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Raiders offseason: Big shoes to fill

New special teams boss Tom McMahon has unenviable task of replacing Rich Bisaccia

NFL: Chicago Bears at Denver Broncos
New Las Vegas Raiders special teams coach Tom McMahon did get to watch the Silver & Black’s unit work up close as he was the Denver Broncos coordinator.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Tom McMahon goes from horseman to a Raider. The 52-year-old special teams coach is slated to head the unit for Josh McDaniels’ Las Vegas Raiders this coming season. McMahon held the same post for both the Denver Broncos (most recently) and Indianapolis Colts.

Like the previous coach who held the post prior, McMahon brings a wealth of experience and knowledge. But unlike his predecessor Rich Bisaccia, McMahon doesn’t have the recent success on his resume. It’s an unenviable task for the former Indianapolis Colts and most recently Denver Broncos special teams boss to replace Rich B.

The shoes to fill are both great in terms of command and depth. McMahon has the task of gaining the respect and admiration the Raiders special teamers had for Bisaccia. The NFL is a cold game and coaches do move on, but it’s not often that the incoming special teams coordinator takes the gig from a ST boss that became interim head coach.

What helps McMahon, however, is he won’t be the only new face on the Raiders coaching staff. There’s a new head coach in McDaniels and he’s slated to bring with him a whole new set of faces. Wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett is the lone incumbent reaming as of now.

McMahon also inherits a tremendous special teams battery in long snapper Trent Sieg, holder/punter A.J. Cole III and kicker Daniel Carlson. That trio developed into a reliable group and saw both punter and kicker land handsomely rewarding contract extensions.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Las Vegas Raiders
Tom McMahon inherits a solid kicker in Daniel Carlson (2), quality longsnapper in Trent Sieg (47) and a shifty return man in Hunter Renfrow (13).
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’ll be exponentially difficult for any coach to come in and deteriorate a special teams room that boast a Pro Bowl punter (Cole lead the league in gross punting average at 50 yards per boot), an accurate kicker (Carlson was 40 of 43 on field goals this past season including being the NFL walk-off king), and steady long snapper in Sieg.

But McMahon’s tenure was anything but excellent in Denver. This past season, under McMahon’s guidance, Broncos kicker Brandon McManus was a middling performer nailing 26 of 31 field goals (83.9 percent). That conversion rate was good for 19th in the league. Punter was also mid sporting a 46-yard gross average per boot, also good for 19th in the NFL.

Denver’s kickoff unit was a Jekyll and Hyde group under McMahon. McManus did finish in the top three of kickers with a high touchback rate (78 kickoffs, 62 touchbacks for a 79.5 percentage), however, when teams did field the kickoff for a return, Denver yielded a league-worst 39.4-yard average to go along with two touchdowns. In McMahon’s years as head of the Broncos’ special teams group, McManus high-water mark on field goals was 2021. The kicker sports percentages of 80, 85.3 and 82.4 in the other seasons.

Despite all that, former Broncos head coach Vic Fangio couldn’t only provide mild criticism to Denver’s special teams unit led by McMahon.

“We’ve had a lot of good play in the special teams, but we’ve had our plays that critically affected the game in a negative way also,” Fangio said when asked if there was anything he would change about how he handled the special teams unit during his tenure. “That’s an area that we’ve got to clean up. You don’t want to negatively affect the game with the special teams and that’s happened too often. Even if it’s just a couple of times, that’s too often. That’s got to be a solid area for us each and every week that we at least go out there and cover the kicks, get them downed; we make our kicks, we get some return yards–it’s been inconsistent. No doubt about it.”

That all said, McMahon has a strong support in former Colts punter Pat McAfee. Watch and listen below:

The McMahon-led units in Indy (2013-2017) were vastly different in quality from the groups he lead in Denver. But we’d be remised not to mention McMahon was the special teams coordinator when the Colts ran a comically disastrous trick play on a punt back in 2015.

With the kicking battery all set, McMahon focus should be on the return units. Namely, is Hunter Renfrow still the primary punt returner going forward? It’ll be difficult to justify removing him from that role. Of return men who fielded 30 or more punts, Renfrow had the best yards-per-return average of 9.8 (tied with Tennessee’s Chester Rogers). Vegas’ kick return unit wasn’t spectacular as running backs Jalen Richard (20.6 per yard average) and Kenyan Drake (19.2) each got a crack at it as did wide receiver Tyron Johnson (19.5).

The coverage units, however, need refinement. Las Vegas finished 10th in punt return average (9.7 yards per return yielded) despite Cole booming punts. And the Raiders kickoff cover crew was one of the seven teams to surrender a kickoff return for a touchdown in 2021.