Saunders brings experiences, large playbook to Oakland
When Hue Jackson was named head coach of the Raiders on Jan. 18, the word was out he intended to interview Al Saunders for the position of offensive coordinator.
"Obviously he is someone who's out there that we would love to talk to, but there are several people we're going to talk to," Jackson said. "We're going to do everything we can to put together the best staff we can here in Oakland."
Either all those interviews were very brief, or Jackson liked everything he heard from Saunders and didn't need to talk to anyone else.
Three days after Jackson was hired there were multiple reports that Saunders had been hired, and it was confirmed in typically understated Raiders fashion on Jan. 25 when they simply added Saunders' name to the coaching roster on the club website.
For the last two years, Sanders has been serving as an offensive senior assistant, a consultant of sorts, for the Baltimore Ravens. There, the offensive coordinator was Cam Cameron, and the quarterbacks coach, in 2009, was Jackson.
"He's a guy who's been in the league a long time, we worked together in Baltimore, we have a great relationship and he shares the same vision I do for our offense," Jackson told Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
Although Saunders was the play-caller during his last two stops as an offensive coordinator in Kansas City (2001 through 2005) and St. Louis (2008), Jackson said he will continue to call plays for the Raiders in 2011.
He is known for being detail-oriented, having one of the biggest playbooks in the NFL and being from the Don Coryell-Ernie Zampese "tree" of offense.
Though Jackson said his dealings with Tom Cable were fine, Davis alluded to some "resistance" during the press conference announcing his hiring.
With Jackson as the head coach and play-caller, with the offense running through Saunders, there should be no resistance.
Saunders' job will be to run offensive meetings and quarterbacks meetings with Jackson otherwise occupied.
Another advantage for Saunders was having served in 2006 and 2007 as an assistant head coach for Joe Gibbs with the Washington Redskins, during which time Oakland quarterback Jason Campbell was in his second and third NFL seasons and started 20 games.
Davis made it clear during the press conference hiring Jackson he still believes Campbell to be a winning player in the mold of former Raider Jim Plunkett and thought critics were too impatient last season, describing some quarterbacks as "late bloomers."
-- The coaching staff of Hugh Jackson began to take shape when the Raiders acknowledged five coaches would not be back by removing them from the team roster on the club website.
The club had already removed the name of defensive coordinator John Marshall the previous week.
Those who also will not return are passing game coordinator Ted Tollner, quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett, line coach Jim Michalczik, assistant line coach Chris Morgan and linebackers coach Mike Haluchak.
Among those who accompanied Jackson to the Senior Bowl and apparently safe are wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal, tight ends coach Adam Henry, defensive backs coach Lionel Washington, running backs coach Kelly Skipper and special teams coordinator John Fassel.
Secondary coach Kevin Ross and defensive line coach Mike Waufle are still under contract and are back, as his squad development director Willie Brown.
One possibility for defensive coordinator who sources said has spoken to Jackson is Chuck Bresnahan, who served in that capacity for the Raiders during three straight division title winning seasons from 2000 through 2002 and was defensive coordinator for Cincinnati when Jackson was the wide receivers coach.
The Raiders were denied permission to speak with Jets secondary coach Dennis Thurman, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.
--Tight end Zach Miller was added to the Pro Bowl roster when Antonio Gates pulled out of the game because of a foot injury. Miller, the Raiders' leading receiver in each of the last four years, caught 60 passes for 685 yards and a career-high five touchdowns and will back up starter Marcedes Lewis of Jacksonville.
The last Raiders tight end to make the Pro Bowl was Ethan Horton in 1991.
--In attempting to defend the Raiders' record in the NFL Draft and doing his best to minimize the damage done by the selection of JaMarcus Russell, owner Al Davis took an inadvertent swipe at Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who was an option for the Raiders at No. 1 overall in 2007.
"There was some talk of Calvin Johnson, but look at Calvin up at Detroit," Davis said. "How many games did they win this year? Calvin hadn't done anything for them, hadn't made an indelible impression on the won-lost record."
Johnson caught 77 passes for 1,120 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2010 and has 270 catches for 4,191 yards and 33 touchdowns since 2007.
Over that same span, the leading Raiders wide receiver in each of those four seasons (Louis Murphy in 2009 and 2010, Johnnie Lee Higgins in 2008 and Ronald Curry in 2007) combined for 2,213 yards and 14 touchdowns.
-- Davis feels he never did get the straight story on what happened to former assistant coach Randy Hanson, who said his jaw was broken by former Raiders coach Tom Cable.
"I don't know how he got beat up. Just don't know," Davis said. "Can't get the story. It's like Gitmo and trying to find out, did they water board those guys or not? It's hard to believe. Four guys went into the room with a guy, the guy comes out with a broken jaw and no one saw it."
"There's nobody else I've ever had to draw anything on the board for. To me, that's special. That's why I call him Coach Davis. Because he's a coach and can still talk football with me. He's my resource." -- Raiders coach Hue Jackson, initially embracing the idea of working for Al Davis.
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.
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.
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.