Hue Jackson: Raiders 'chasing greatness'
It probably wasn't how Hue Jackson envisioned his first day as an NFL head coach, but convention is out the window when it comes to the Raiders.
Jackson became the 17th head coach in Raiders history (including two tours by Art Shell), but essentially became a backdrop as Al Davis made public his issues with departing head coach Tom Cable, including $120,000 in fines.
Each of Oakland's last two coaches, Lane Kiffin and Tom Cable, departed with issues over money. Kiffin had a grievance denied seeking back pay after being fired "with cause," and Cable has filed a grievance seeking the money deducted in fines.
So why would Jackson want to step into that kind of environment?
"I know that we've talked about coaches before me, and I have great respect for them, but they're not Hue Jackson, OK?," Jackson said. "I came here for one reason, to restore the great tradition of the Oakland Raiders. And that's why I'm sitting here today."
Jackson's hire was no surprise. Hired last Jan. 26 to take over the offense from Cable, Jackson was regarded in most quarters as the head coach in waiting. Cable remained as coach on the condition he turn over the offense and play-calling to Jackson, having handled both duties since midway through the 2008 season.
The offensive improvement under Jackson was dramatic, as the Raiders went from 31st in the NFL to 10th in total offense and 31st to sixth in scoring, more than doubling their point total from 197 to 410.
Cable was in the final year of his contract, with the Raiders having the option to extend it two years for $5 million. On Jan. 4, the same day Jackson interviewed for the head coaching position of the San Francisco 49ers, the Raiders announced they wouldn't pick up the option on Cable's contract.
The departure of Cable was not well received by a segment of players who were critical of making a change when the Raiders had gone 8-8 after seven straight years of 11 or more losses.
Jackson's ascension could change that perception.
"I think it will help for some of the players, definitely," tight end Zach Miller said. "Keeping the offensive coordinator as the head coach will allow us to have some continuity and allow us to keep building rather than changing anything up."
Cornerback Stanford Routt liked the way Jackson openly challenged the offense to go at the defense in practice, even engaging in trash talk with defenders.
"As much as I like Tom and would have liked to have him back, there was a part of me that wanted to see what it would be like to have Hue in charge," Routt said. "I guess we'll find out."
While Cable talked about the Raiders' improvement before his departure, Jackson made it clear he thought the Raiders could have been better than a .500 team and are chasing something more substantial.
"We're going to create an environment here for our players to do great, and that's what we're chasing," Jackson said. "We're chasing greatness ... My job is to do everything I can to take this team where we want to go which is the Super Bowl."
Although Davis said he interviewed three other candidates before deciding upon Jackson, none were seriously considered. He said they were candidates he had interviewed before, and he pulled out their resumes, gave them a call and talked football.
"I more or less compared them to Jackson. I felt everything pointed to Jackson. Everything," Davis said.
At the press conferences when Kiffin was hired, and later when he was fired with Cable taking over, Davis talked about the need to get in the end zone, and Jackson's ability to produce points was a big factor in his hiring.
"We watched what happened, and what happened is the offense improved," Davis said. "The guy can get in the end zone. He's got some things going that we're excited about."
Cable was taken to task not only because the Raiders won only three of their last six games and didn't make the playoffs, but because of the residual effects of an alleged altercation that left former assistant coach Randy Hanson with a broken jaw and an ESPN report detailing alleged domestic abuse against a former wife and girlfriend.
Davis said those incidents resulted in two lawsuits against the Raiders, with the owner opting to take $20,000 per paycheck over six checks as fines because lawyers were spending too much time on those issues.
He also said Cable broke company policy by having a girlfriend (he has since married someone else) accompany him on the road and be with him the night before games.
"All of this stuff goes a long way against my wishes, against my way of living, against my life and against the Raider way, and I just wasn't going to take it anymore," Davis said.
-- New head coach Hugh Jackson said he planned to be the Oakland Raiders' primary play-caller, but the team has hired longtime NFL coach Al Saunders as offensive coordinator, according to multiple sources.
Saunders was an offensive consultant with the Baltimore Ravens when Jackson coached quarterbacks. Saunders has also been an offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Rams, and compiled a 17-22 record as the San Deigo Chargers' head coach. He has also worked for the Washington Redskins.
Saunders has also on two occasions been interviewed by Raiders owner Al Davis for the Raiders' head coaching position.
I am going to be the primary play-caller, but we're going to do everything we can to recruit the best staff," Jackson said when he was hired. "(Saunders) is someone who's out there that we would love to talk to, but there several people we're going to talk to."
-- The Raiders will be looking for a new defensive coordinator as John Marshall will not be rehired after his two-year contract expired. The Raiders gave up 31 or more points six times, losing all six, and four times in their last seven games.
Davis hinted Marshall was on thin ice after his first year, when his hand-picked defensive line coach, Dwaine Board, was fired and replaced by Mike Waufle.
"Two years ago the defense didn't play well enough for me and it didn't play well enough last year," Davis said. "If you look at it, we made a switch with the defensive line coaches that should have been a sign to you that maybe we weren't happy with what was going on."
The Raiders were believed to be interested in Chuck Pagano, Raiders defensive backs coach in 2006, as a defensive coordinator candidate. Pagano, however, was promoted by the Baltimore Ravens to defensive coordinator when Craig Mattison left to the University of Michigan.
Other coaches who won't be back are offensive line coach Jim Michalczik (returning to a college job at Cal) and quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett.
--In Davis' first public comments since the release of quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the owner seemed more saddened than angry at a player who pocketed $39 million in guaranteed money but never scratched the surface of his potential for a No. 1 overall draft pick in 2007.
When Lane Kiffin was fired, Davis said he told the coach, "He's a great player, get over it and coach him on the field."
"We had a big investment in this guy," Davis said. "Basically, he's a good person, but he's got personal problems and I decided that it was time that we were not going to fight it any more. I wasn't going to. I wasn't going to ask the coaching staff to do it.
"It hurt us a great deal. But you have to go on. You have to overcome things."
--Sounds as if the Raiders had zero intention of picking up the third year on Nnamdi Asomugha's contract and were spared releasing him when the contract voided automatically because he failed to reach several likely to be earned incentives.
Asomugha was scheduled to make a minimum of $16.8 million, with the figure going higher if the average salary of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL exceeded it.
"That 17 million dollars can bring in two or three players that can help you win," Davis said.
Davis said he asked Asomugha last year if he wanted to be traded to the New York Jets, as published reports suggested. He said Asomugha told him he did not want to be traded.
The Raiders, Davis said, would talk to Asomugha once free agency begins under a new collective bargaining agreement and he could return if a deal made financial sense.
-- Davis seemed more amused than angered by criticisms from punter Shane Lechler regarding the decision to let Tom Cable go.
"My first reaction was three years ago, if you get out your newspaper, Shane said publicly he wasn't coming back, he didn't like it here," Davis said. "A month later, he was coming back because I gave him the highest paid contract of a specialist in pro football."
QUOTE TO NOTE:
"The fire in Hue will set a flame that will burn for a long time in the hearts and minds of Raiders nation." -- Raiders owner Al Davis' statement upon the hiring of Hue Jackson, his ninth head coach in 17 years since 1995.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Raiders began to transition away from being a strict zone-blocking team last year when Hue Jackson arrived and integrated gap and power schemes. Tom Cable is a zone-blocking purist, a philosophy not shared by either owner Al Davis or Jackson.
With line coach Jim Michalczik set to return to Cal, the Raiders will be seeking a new coach - one who is closer in line philosophically with what Jackson wants.
By changing up their blocking schemes, the Raiders went from 21st in rushing to second.
After twice losing the starting job to Gradkowski, Campbell gained traction over the last five games of the season and solidified his status as the 2011 starter. His 84.5 passer rating was the highest since Rich Gannon in 2002 and his scrambling ability kept drives alive. Gradkowski's fire and energy won him the job from Campbell in Week 2 and again later in Week 12, but he injured his throwing shoulder and ended up each of the last two seasons on injured reserve. Boller got minimal playing time but has a background with Jackson. Frye, who spent all season on injured reserve with a thumb injury, lost his biggest booster in Tom Cable.
McFadden missed three games due to injury (hamstring, turf toe) but still enjoyed a breakout season, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, gaining 1,157 yards, catching 47 passes for 507 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns. He looked every bit the 2008 No. 4 overall pick after a disappointing first two seasons. Reece was more involved as a playmaker than any Raiders fullback in years, with 122 yards rushing and 25 catches for 233 yards and three touchdowns, although his blocking could be better. Bush provided 655 yards and eight rushing touchdowns as the thunder to McFadden's lightning. He had two 100-plus yard games when McFadden was hurt. Cartwright was a core special teams player and locker-room leader. Bennett was veteran insurance who was seldom active.
Starter -- Zach Miller. Backup -- Brandon Myers.
The Raiders' leading receiver in each of the last four years, Miller had 60 receptions for 685 yards and a career-best five touchdowns despite a plantar fascia tear and a leg contusion that hobbled him for part of the season. Easily the Raiders' most reliable receiver, the injuries hurt his blocking at times in the second half of the season. Myers caught 12 passes for 80 yards and is a reliable backup but like Miller in that he's an adequate blocking presence if not a huge one.
Heyward-Bey has yet to validate the No. 7 spot the Raiders used in the 2009 draft although he's been given ample opportunity. In 25 games, he has 35 receptions for 490 yards and two touchdowns, 26 for 365 and one score in 2010. He had much fewer drops and only marginally better production. Murphy improved only marginally from a promising rookie season (41 catches, 609 yards). Ford, a rookie fourth-round pick, was the most dangerous receiver with an 18.8-yard average and two scores on 25 catches. Higgins has regressed in each of his last two seasons. Schilens, rehabbing from a twice-broken foot and knee surgery, wasn't available until the end of the season and caught five passes. Miller has been a fringe player as a receiver and return specialist.
Veldheer started nine games as a third-round pick from a Division II school and showed considerable promise despite a propensity for penalties and some difficult games against tough matchups like James Harrison, Cameron Wake and Dwight Freeney. He and Gallery, who missed four games with a hamstring pull, created a lot of running room for the second-ranked running game. In the second half of the season, Satele may have been Oakland's best lineman, getting consistently to the second level and as far as the sideline to block on reverses. Carlisle's play has begun to slip and adding gap blocking reduced his effectiveness. Walker has provided more than the Raiders could have anticipated, although it's conceivable Henderson, displaced by Veldheer, could move to the right side. Loper filled in when Gallery was injured and seldom played after that. Campbell played exclusively at right guard and never got any time on the line as a developmental pick. Barnes played in packages with three tight ends as the third eligible receiver, provided extra run push in those sets and even caught a touchdown pass.
Shaughnessy has the look of a future star with seven sacks in year three. Seymour might have been the NFL's most dominant lineman when the Raiders went on a three-game win streak, but had hamstring issues at the beginning of the season and again at the end. Kelly enjoyed a breakout year with seven sacks and a noticeable improvement in his level of play. Houston had five sacks as a season-long starter and Henderson missed seven games with a stress fracture but showed he could still be a run-stopping force inside by keeping his snaps to a reasonable range. Scott was getting pressure if not sacks before being lost for the season with a torn ACL. Bryant, a second-year player who was an undrafted free agent out of Harvard, had two strong games and an especially dominant season finale playing both end and tackle when Seymour was out with a hamstring injury.
Groves converted from defensive end to weak-side linebacker and provided more energy and enthusiasm than big plays. McClain ended up the Raiders' third leading tackler who by the end of the season and was beginning to assert himself as a force after a less than inspiring start. Wimbley, acquired by trade from Cleveland, served as a nickel pass rusher in addition to being the strong-side linebacker and had a team-leading nine sacks. Goethel won the job as the weak-side linebacker during training camp only to have back surgery and miss half the season. He was splitting time with Groves and will get a good shot to start. Brown remains a special teams staple and twice filled in for McClain in the middle when the rookie was injured. Howard was phased out and saw time on in certain packages because of suspect run defense. Williams is a core special teams player who is a favorite of the owner. Davis was signed off the 49ers practice squad and was active for only six games, making four special teams tackles.
Starters -- LCB Nnamdi Asomugha, RCB Stanford Routt, SS Tyvon Branch, FS Michael Huff. Backups -- CB Chris Johnson, CB Jeremy Ware, CB Walter McFadden, S Mike Mitchell, S Hiram Eugene, S Stevie Brown.
Asoumugha was targeted only 33 times, gave up 14 completions for no touchdowns and was virtually ignored on his side of the field. Opponents only had a 40 percent completion rate going at Routt, who beat out Johnson and intercepted two passes to have his best season. Branch had a tough year in coverage, giving up a team-high eight touchdown passes and a 75 percent completion rate by opposing quarterbacks. Branch's tackling was also suspect at times. Huff had some big moments as a blitzer and ball-stripper as well as other difficult moments as a single deep safety. Johnson's play was off and on in a year he was beaten out by Routt. Ware and McFadden were forced into the mix because of injuries toward the middle of the season, struggled, and ended up being inactive for the last three games. Mitchell saw considerable playing time as a big nickel linebacker and showed progress from his rookie season. Eugene is a core special teams player who is marginal at safety. Brown, a compensatory seventh-round pick, showed a nose for the ball in training camp and had worked his way into the secondary rotation by the end of the season.
K Sebastian Janikowski, P Shane Lechler, KR Jacoby Ford, PR Johnnie Lee Higgins, PR Nick Miller, LS Jon Condo. Janikowski had a career-high 33 field goals but missed eight kicks after missing only three in 2009. One of those misses, from 32 yards against Arizona, cost the Raiders the game. He had 29 touchbacks, but only four of those came in the last seven games as he appeared to lose his deep stroke. Lechler's gross average dropped from 51.1 to 47.0 and his net from 43.9 to 40.8, but he still led the AFC in both categories and made the Pro Bowl. Ford was an electrifying kickoff returner, setting a franchise record with three touchdowns. He'll be tried on punt returns in training camp, because neither Higgins nor Miller did anything special in that area. Condo has not made a bad snap in three years on the job.