Downing: Raiders offense a 'Swiss Army knife,' players will have input

Downing: Raiders offense a 'Swiss Army knife,' players will have input

ALAMEDA -- Todd Downing has made tweaks to the Raiders offense since becoming its coordinator. They’ve already been installed during the offseason program, and players are adjusting to them during OTAs.

Downing has implemented ideas on how to improve a productive system run by Bill Musgrave in two previous seasons, and players will execute that scheme as directed. They’ll also have some input in a system that's still evolving some. 

Much has been made about quarterback Derek Carr’s influence and freedom at the line of scrimmage. He’s always had that, even as a rookie. He will have more say in game plans, and be allowed to operate concepts where he feels comfortable. A quarterback, Downing says, is "an extension of the play caller."

While player input starts with the trigger man, it certainly doesn’t stop there. Downing’s ears are open to all suggestions.

“The players we have in this building garner a certain respect,” Downing said. “We have a great group of veterans and some really hard working young guys. I like taking feedback from them on ways we can adjust things. We were talking about adjustments to the system or little tweaks, sometimes it’s their idea.

“There’s no pride in authorship from me on how we’re going to do things. If there’s something that’s better suited to our players, I want to hear about it. It’s my job to digest that and be the filter or the funnel from all the broad scope ideas to see what fits our offense. As a whole, I just want our players to have confidence in what they’re doing. I think you can play faster when you’re confident. If you have a sense of ownership in the scheme, you’re going to play even faster.”

That open-door policy played out during Tuesday’s OTA session, when Downing talked shop with running back Marshawn Lynch during some downtime. It’s common practice during Downing’s interaction with players.

“I like to kind of be a walk-around guy that gets feedback during practice,” Downing said. “Sometimes it might be a downtime during special teams period or it might be in pre-practice when they’re stretching, but I certainly like to get every opportunity I can to get their feedback and make sure they feel like they have a voice.

“I tell the guys in the offensive meeting, there’s a sliding scale to that. If you’re a rookie and you’ve never taken a snap in the NFL, my attention span might not be that long, but if you’re Donald Penn or Rodney Hudson or one of those guys, I’ll listen.”

Downing has been given keys to a Ferrari, and wants to make it hum. He has an MVP candidate at quarterback, a power rusher in Lynch, one of the NFL’s best offensive lines and dynamic players in the passing game. He has great tools to exploit opposing weaknesses, and must continue finding the best ways to do so.

“I think I like to just look for matchups and try to exploit those matchups and let guys go win their one-on-one battles,” Downing said. “I think that the roster that (general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Jack Del Rio) have put together gives us the ability to kind of be a Swiss Army knife and use whatever tool we need to. I’m excited about creating those matchups against the Raiders’ defense for a few more weeks here and into training camp, but then as we game plan as well.”

 

Raiders OC Todd Downing: New weapons will 'make me look good'

Raiders OC Todd Downing: New weapons will 'make me look good'

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.”

Manuel: OC Downing made signing with Raiders a 'no brainer'

Manuel: OC Downing made signing with Raiders a 'no brainer'

EJ Manuel met Todd Downing at the 2013 Senior Bowl. That was roughly four years ago now, when Downing was Detroit quarterbacks coach and Manuel was a highly touted quarterback out of Florida State.

The Lions didn’t need a quarterback then but the Buffalo Bills certainly did, selecting Manuel with the No. 16 overall pick. Manuel appreciated Downing’s tuteledge as a draft prospect, and was thrilled when Buffalo made him quarterbacks coach before his second professional season.

The pair formed a solid bond then and now have a chance to foster it. Manuel signed a contract with the Raiders on Monday afternoon, re-joining forces with the Silver and Black’s recently promoted offensive coordinator. Manuel said Downing was a big reason why he signed on this deal.

“When he did call once free agency began and told me that they were interested, for me it was a no-brainer,” Manuel said in a conference call. “That’s a situation you want. Especially as a quarterback and in my situation, trying to really change the perception of whatever I’ve gone through in Buffalo and all that kind of stuff. I know the player I can be and so does coach Downing. That’s what I’m excited about.”

Manuel’s NFL career hasn’t been smooth. He was a rookie starter who lost that job in his second season, a setback for a physically gifted passer from Florida State hoping for better.

Manuel won’t regain a starting spot in Oakland, where Derek Carr is firmly entrenched atop the depth chart. Manuel has enjoyed previous interactions and marveled at his rapid rise from afar.

“We watched him on tape a bunch because they played the same teams during the season,” Manuel said. “I used to even call or text Todd during the season the past two years and just ask him what he was doing as far as teaching Derek. What was he doing to help his game jump levels so quickly? I felt like he elevated his game so fast as a young guy. To have the consistency and such that he’s had, especially last year, in this league is very hard to do. However I can help him, I’m willing to do, but of course I’m here to compete for the No. 2 job.”

That spot could well go to Connor Cook, a 2016 fourth-round pick who started a playoff game last season with Carr and Matt McGloin on the shelf.

“I just want to be an addition,” Manuel said. “I’m not an ego guy and all that kind of stuff. I’m not driven by that. Obviously, as a player you’re very prideful in yourself, but I’m about the team. I want the team to get better. I want to be here to help this franchise and team to be where they are in whatever role or capacity that is. That’s what I’m excited to do.”