All we hear in the media these days is how once-again Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden is getting rid of all of general manager Reggie McKenzie’s players and will get rid of him at the end of the season. He’s definitely looking to get rid of McKenzie’s players but not necessarily McKenzie.
“Well we are going to work together. Reggie and I come from the same tree in Green Bay, raised by Ron Wolf as young Green Bay Packers. I think we have a similar viewpoint in terms of what kind of players we are looking for,” Gruden said at his introductory press conference. "It has got to be a collaborative effort, whether it be a salary cap decision, a free-agent acquisition, or who we draft. We’ve got to work together. I think that is the great thing about being here.”
Gruden does have his own scout working separately from McKenzie’s but there’s nothing wrong with hearing both sides of an evaluation. Then there’s the fact that Gruden’s scout already has the players dialed in that fit his system. Gruden spoke about the disadvantages McKenzie has been under with different coaches and systems. He could be giving McKenzie a chance to adapt to his system.
“I think Reggie has been at a big disadvantage because the scheme constantly has changed,” Gruden told KNBR back in February. “It’s hard to pick players when your coaches don’t know what they are gonna run.”
For instance, Gruden knows 2016 1st-round pick Karl Joseph is a free safety playing strong safety since the Raiders drafted him. He’s actually good playing single-high or deep-half. He just isn’t good at covering 6’7” tight ends because he’s only 5’10” himself. But in defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s system, safeties are interchangeable so the both safeties have to be able to cover the TE. That doesn’t mean Joseph isn’t good, it means he doesn’t fit. Hence, he hasn’t playing much while the Raiders are reportedly looking to trade him.
As far as playing cornerback for Guenther goes, he’s a press coverage kind of guy but it has to be a certain way. Rashaan Melvin, who was outstanding in press coverage last year with a shut-down of Antonio Brown, isn’t playing as much because of Guenther’s system. Guenther uses a motor press technique Melvin isn’t comfortable with because that’s what Guenther knows how to teach.
“It was tough,” Melvin said after getting benched. “I’m a competitor. I feel like I’m a starting cornerback in this league. I’ve been playing for a long time. I’ve been making plays for a long time. Today, I didn’t start. It was a coach’s decision to go in a different direction.”
Gareon Conley, the team’s 2017 1st-round pick, has been benched behind the technique Guenther wants to use as well. But Gruden and company actually like Conley so unless they can get something good for him, they’ll likely to try to develop him in Guenther’s system.
“Conley is still a young guy,” Gruden said when talking about the 2nd-year man. “We’re going to reiterate that over and over. His career is just getting started. He had a couple plays last week that he’s got to get better and improve at. He will.”
Another area Gruden and company are especially forcing the issue on is zone-blocking. Guards and Kelechi Osemele went downhill last year in run-blocking because of the zone-blocking scheme. So the first thing Gruden announces is he hired offensive line coach Tom Cable, Mr. Zone-blocking himself. And of course, he didn’t adapt to the two guards. He had the two guards lose all kinds of weight to fit the zone-blocking scheme. Jackson and Osemele still protect the passer well but their run-blocking is no better than last year. They make $10 million each so if they continue not to work in zone-blocking, we’ll see how long they last.
If Derek Carr ends up out of Raider Nation, it’s because Gruden wants a quarterback that can escape the pocket when it breaks down. The West Coast Offense guys like Andy Reid want the next Joe Montana, Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers. Reid who was with Gruden while he was with the Green Bay Packers, looks like he has his Favre in Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs. Sean McVay, a Gruden disciple, looks like he has his Montana in Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams. At one time, many called Raiders QB Derek Carr 'Baby A-Rod' but he’s not looking too much like Rodgers these days. Gruden just might move on from Carr if he doesn’t start to look like the QB he came back to coaching for.
Khalil Mack, the Raiders’ 2014 1st-round pick, wanted his money so he was used to get 1st-round picks to start over with system fits. Even though he’s a generational talent, he might not be a fit with the Raiders now because defensive line coach Mike Trgovac likes and knows how to work with defensive ends that are 6’5” and above with those extra long arms like Carlos Dunlap. Hence, the Raiders got Arden Key in the third round this spring. Don’t be surprised if you see the Raiders go after Jadeveon Clowney hard next offseason.
Amari Cooper is a system fit as he was in the West Coast Offense when he played at Alabama. If you look at him on tape this year, there’s nothing wrong but Carr not throwing to him. Don’t believe all that stuff about him not being able to get open. He has the same agent Khalil Mack has so he will probably hold out to get his money too. Gruden is currently looking for 1st-round pick for him and if he gets it, that’s another piece he can start over with.
McKenzie is a respected talent evaluator that turned down an interview to be the GM of the Green Bay Packers this past offseason. I don’t think he would have done that knowing Gruden isn’t going to want him around. For goodness sakes, he was the 2016 NFL Executive of the Year. And there is plenty of talent he drafted unto the Raiders that Gruden isn’t using. Many of the players just don’t fit Gruden’s system so Gruden will likely move them. McKenzie is actually the one responsible for trading up to get Arden Key and Maurice Hurst.
“I’ll let Reggie do that, Gruden said after the draft. “He was trading every single round to get these guys.”
Key and Hurst are in the mold of Dunlap and Geno Atkins respectfully. That shows that McKenzie can quickly adapt to what Gruden wants for his offensive and defensive systems. This isn’t to say that Gruden and McKenzie are going to be together the next 10 years. But Gruden’s makeover of the Raiders doesn’t mean McKenzie will automatically be fired either. After all, Jack Del Rio is getting millions from owner Mark Davis for nothing so he might as well let McKenzie help somehow. It won’t hurt because Gruden has the final say anyway.