Near the end of his most recent press conference (8:28 in the clip below), head coach Dennis Allen mentioned an NFL truism that doesn't get enough traction among today's yammering masses and professional talking heads. I'm paraphrasing here but Allen makes the point that in building a winning organization (think Pats, Steelers and Packers) eventually "the players take over" responsibility for the team's culture of success.
"When their expectations of themselves are equal to or greater than what our expectations of them as coaches are, that's when you got 'em."
On the 2013 Raiders, the longest tenured players with this team are Sebastian Janikowski, Tyvon Branch and Darren McFadden. Nothing against Janikowski but kickers can't be leaders. So it's clear that McFadden and Branch have to accept the responsibility of team leadership this season and bridge the gap between coaches and the flood of young players on this team, if we're going to be greater than the sum of our parts. All good teams are greater than the sum of their parts, by the way. You can do this with talent, chemistry or both, but you've got to be more than what you appear to be on paper and stats if you want to be a factor in the NFL.
The fact that they're two long term starters means they're ideally situated to wear those captain's badges and most importantly, preach the gospel of their head coach...for better or worse. They have to buy in so they can sell the other guys on what this team is trying to do. Branch is signed for a few more years and a cornerstone of the defense so he, specifically, has to be a presence for the defense even with Charles Woodson coming home. Branch has seen more of the lean times and has skin in the game of this turnaround. McFadden with his injury history and cloudy future is surely seen differently by the coaches and management but don't think that him grabbing that leadership role wouldn't help him get that contract extension, assuming he produces on the field for 14 or more games.
This kind of leadership is what Reggie McKenzie is chasing without explicitly saying. The players have to carry the culture of winning; so it's on him to find the guys who are good enough to stay here, win and control a locker room.
That's how the Steelers reload quickly (Big Ben, Polamalu, Pouncey, all their LBs since the 90s); how the Patriots never slip (Brady, Wilfork) and how the Packers are going to be dominant for a long time (Rogers, Matthews, Hawk). How did Indianapolis go from bad enough to get Andrew Luck to winning in his rookie season? Freeny, Mathis and that offensive line.
So the two questions are 1) can McFadden and Branch be those guys for us right now and 2) which McKenzie era guys have the best chance to be our cornerstone players like Brady, Matthews and Polamalu?
I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on both.