New era of Raiders football begins today

Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis (left) and general manager Reggie McKenzie (right) watch before the game

It's all been leading to this. This day. This moment it all comes to fruition.

It has been a long road. The wheels down that road were put in motion on October 8, 2011-- the day Al Davis passed. It culminates the moment the 2012 Raiders take the field Monday night.

On that fateful day last October, everything changed in an instant. Suddenly the rudder that steered this ship for nearly fifty years was gone and the mantle was handed off to his son, Mark Davis.

The day following Al's passing, the Raiders would come away with the emotional last second win over the Texans which set up the Al Davis tribute game a week later complete with the first lighting of "the flame that burns brightest" which has been lit prior to every game since.

But in the second half of that game, Jason Campbell went down with a broken clavicle which prompted the blockbuster trade to acquire Carson Palmer. Then before their new QB could take the field, Darren McFadden was lost for the season leaving the Raiders without their most important offensive weapon in their attempt to make a playoff run.

Campbell and McFadden had gotten the Raiders off to a 4-2 start to the season but now neither would be there anymore. It would now be up to Palmer and Michael Bush. It took two terrible starts for Palmer to get his feet under him and then he helped lead the Raiders to three straight wins.

But with a 7-4 record, the Raiders' defense collapsed and they would lose four of their final five games to end 8-8 and miss the playoffs. After the season ending loss to the Chargers, Hue Jackson sealed his fate. It was just as much his poor game management as it was his words following the loss.

"I'm pissed at my team," said Jackson ."At some point in time as a group of men, you go in the game, and you can say whatever you want about coaches, you win the game. Here's your time. Here's your time to make plays.

"I'm going take a stronger hand in this whole team, this whole organization... yeah, I'm going to take a hand in everything that goes on here."

That press conference marked the last time Hue Jackson spoke in front of the media as the Raiders' head coach. Jackson had been handpicked by Al Davis to be the Raiders' offensive coordinator and head coach in waiting prior to the 2010 season. But now the team belonged to Mark Davis and he made no bones about his need to bring in a football mind as general manager to handle these matters.

"I don't know what my dad knew. He knew talent," said Mark Davis. "He knew all these things. And it's a big void to fill when he passed on. And that's why Reggie [McKenzie] is gonna be taking over that whole football side, because I believe he's the man that can do it."

The former Raider McKenzie had been in the Packers' front office for 18 years. And as soon as he arrived, before his introductory press conference, he fired Hue Jackson along with nearly the entire coaching staff. Also stepping down was Raiders senior executive, John Herrera. It was all part of what McKenzie called a new era in Raider football.

With this new era, he promised a complete change in philosophy. Even the team slogan was updated from "Commitment to Excellence" to "A New Era of Excellence."

Among the first orders of business for McKenzie was finding a new head coach. That head coach turned out to be former Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. Allen became the Raiders' first defensive minded head coach since John Madden.

Once the head coach was in place, he set out to hire his coordinators and assistants.

The new offensive coordinator would be Greg Knapp who held the same position with the Raiders three seasons ago. He replaced Al Saunders but Saunders stayed with the team as a senior offensive assistant.

On the defensive side it was former Stanford co-defensive coordinator Jason Tarver who was the new defensive coordinator.

Along with these new assistants came new schemes. Al Davis staples were out on both sides of the ball. No more strict man cover corners; now it's primarily a zone scheme. Al was also not a fan of the West Coast offense that Knapp has installed.

Also gone were several players who had what McKenzie called "out of whack" contracts such as Kamerion Wimbley, Stanford Routt, Kevin Boss, Chris Johnson, and Hiram Eugene. Several others took restructured deals to stay with the team.

The emphasis in the draft and free agency has not been on speed or raw physical gifts. One such raw physically gifted player, Bruce Campbell, was traded away to the Panthers for running back Mike Goodson. Replacing Wimbley at strong side linebacker was free agent signee Philip Wheeler.

Also coming in with the new schemes on defense was an entirely revamped secondary of Ron Bartell, Shawntae Spencer, Pat Lee, Philip Adams, and Joselio Hanson. Both of last year's speedy cornerback draft picks, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa, were cut.

With the new zone blocking scheme for the offensive line came free agent Mike Brisiel.

All of these moves have been made to bring us to today. All of the firings, the hirings, the revamping, the renovating, the signing, the cutting, the trading, the scheming, the toiling, the practicing, and the prognosticating will all be placed on display tonight at O.co Coliseum.

This is not the finish line by any stretch. But it the end of a long journey. It is also the beginning of another journey. We know where the Raiders hope that journey leads them. But even they are not sure what lies ahead.

This offseason has not been long enough for a complete renovation of a franchise. But for those eager to see this new product take the field, the offseason felt like an eternity.

The Preseason is over. This one's for real. And thus, as of 7:15pm tonight, once the ball leaves the foot of the kicker on the opening kickoff, the new era of Raiders football officially begins.

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