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Tim Brown says making Hall of Fame would be bittersweet

Tim Brown likes to think he is running downfield open when it comes to the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting on Saturday. There aren’t as many receivers going against the former Raiders great this year, after Cris Carter got in in 2013 and Andre Reed last year. Brown is a finalist for a sixth straight year since first becoming eligible in 2010 and only has one other receiver to compete with in Marvin Harrison. ”Certainly the logjam is not the same,” Brown said in a conference call. Brown ranks fifth all-time in receptions (1,094), sixth in receiving yards (14,934) and is tied for seventh all-time (with Hall of Famer


Oakland Raiders’ Top Free-Agency Targets at Wide Receiver

The Oakland Raiders are heading into yet another offseason with more questions than answers. After a 3-13 season, the team is in the process of completely rebuilding its coaching staff. That’s a big step in the right direction, but it won’t mean much if the new coaches don’t have the personnel on the field to turn things around.

Last offseason, Oakland had more than $60 million to spend, but what the front office did with these funds was unimpressive to say the least. Rather than bring in real difference-makers, Reggie McKenzie instead opted to try to fill as many roster spots as possible with veterans who were clearly past their prime. The hope was to get high production at a discounted price.

This paid off in some circumstances—Donald Penn, Charles Woodson—but the approach was a failure overall. 

This upcoming offseason, the Raiders will once again have plenty of money to spend. According to ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson, the Raiders should have at least $47 million. This time around, McKenzie has to spend to win.

Oakland has plenty of areas that need improvement, but part of that money has to go toward adding a proven playmaker at wide receiver. The team is set at quarterback with Derek Carr. Now, it’s a matter of getting him some real weapons.

Here’s a list of Oakland’s top targets at the position.

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Grantham spurns Raiders

Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who interviewed Monday for the Raiders defensive coordinator job, has to decided to remain at the school. Oakland offered Grantham a two-year contract, according to NFL Network. New head coach Jack Del Rio is expected to turn his sights to Seahawks linebackers coach and former 49er Ken Norton Jr., according to league sources.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Jack Del Rio Great Fit for Raider Nation & Franchise QB Carr

The Oakland Raiders have hired Jack Del Rio to be their new head coach.

How will Del Rio impact the Raiders? Have the Raiders found their franchise quarterback in Derek Carr?

Watch as Stephen Nelson and Raiders running back Maurice Jones-Drew discuss the Raiders’ future in the video above.

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com

Improving Personnel Critical for Oakland Raiders to Run No-Huddle Offense

The Oakland Raiders are either incompetent or ingenious. New head coach Jack Del Rio and his handpicked offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave weren’t hot coaching candidates and have spotty resumes, but that didn’t deter a team that hires new coaches every couple of years like clockwork.

Fans are obviously hoping that somehow hiring Del Rio, Musgrave and what is likely to be a similarly uninspiring defensive coordinator will result in NFL success. On Monday, the first puff of white smoke billowed from the creosote-lined combustion chamber in Oakland.

Musgrave will implement a version of Chip Kelly’s no-huddle offense, according to ESPN Insider Adam Caplan. It’s a great idea but improving the personnel on the offense is going to be critically important to the success of such an idea.

There is a fine line between ingenuity and incompetence because coaches aren’t magicians. The best the Raiders can hope to get from Musgrave is a scheme that puts the talent they have in position to succeed. The no-huddle isn’t a cure-all for what ailed Oakland’s offense, but it can be a useful tool.

The question then becomes what personnel Musgrave needs to make his preferred scheme a reality. That’s general manager Reggie McKenzie’s job. Although Musgrave will try to bend his scheme around the players he has, finding players that fit the scheme is even better.

What kind of players fit a no-huddle offense? How many players do the Raiders need to make the offense dangerous?

To understand what types of players fit in the no-huddle offense, one must understand a few key concepts about the offense itself. The no-huddle offense requires the quarterback to call the plays at the line instead of in the huddle.

The intelligence of the quarterback is key if a team is going to run a no-huddle offense. Derek Carr appears to have all the tools necessary to be successful out of the no-huddle offense, but he’ll need support to make it work.

Speeding things up on offense also stretches the mental capacity of the entire offense to have plays called at the line of scrimmage. Since players are often rushing back to the line of scrimmage, wide receivers have to be able to maintain their mental focus when they are tired.

Although the increased repetitions in practice could help iron out the kinks, wide receivers that are making mental mistakes out of the huddle are only going to have more issues out of the no-huddle. Denarius Moore, Vincent Brown and Kenbrell Thompkins often struggled to get on the same page with Carr.

James Jones and Rod Streater have proven reliable over the past couple of years. Jones ran plenty of no-huddle with Aaron Rodgers prior to last season with the Raiders. Not only did Jones play the most snaps of any wide receiver in Oakland last season but also Carr only threw one interception in his direction. Carr lost Streater early in the season, but the two appeared to have a nice chemistry going early and in training camp.

Smart receivers are going to be able to take advantage of the mental mistakes by tired defenses out of the no-huddle. Similarly, defenses are also going to struggle to defend athletic freaks if they are tired.

Musgrave can scheme to get the ball to his playmakers in space much in the way he did wide receiver Percy Harvin when he was the offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings. As we’ve found out, Musgrave’s usage of Harvin was actually among the best ways to deploy him, but he was also limited in that deployment by Harvin himself.

An athletic freak like Harvin is a welcome weapon out of the no-huddle offense, but it does make the offense somewhat predictable. Finding a playmaker who can quickly adjust to the NFL game in the draft or signing a veteran wide receiver is among the most important tasks for the Raiders in 2015.

There’s also an impact on the offensive line. Although not as sexy as the prospect of adding a playmaking wide receiver, the line has an important function in the no-huddle offense.

By not huddling, the offensive line is actually saving hundreds of yards of movement per game. Fresher offensive lines against tired defensive lines is a recipe for success in both the running and passing game.

However, there is additional stress on the offensive line on the road. The quarterback is going to make call the play and make pre-snap checks from the line of scrimmage so road games present a challenge with communication. The offensive line only has to worry about the protection call out of the huddle in many cases.

The quarterback has more time to read the defense and do what he needs to do before the snap, but if he isn’t able to communicate quickly and effectively with the offensive line and his wide receivers, the extra time provides little advantage. If the Raiders struggle just to execute basic plays, as was often the case in 2014, they might not fair a lot better just because the team decides not the huddle.

The center can significantly help Carr on the offensive line. Stefen Wisniewski will be a free agent in March, so the Raiders will have to re-sign him or find a suitable replacement.

Musgrave’s idea to use the no-huddle is a great one because it’s a fantastic tool for defeating a defense, but only if the team has the right personnel and right quarterback. The Raiders appear to have the right quarterback but now they need to surround him with talent so it can really take flight. The no-huddle alone is not going to solve all of Oakland’s problems on offense, but it will help if general manager Reggie McKenzie brings in the right players.  

 

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via Pro Football Focus.

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com

Charles Woodson, Raiders Agree to New Contract: Latest Details and Reaction

Charles Woodson has proved that he can still play at a high level in the NFL even in his late 30s. It therefore comes as little surprise that the Oakland Raiders have decided to re-sign the seven-time All-Pro.   

The Raiders announced the news on Monday:

Ian Rapoport of NFL.com passed along comments from Woodson’s agent on the terms of the agreement:

Woodson began his career with the Raiders when they chose him No. 4 overall in the 1998 NFL draft. After carving out quality years there before fleeing to Green Bay and winning a Super Bowl, the veteran returned to Oakland prior to the 2013 campaign.

Even though the Raiders have struggled throughout the past two seasons and have now changed coaches, Woodson has remained loyal and played well—an admirable effort under tough circumstances. His versatility to play cornerback and safety won’t hurt his value on the open market, either.

Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie weighed in on Woodson’s future in a Jan. 21 interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio, co-hosted by ex-Tampa Bay GM Mark Dominik, via Fox Sports’ Alex Marvez:

He’s fine physically. It’s going to be totally up to Charles and the new coaching staff. … I already talked to those guys about him. I would like to get him back here if he wants to play. If he’s all-in 100 percent, I want him back.

The MMQB’s Peter King praised Woodson’s football IQ, placing him among the game’s best in that regard:

Such savvy has helped Woodson thrive on the gridiron for as long as he has, not to mention his tremendous innate athletic ability that has held up over the years. Even with a lost step, Woodson is still gifted enough to be a playmaker in an NFL secondary.

Oakland is therefore wise to keep Woodson in the fold.

A second Super Bowl ring is just about all Woodson would have left to accomplish, though that is admittedly a long shot in 2015 with the Raiders. Still, he’ll be a valuable presence for a young team looking to make big strides.

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com

Why the Raiders Should Hire Mike Smith as a Defensive Coordinator

Initially, it was good news to hear about the Oakland Raiders‘ interest in interviewing former Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith for the defensive coordinator position, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com:

If you’re aware of Smith’s NFL track record, the news was quite invigorating considering the Raiders’ young, developing defensive front.

Dianna Marie Russini of NBC4 Washington followed up with some deflating news for Smith supporters in Raider Nation:

This is a bit surprising considering Smith and new head coach Jack Del Rio worked well together for six seasons in Jacksonville. Del Rio was the head coach, and Smith was the defensive coordinator. Together, they helped foster a fierce front seven that constantly challenged Peyton Manning and the Colts in the AFC South.

In four out of six seasons, the Jaguars defense ranked in the top 10 in points allowed.

The defensive line was aggressive, led by Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, during most of Smith’s tenure with the franchise. Both defensive tackles were equipped to stop the run and apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks, which increased turnover opportunities for the defensive backs.

Under Smith, Stroud accumulated 18 sacks and Henderson 19.5 sacks between the 2003 and 2008 seasons. The numbers are more significant considering the Jaguars played in a 4-3 base defense, where the quarterback pressure typically stems from the defensive ends.

Smith was also able to optimize production from players with average talent. In 2005, Reggie Hayward and Paul Spicer combined for 16 sacks as catalysts to a successful 12-4 record.

In the following season, another set of middling defensive ends led the team in sacks—Bobby McCray (10) and Rob Meier (five). Unrelenting quarterback pressure was Jacksonville’s signature under Smith’s game plan.

When Smith took over as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, he showed more of his coaching capabilities. The Falcons were in shambles and entered full rebuild mode when the Michael Vick era in Atlanta came to an end. The former defensive coordinator took on a larger role and galvanized the franchise. The Falcons made the playoffs in Smith’s first year as head coach.

Even though the defensive intricacies are delegated to a coordinator, Smith likely had some input based on his expertise.

The Falcons were often classified as a high-powered offense during Smith’s tenure. However, the team ranked as a top-five defense in points allowed in 2010 and 2012. In both seasons, the Falcons were 13-3 and a serious Super Bowl contender.

You can trace Smith’s defensive prowess back to the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in 2000. Smith was a defensive assistant/defensive line coach under the tutelage of Rex Ryan. He was promoted to the linebackers coach and continued to maintain a stout and aggressive core on defense with the likes of Peter Boulware, Ed Hartwell and Ray Lewis.

Though Smith is still a long shot to land the Raiders DC position, passing on his candidacy would be a huge mistake unless the college candidate has some NFL experience.

Developing and optimizing defensive talent is crucial in preventing an increasing number of capable offenses from running amok on susceptible secondaries. 

In Oakland’s case, it has some building blocks—Khalil Mack and Sio Mooreand could possibly draft another in Leonard Williams, Randy Gregory or Shane Ray.

Del Rio is a defensive-minded coach, but he needs a coordinator who will develop a prevalent pass rush to alleviate pressure on a young core of defensive backs.

Bringing in a college coach is an innovative approach. Nonetheless, there aren’t many solid defenses on the college level, which makes it difficult to spot defensive coordinators deserving of an NFL position without experience with the pros. Furthermore, it’s hard to see a better fit than Smith with Del Rio on the Raiders coaching staff.

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com

Unfamiliar Raiders’ Coaching Staff Provides Growth Opportunity for Derek Carr

No player is more important to the Oakland Raiders‘ success in 2015 than quarterback Derek Carr. Nearly everything the Raiders do this offseason revolves around the second-year quarterback out of Fresno State—from coaching staff changes to the draft.

Owner Mark Davis said he originally wanted to hire an offensive-minded head coach before Jack Del Rio proved he also knew offense. The Raiders hired Bill Musgrave as offensive coordinator with Carr in mind, even if doing so lacked much ingenuity or inspiration on their part.

Now that former Raiders quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo has accepted a job with the Cleveland Browns as their offensive coordinator, Carr is looking at an entirely new offensive coaching staff to work with in 2015. The unfamiliar staff provides Carr with a tremendous growth opportunity.

While consistency for a young quarterback can be a good thing, change is underappreciated. Think about how often a team changes its head coach only to improve significantly the following year with virtually the same core players. There are usually a couple of examples every year.

The coaches—including Del Rio, Musgrave, offensive line coach Mike Tice and a yet-to-be-hired quarterbacks coach—all have something to offer Carr and the rest of the team. It’s up to Carr to absorb what he can from his new coaches and become the long-term option at quarterback for the Raiders.

Developing players is a complicated process, but no one has more control over it than the player does. The coaches come second in the equation, but their job is primarily to put the player in a position to have success and then get out of the way.

The new coaches will come with new ideas on how to help Carr. Although he demonstrated significant improvement in 2014 in key areas, such as reading coverage and protections, Carr still has plenty of work to do.

 

Growth Opportunities

If it weren’t for a rocket arm, there would already be fans giving Carr the derogatory nickname “Captain Checkdown” for as often as he throws short passes. Carr’s 5.5 yards per attempt in 2014 was the lowest number—by a huge margin—of all qualified quarterbacks in 2014.

There are many reasons for Carr’s low average, but it’s not because he is reluctant to throw the ball deep.

The running game was atrocious for most of the season, so Carr threw many passes that were essentially run replacements. The Raiders finished last in rushing yards per game and tied for 27th in per-carry average.

When Musgrave draws up a plan to help Carr, a competent running game is going to be of vital importance. Tice is also going to be heavily involved in this area. If the Raiders can get their running game going in 2015, many of Carr’s incomplete passes in 2014 will turn into runs.

Carr’s opportunity for growth is therefore to make sure the opponent can’t crowd the line of scrimmage. The use of play action and a focus on getting the ball between 10-19 yards down the field will be key. He was at his best when throwing in this zone in 2014.

To do that, he’ll need help at wide receiver. The receivers need to be able to get open quickly down the field, or Carr will have to throw short and hope they can get the yards after the catch.

Oakland’s wide receivers were generally terrible at gaining yards after the catch in 2014. Out of wide receivers playing at least half the time, Andre Holmes’ 4.1-yard average after the catch was the best on the team, but that was 45th in the league. Only the Kansas City Chiefs had their top wide receivers gain fewer yards after the catch per reception.

However, the Chiefs had tight end Travis Kelce, who had more yards after the catch in 2014 than any other tight end and averaged 7.5 per catch. That was the best among all tight ends who played 60 percent of the time. Oakland’s tight end Mychal Rivera averaged 3.1 yards after the catch, which ranked 22nd out of 24 qualifying tight ends.

Even if the Raiders get more talent or unlock more talent in the players they have, Carr has to do more with less.

Carr was also extremely reluctant to take sacks. Only five quarterbacks took fewer sacks as a percentage of their attempts—Nick Foles, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Joe Flacco and Carson Palmer. For Carr, an incomplete pass or a short completion replaced those sacks and dragged down his average.

Carr’s 63.2 completion percentage when he threw the ball within 2.5 seconds ranked 26th out of 27 qualified quarterbacks in 2014. That’s bad, but it highlights how he was forcing passes out of his hand earlier than necessary.

On deep passes, Carr was 23.9 percent accurate—the worst in the league. This is despite attempting a respectable 11.9 percent of his passes beyond 20 yards.

One of the criticisms of Carr in college was how he performed under pressure. The jump in the level of competition didn’t do much to help matters, as he was one of the least accurate quarterbacks in the league under pressure.

There are plenty of growth opportunities for Carr that are independent of talent and scheme. It will be up to the coaching staff to find ways to unlock the flashes of brilliance Carr showed in 2014, but absent improvement from Carr, there’s only so much coaches can do.

 

Coaching Help

The Raiders clearly need a better running game and more talent at wide receiver. Absent better talent—a focus for general manager Reggie McKenzie this offseason—the coaching staff has to put Carr into position to have success.

Last year, the Raiders chose to have Carr get the ball out quickly—so quickly that it often hurt the offense’s production. It was a good strategy to protect Carr but otherwise was a total failure. The Raiders were the second-worst offense in the entire league.

Musgrave demonstrated a similar conservative approach with Christian Ponder in Minnesota from 2011-2013, except he had considerably more offensive talent at his disposal than the Raiders currently have. Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin provided him with a running game and yards after the catch, respectively. 

The new faces around Carr will come with new ideas on how to use talent and protect him. Carr must embrace those changes and accept the challenge of improving his own game. Scheme and talent aren’t going to save him in 2014, even with big improvements.  

The coaches will do what they can to give Carr a safety net, but he’s the one on the field executing plays. Carr is the leader of the team now, and the offense will only go as far as he takes it in 2015.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via Pro-Football-Reference or Pro Football Focus.

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com

Bill Musgrave Uninspiring Choice to Develop Derek Carr

When the Oakland Raiders made Jack Del Rio their 20th head coach, the hiring of a top-notch offensive coordinator became paramount to their success. As a defensive-minded head coach, Del Rio would need an offensive mind to continue the development of his new young quarterback, Derek Carr.

Del Rio’s choice is Bill Musgrave, but he’s an uninspiring option to develop Carr. Short of re-hiring Greg Olson, it’s hard to imagine a worse scenario for the Raiders.

That doesn’t mean Musgrave won’t be successful. Like Del Rio, he deserves a chance to see what he can do in Oakland. Hires derided by the media can work out. Hires praised by the media can flop—as Raiders fans are well aware after slogging through the Dennis Allen era.

Musgrave does come with a set of positives, and he’s not as bad as some will make him out to be. Musgrave just isn’t the best for Carr.

For starters, he’s experienced. This is his fourth offensive coordinator job. He also spent last year with Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles—often praised for being offensive innovators. Additionally, Musgrave is credited with developing Matt Ryan as the quarterbacks coach of the Atlanta Falcons from 2006-2010.

Familiar with Del Rio, experienced as a quarterback developer, and he just finished a crash course in Chip Kelly’s offense. Sounds like a dream, until you actually look a little deeper.

When Musgrave landed his first offensive coordinator position of the Carolina Panthers, he resigned after four games. Del Rio fired him after two seasons, and then he took credit for Ryan’s development before landing yet another offensive coordinator job in Minnesota. After three years, Musgrave was out of a job again.

Getting fired is par for the course for an NFL coach, but Musgrave hasn’t been anywhere longer than three years as offensive coordinator, and he’s never had an offense better than 14th in scoring or 12th in yards. His offense was good at running the ball in Minnesota because he had Adrian Peterson.

To his credit, he used Percy Harvin successfully as a gadget player. Beyond that, Musgrave’s so-called claim to fame is still his work with Matt Ryan.  

Marc Trestman was available and interviewed with the Raiders, but they failed to land his services. He agreed to join the Baltimore Ravens as offensive coordinator Tuesday. That would have been an inspiring hire for the Raiders, Del Rio and Carr.

Trestman has his own set of flaws, but it’s hard to criticize the man as a coordinator and football mind. Trestman has coordinated top offenses three times and repeatedly maximized the talents of his quarterbacks.

After the Jaguars fired Musgrave, they improved almost across the board under the leadership of Carl Smith, who is now the quarterbacks coach of the Seattle Seahawks. Alternatively, the Vikings improved across the board when Musgrave took over for Darrell Bevell, now the offensive coordinator of the Seahawks. It’s a mixed bag.

Many people will point out that Musgrave was the victim of poor quarterback play. In his coordinator stops, he’s had to get the most out of Byron Leftwich, Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel. Keep in mind that it’s Musgrave’s job to develop those quarterbacks and make them look good, so it’s not fair to give him a complete pass.

People forget that Leftwich and Ponder were high first-round picks. They were supposed to develop into something, but they didn’t under the tutelage of Musgrave. That’s directly indicative of his ability to develop quarterbacks, and that’s what the Raiders need him to do with Carr.

The presence of Carr was supposed to be appealing to offensive coordinator candidates, but that proved to be untrue, or Del Rio simply chose to go with Musgrave anyway.

Musgrave said in a conference call with the media:

The presence of Derek was definitely a factor. I think a number of coaches have expressed interest in being Jack’s offensive coordinator, and I know he talked to a number of people, and one of the main reasons would be the presence of Derek Carr.

If Musgrave is telling the truth, Del Rio simply chose Musgrave over other candidates. He essentially opted for the familiar instead of the best man for the job. There are plenty of quality candidates available, but Del Rio chose a candidate not too dissimilar to Greg Knapp and Greg Olson. 

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com

Should Oakland Raiders ‘Break-the-Bank’ for Free-Agent Terrance Knighton?

Pending free-agent Terrance Knighton has made his feelings for new Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio well-known. 

How would he fit in Oakland? Would the Raiders be willing to invest in him?

Watch above as Adam Lefkoe and Bleacher Report NFL Analysts Jonathan Vilma and Chris Simms discuss Knighton‘s future in the video above. 

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com