burris (fourth round) in 2012, and choose Ben Heeney and Neiron Ball (fifth round) in 2015. Those picks haven’t worked out well.

Neither have free-agent stopgaps Curtis Lofton or Nick Roach -- a quality player who fell victim to concussion issues – or waiver claim Ray-Ray Armstrong.

It’s been an unexpected black hole considering McKenzie, head coach Jack Del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. all played on the inside.

“We want good linebacker play,” McKenzie said. “Both Jack and I know what a good linebacker is supposed to look like. We’re going to get us a couple, I hope, at some point before we play in September. Whether they’re in this draft or post draft or trade, somebody gets released, we’re going to do everything we can to upgrade our team; every position, including linebacker.”

While there are post-draft avenues to acquire inside linebackers, it might be time to go big at that spot.

There are attractive options likely available at No. 24 overall, where the Raiders can find the immediate impact starter they so desperately need. Let’s take a look at some who could be available when the Raiders pick.

Good fits: Raiders fans may shudder at the thought of selecting an Alabama interior linebacker with question marks. That’s expected after the Rolando McClain experience. Ruben Foster (6 feet, 229 pounds) is a top tier talent who could be slipping in this draft. He had a drug sample come back diluted at the NFL scouting combine, where he was sent home for arguing with a hospital employee. He has had shoulder troubles, though re-checks reportedly went well.

Foster is also an excellent player, the type of athletic thumper the Raiders are looking for. It’s still hard to see him sliding all the way to No. 24.

Florida’s Jarrad Davis (6-1, 238), however, seems like a near-perfect fit. He can cover and tackle, with a killer instinct necessary at that spot. He’s also praised as a high-character player and person focused on football. Analysts say he has good vision, closing speed and has physical gifts to help his continued development shoring areas of weakness. Davis has been well hyped recently, and there’s some thought he too could go higher than No. 24.

Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham should be available there, and could ready right away. Analysts says he’s a playmaker with good instincts, technique and play diagnosis. He’s a quality tackler with a nose for the football. He’s durable and fast enough to handle tight ends and running backs in man coverage. Detractors say he isn’t good getting off blocks and struggles with leverage at times, but Cunningham could be a productive three-down NFL linebacker soon.

LSU’s Duke Riley is a quick linebacker who can chase ball carriers down, and finished with a solid senior season. He might be a strong Day 3 pickup should the Raiders target other positions early in this draft.

Note: Temple's Haason Reddick wasn't mentioned here because he isn't expected to be available at No. 24. 

McKenzie, Del Rio ‘unified since Day 1,’ ushering Raiders into next phase

McKenzie, Del Rio ‘unified since Day 1,’ ushering Raiders into next phase

Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Jack Del Rio have done three pre-draft press conferences now. They’ve got the routine down, knowing when to deflect questions, when to put people off the scent and, more importantly, how to seem unpredictable.

They were in lockstep again Friday, less than a week before the 2017 NFL Draft.

During their first, McKenzie offered one criticism of his head coach.

“Can you guys get Jack out of my office?” McKenzie said in 2015, with tongue firmly in cheek.

The rhetorical question was answered with a laugh. McKenzie was acknowledging how much Del Rio and staff wanted to support the scouting process. McKenzie ultimately pulls the trigger on draft day, but Del Rio has a loud voice in the room as he looks for players who fit his locker room and his schemes.

McKenzie has open ears, taking advice from the entire coaching staff while arranging his draft board. This time of year especially, coaches and scouts are working together.

“It’s been unified since Day 1,” Del Rio said. “Reggie and I are very unified and much on the same mission and that is to bring a world championship home to this organization. Everything we’re doing is attacking that, adding these impact players where we can.”

The pair was focused on improving a lackluster roster that featured Derek Carr and Khalil Mack but finished 3-13 the year before. Now their partnership is entering Phase II.

They must decide which players to add, and decide which previously drafted players to keep. There are some obvious extensions in the works, with Carr, Mack and Gabe Jackson. They had to let some homegrown talent go in free agency as they attempt to upgrade depth and build a championship roster that can build on last year’s success.

“There’s a whole different phase that we’re about to go through as an organization as you begin to mature, some of those players have to be re-signed or not. Those are decisions you have to make in all of this. This is year three for us working together and I feel like the relationship with the scouts and the coaches and the sharing of information is excellent. We want to continue to work that way.”