Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is not a coach accustomed to losing. A Mike Zimmer acolyte, his Bengals defenses were typically in the top half of the league. Last year was an aberration for him, leading a Raiders defense which was putrid and contributed heavily to Oakland’s 4-12 record.
“By far my hardest year in coaching. I just felt like the kind of players we were looking for, we’ve added a lot of those guys throughout the draft and free agency. Guys that kind of fit what we’re doing. Right now in the NFL everyone [is saying,] ‘Oh, we’re going to surprise everybody.’ And all these great predictions. Right now everybody feels great about their team. I’m just trying to get them better every day,” said Guenther after Monday’s OTA practices.
The Raiders defense last year was a patchwork one, made up of cheap veterans who were supposed to provide some leadership to the Raiders’ young talent. However, there were far too few talented young players who were healthy enough to play, and with the trade of Khalil Mack the defense faltered until late in the season. The unit looked improved in the last few weeks of the season against Pittsburgh and Denver, and Guenther himself learned plenty from last year’s debacle.
“Well it starts with me on the defensive side, so I have to make sure when I come in this building I was in the right frame of mind. Going through a year like that and understanding, hey, this is what it was like, only helped me as a coach. It’s something that you don’t always want to go through, having a rough year like we did, but obviously you start to learn how to build these things. How to build your lineup card and what it should look like and how you envisioned it. That was the positive for me. I always tell the players, if you don’t learn from failure, you’re making a mistake. You have to learn from what we did good and what we did bad and build off of that in the future,” said Guenther.
Gone now are those short-term stopgap veterans, and in their place are some quality free agents such as Lamarcus Joyner and several promising rookies. Can Guenther put the defensive unit in a position to succeed? There was certainly more than enough failure last season to learn lessons from, but Guenther does have a track record of success and now has more players who fit what he wants to do. Perhaps last year’s circumstances were just too much to overcome. We are pretty sure the Raider offense will be more explosive this year, but if the Guenther-led defense can be even league average, the Raiders will be a force to be reckoned with. Guenther took his lumps last season, but there’s plenty in Oakland to build on defensively.