There’s a new offensive coordinator in Oakland. Former quarterbacks coach Todd Downing takes control of the offense, replacing former OC Bill Musgrave. What we continue to hear from players is how Downing is allowing the offense to shape around them, essentially not trying to reinvent the wheel with an offense that was top five in the NFL last season.
Much of this offense returns from last year, which makes for a smooth transition for Downing. What we can’t see is a letdown. What the Raiders are hoping to see is unlocking any dormant potential.
“I think there’s a certain amount of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Downing. “I think you’re . . . always looking for ways to tweak things and kind of adjust them to best fit your personnel and personalities. We won’t be doing wholesale changes. We talked about that. When I first got the job, we discussed that. There’s certainly going to be every stone turned over to look for a way that we can do better.”
Downing already has a fairly good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the players who were on this roster last season. None more so than Derek Carr for whom he has been the position coach the past two seasons.
For Carr, the discussion revolved around implementing more no-huddle into the offense. That becomes possible in part because of Carr’s three NFL seasons, in part because of his familiarity in the offense, and in part because of he and Downing’s symbiotic relationship.
The big difference here will be the added duties of play calling for Downing. In that regard there are limits to the freedoms Carr has this early in the process.
“Obviously I’m not going to give T.D. too many headaches yet,” said Carr, comparing his rookie season to Downing’s first season in charge of the offense.
“I have to step back and make sure I’m not doing too much. If I do too much, it’s going to hurt everybody. I have to be consistent in the way that I do those kinds of things and I have to do it in such a way that it’s what coach Downing wants. If I just go out there and do what I want, we’re going to be horrible. I have to honor his position and do exactly what he wants that way we’re going in the same direction.”
Carr and Downing will have some new weapons in the form of running back Marshawn Lynch, tight end Jared Cook, and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. The added task is to incorporate them seamlessly into the offense. For that to happen, two-way communication is essential as they become more familiar with each other’s tendencies.
“I like to kind of be a walk around guy that gets feedback during practice,” said Downing. “Sometimes it might be a downtime during special teams period or it might be in pre-practice when they’re stretching, but I certainly like to get every opportunity I can to get their feedback and make sure they feel like they have a voice.”
“There’s no pride in authorship from me on how we’re going to do things. If there’s something that’s better suited to our players, I want to hear about it. It’s my job to digest that and be the filter or the funnel from all the broad scope ideas to see what fits our offense.”
Downing noted, there’s a “sliding scale” to the amount of advice and feedback he will accept from the players in his offense. Lucky for him, he has a lot of veteran voices. Most notably Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn.
“He’s letting us to be us,” said Penn of Downing’s style. “He’s making us come in and says it’s time to work, when it’s not time to work we can relax and have a good time. But, when it’s time to work, it’s work. He’s on top of everything. When he’s in the meetings, he’s telling everybody what to do. I’m used to that, but I just like T.D.”
On an offense that finished 6th in the league in 2016 in yards per game (373.3), 7th in points per game (26) and almost single-handedly led the Raiders to a 12-4 record, a lot is already going right. It would be a tremendous mistake as a first time coordinator to come in with a hardline stance on things.
If you’ll recall, up until last season, the last offensive coordinator in Oakland to get the most out of his players was Hue Jackson. He took the job in 2010 and was the only coach at the NFL level to play to Darren McFadden’s strengths. McFadden’s 1000-yard season helped result in the Raiders’ first non-losing season in 8 years.
Jackson is well known as a brilliant offensive mind. Another such offensive mind is Downing’s mentor, Scott Linehan, who brilliantly utilized the rookie talents of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in Dallas last season as the Cowboys had the best record in the NFC. It’s a proven formula for success, so Downing is at very least on the right track.
“As a whole, I just want our players to have confidence in what they’re doing,” Downing continued. “I think you can play faster when you’re confident. If you have a sense of ownership in the scheme, you’re going to play even faster.”