So to get a better sense of who we’re facing, I linked up with Levi Damien from Silver and Black Pride, the SB Nation community for Oakland Raiders fans.
So we have to start with the elephant in the room. Khalil Mack. Now that Raider Nation has had some time to process it, what’s the sense of the deal? What do you guys have to do to make it work in your favor?
The feelings on it vary quite a bit. I would say most fans are pretty pissed about it. You have the first chance in...like forever, to lock in a homegrown future Hall of Fame talent in his prime and you blow it. I honestly can’t think of a worse personnel move this franchise has ever made. We can use hindsight and say some others were bad like taking JaMarcus Russell number one overall, but for this one we don’t need hindsight. Or foresight. We just need sight. There are a contingent of fans who don’t like it, but feel they have no choice but to try to find hope anyway and are just wanting to move on. And then there are those who have talked themselves into the trade being a good thing. As if the Raiders are sure to find another talent like Mack with their two first round picks. Many of those same fans have quickly turned to the tired line that the departing player got greedy and/or just ‘didn’t want to be here, so f--k him!’ Hey, they have to cope with the loss somehow and sour grapes really seems to work for them.
Without Mack, how’s the defense shaping up? Is the edge rush now a huge weak point or are there others opponents should exploit?
Mack’s immediate replacement will be Tank Carradine, who does well against the run, but doesn’t offer a lot in terms of pass rush. For that they will look to 2017 undrafted practice squad player, Fadol Brown. He has shown up well in the preseason, though it was almost exclusively against backups, so it’s hard to say if it will translate against starters. Rookie Arden Key will back up Bruce Irvin and see time as a third down pass rusher. The speciality statuses of each player will make them vulnerable in the weak areas of their game. Mack was an every down player who excelled both against the rush or the pass. You can’t exploit weaknesses a player doesn’t have.
From a personnel standpoint, the entire defense has weak points. The linebackers deploy 35-year-old Derrick Johnson and journeyman backup Emmanuel Lamur. And the secondary has some potential but a lot of uncertainties. The best thing they have going for them is DC Paul Guenther. He might be able to scheme them into playing above their talent level.
Offensively, there’s a lot to like especially given how well it performed just two years ago. What do you guys need to get back to 2016 on that side of the ball? Does it just come down to QB Derek Carr?
Mostly, yes. Derek Carr played so well in 2016 because it was the only season he ever had the same offensive coordinator two years in a row. He has another new coordinator in Jon Gruden. Carr has looked fantastic in offseason practices and training camp in his understanding of Gruden’s playbook, but things change in live action. It has to be second nature to him because if it isn’t, the first sign of pressure and panic ensues. We saw a lot of that from him last season. I don’t expect it all to come together like a well oiled machine right away, but it’s possible. The Rams were able to get Jared Goff to play at a high level in his first season under McVay so we’ll see.
What’s the latest on the Kolton Miller/Donald Penn saga? Are you comfortable with how things have been handled for your top rookie and where things seem headed?
They have barely seen any game snaps together on the field. Both looked terrible against the Packers’ starters in the 1-2 series they played. Penn especially looked lost playing right tackle for the first time in his career. I think it was a big mistake putting Kolton Miller in at left tackle right away. He and Penn should be flipped. I don’t believe in this bit about disrupting Miller’s development as a left tackle. He has experience at both tackle spots in college, having only played left tackle one season. You keep Penn at left tackle, put Miller at right tackle this year and then re-evaluate the situation next offseason. At that point, when Penn retires, you can decide whether you want to draft a left or right tackle depending on prospects available when you select and put Miller on appropriate side. Far more important to ensure Derek Carr is always properly protected than to worry about Miller’s development. It’s just a risk not worth taking. But here we are.
It’s Year 1 for Jon Gruden. What are the expectations from the fan base? Obviously, a winning season and a playoff berth put things off and running. Is there a legit sense that you guys are really in it for the long haul with Gruden given his 10-year contract?
That’s a complicated question. If you’d asked me a week ago, I would have said spirits were high and expectations were reasonably optimistic. But I firmly believe the Khalil Mack trade puts the Raiders in a tough spot and Gruden in a hole he may never dig himself out of. Every misstep and every lack of ultimate success by Gruden will now come with tremendous scrutiny. Raiders fans like to say there would be scrutiny regardless because of the whole ‘We’re the Raiders” victim card. But no. Gruden was incredibly well liked. Even with the snickering about him being behind the times and such, that kind of thing would disappear quickly if he showed he was innovative on the field. And it has nothing to do with his being the Raiders head coach. It has to do with being out of coaching for nine seasons. Bigger than that was proving his personnel decisions are good. And the trades in this year’s draft including the one that burnt a third round pick for Martavis Bryant and the one that sent away arguably the best defensive player in the league don’t just raise questions, they answer them for many people. Those answers are damning. Even before he has coached his first game.
Thanks to Levi for the time.