Ken Norton Jr is still the Raiders defensive coordinator. A position holds entering his third year on the Raiders coaching staff. This offseason his job looked to be under fire after the team was among the worst defenses in the league in 2016. That didn’t happen. But the Raiders didn’t stand pat.
The first move the Raiders made was to let go of defensive backs coach Marcus Roberts and promoting former assistant defensive backs Rod Woodson.
Soon after, the team made the big move of hiring former Chargers defensive coordinator, John Pagano with the title of Assistant Head Coach - Defense. But with Norton remaining in place as DC, the big question became what duties Pagano was hired to perform.
Tuesday Pagano brought some clarity to his role in Oakland.
“The opportunity that [Head] Coach [Jack] Del Rio gave me to join this staff and be able to help in all facets, from the back end to being able to help the linebackers communication between the secondary,” said Pagano.
In particular, the 20-year NFL defensive mind emphasizes being able to facilitate communication more efficiently between linebackers and the secondary as well as between their respective coaches.
“I would say I’m more in the back end right now and really trying to, with [cornerbacks] coach [Rod] Woodson and [safeties] coach ‘Vies’ [Brent Vieselmeyer] to be able to make sure our communication is at a high level. I’m another set of eyes that gives them a different way to look at things. To be able to hear and to be able to help guys understand. Mine and Kenny’s [Ken Norton, Jr.] communication has been outstanding from a point that we try to talk everyday about certain situations. Just to be able to give another set of eyes and be able to handle those things.”
Due to the issues in the secondary that prompted the changes in the defensive backfield coaching staff as well as Norton and Del Rio’s experience at the linebacker position, Pagano initially figured to focus mostly on the secondary. That indeed is the case.
“Mostly right now, [my job has] been going to the secondary meetings,” Pagano added. “Being able to talk to them. I went to the linebacker meetings earlier in rookie mini-camp. Just keep listening, keep hearing what we’re saying and make sure we’re communicating at a high level.”
After last season, Jack Del Rio said the number one issue was giving up explosive plays. He said plainly that that starts with the secondary.
Norton insists that “Nothing changes” for him. Which would suggest that last season either Norton didn’t give the secondary the proper attention or Pagano is stepping in to pick up the duties previous DB coach Robertson was supposed to have performed.
“Obviously Pagano is a guy that has a lot of experience,” said Norton. “We all have a lot of experience. . . Right now his role is to help us on the back end with our communication and [shore] up what’s going on to make sure we stay on top, and that we’re all talking about the same things every week, about them throwing the ball deep on us. That seems like all we want to talk about so let’s make sure with his addition and his experience, let’s put that fire out.”
Since Pagano’s arrival, the rumblings that he is either splitting defensive authority with Norton and/or the DC in waiting have persisted.
Adding what is essentially a second defensive coordinator to the staff can lead to the ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ syndrome. Both coaches speak of clearly laid out roles which have prevented any friction between them.
“No, there’s no stepping on anyone’s toes,” said Pagano. “I have a job to do and Coach Del Rio told me what I needed to do and the first thing was to improve our overall communication as a defense. It starts in the backend. Once we get those things, because as long as we’re saying the same things and we’re doing the correct things, you get 11 guys doing that you get 11 guys out there hunting on the field. That’s what it’s all about.”
It’s early yet. Very early. It will be a few months before we get any real indication if this arrangement is functional and probably not until well into next season whether it’s a success. But for now, we at least know who’s in charge of what aspects of the defense.