The first year of the post Al Davis–era in Oakland ended much the same way as much of the previous decade – with the Raiders on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. After a promising 2011 saw Oakland hit the .500 mark, salary cap issues and a lack of draft picks caused the Silver and Black to take a large step back in 2012.
Those same issues continue to plague the Raiders heading into 2013, as does a roster full of injury prone (Darren McFadden) and head case (Rolando McClain) athletes. So what can coach Dennis Allen and General Manager Reggie McKenzie do to get this team on the right track? And how long will it take?
Zoneblitz: The Raiders dropped to 4-12 in 2012. What went wrong with the season and how did the results compare with your expectations heading into the year?
Shellcroft: I never had any delusions that the Raiders were going to be contenders in 2012. There was too much roster turnover due to a lot of bad contracts, bad trades and necessary cap compliance decisions. However the team should not have been as non-competitive as it was. Perhaps the biggest problem was Dennis Allen making the mistake most first time head coaches do in the NFL – trying to prove they’re the boss. Allen pulled a mini-Josh McDaniels by scrapping every element of an offense that was a top 10 unit the previous season. I’m taking a page from Tim Brown here but that awful decision, in essence, sabotaged the season.
Allen arrogantly assumed he could install a system and a coordinator that had only previously failed in Oakland. Put it this way, the last time Greg Knapp was an offensive coordinator in Oakland he was fired, Tom Cable took over the play calling duties and the offense improved. So it was no shock to Raider Nation that Knapp’s return made Darren McFadden more useless than an engagement ring bought for Lennay Kekua. The defense was a disaster no matter what so by making the offense an NFL bottom feeder 2012 was doomed from the start.
Zoneblitz: What are your thoughts on how coach Dennis Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie did in their first years in charge and what do you think of the direction they are taking the team?
Shellcroft: Both men were in a very tough spot. I fully understand that the mess McKenzie inherited was unlike any other an NFL general manager as ever taken on. Allen didn’t exactly have a full deck of cards to play with either. With that said there were a lot of rookie mistakes made that have a lot of fans nervous about the future. Allen foolishly tried to fix what wasn’t broke by installing an offense that did not in any way fit the talent. McKenzie simply sat back and watched the bad results pile up while never putting any pressure on his coaching staff.
How the eventual Super Bowl champs could fire their offensive coordinator at a critical point in the season yet the Raiders simply hoped for the best despite never seeing anything promising from the offense was beyond frustrating. McKenzie has the reputation for finding talent so there is hope and Allen made a name for himself by making Denver’s defense the magic behind the Season of Tebow. They both get the benefit of the doubt but that leash got really short and could be cut if another year is wasted while they learn on the job.
Zoneblitz: Their efforts have been handcuffed the last couple years by salary cap issues. How long is the rebuilding process for this franchise going to take?
Shellcroft: That’s the million dollar question. Officially we’re at the decade mark on rebuilding. So McKenzie’s job is to try and make sure it doesn’t take 10 more years to get back to looking like an NFL franchise. The team is still not out of the woods yet in terms of the cap cleansing. This offseason should mark the last of erasing all the Al Davis/Hue Jackson moves of desperation. But there are major decisions to be made such as what to do with Darren McFadden as he enters a contract year and completely rebuilding the defense. My best guess is we’re another two to three years away from being in a place where the franchise can be players in the free agency market. Hopefully by then there will at least be an offensive and defensive identity established that can ease in this painful transition.
Zoneblitz: With a full season of Carson Palmer now in the books, what do you think of the trade that brought him to Oakland and, with Terrelle Pryor on the roster, what is Palmer’s future as the team’s quarterback?
Shellcroft: The Palmer trade is an absolute failure. There can be no debating that. Since he arrived the team went from mediocre to awful again. His numbers are all fools gold. Palmer threw picks in critical moments that cost the Raiders chances at victory this past season. A franchise quarterback cannot do that. In addition he’s horrible in the red zone and did nothing to justify getting paid $13-million next season. Pryor is still raw but showed some promise as he injected life into a failed offense during his lone start of the season. Why Pryor didn’t play sooner is another dumbfounding decision made by Coach Allen but I’ll stop beating that horse as clearly it’s ready to be made into glue or a Big Mac. McKenzie and Allen have already said that Pryor will compete with Palmer in camp. Read between the lines and that means either CP3 takes a pay cut or takes a hike. If there is chance Palmer will be holding a clipboard in 2013 then there is no way he can go into the season with an eight-figure payout still on the books.
Zoneblitz: Darren McFadden is a great running back who can’t seem to stay healthy. What is his future with the team and how does Marcel Reece fit into the mix going forward?
Shellcroft: McFadden’s talent is real, but so too is that injury bug that bit him in college. There are rumors that he needed surgery coming out of Arkansas but delayed it and everything has snowballed since. This is a contract year for him and his trade value is too low, so right now 2013 is make or break. Marcel Reece is one of the most unique talents in the NFL but he desperately needs a creative offensive mind to find touches for him. Last season it took McFadden and Mike Goodson going down for Greg Knapp to finally gave Reece a chance. The results were eye opening. So the hope is Oakland’s new offensive coordinator, Greg Olson, has a plan in place to maximize the gifts of Reece and some of Oakland’s other offensive weapons.
Zoneblitz: With McFadden, Reece, Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford and others, this team seems to have plenty of skill position talent. How far are the Raiders from fielding a fairly dynamic offense?
Shellcroft: Again, this goes back to the offensive staff. When Hue Jackson was calling the shots he seamlessly mixed the play calls allowing for everyone of Oakland’s assets to get touches in positions that highlighted their talents. In all honesty there is no reason why this unit can’t be one of the league’s best in 2013. Knapp employed a zone blocking scheme and non-vertical West Coast offense that just didn’t do any justice to the Raiders’ weapons. Olson will return the running game to a power scheme and did display the ability to maximize talent during his time as the OC in St. Louis. One thing is for sure, it can’t get worse. Olson has the added incentive to figure out how to make the most of Pryor as well as Knapp asked nothing of Terrelle except to wear a ball cap on Sundays.
Zoneblitz: This team gave up 443 points in 2012. What went wrong with the defense and how do you go about fixing it?
Shellcroft: For starters the cupboard was barren. The cap situation resulted in the Raiders defense looking like a scab unit during a lockout. The cornerback shuffle was painful to watch. The linebackers were an absolute mess. Most confusing of all was why the defensive line played so poorly after being among the best in 2011.
Jason Tarver gets credit because his defense did improve drastically near the end of the season. However the pass rush was non-existent, the secondary was a mess and the defense produced turnovers like the Army football program produces pro quarterbacks. For sure the talent must improve, but so too must the scheme. Allen talked about using multiple fronts yet we saw the 4-3 almost exclusively last season.
Zoneblitz: Fixing the defense would look to be even more challenging considering the issues facing Rolando McClain – what is your sense of his future with the team?
Shellcroft: McClain is a good as gone. Most will point to salary cap issues as the reason why he wasn’t released during the season. But once the team suspended McClain he was never on the active roster again and was even reduced to playing running back for the scout team. It’s that bad. He’s another Oakland draft bust and has this team back to square one as far as finding leadership and consistent production from the middle linebacker position.
Zoneblitz: What would you like to see this team do in the draft and free agency?
Shellcroft: With regards to the draft McKenzie and his talent evaluators must hit a home run with the third overall pick if they keep it. No project players. No headcases. This must be an immediate contributor that will be a fixture in Silver and Black for years to come. However I’m of the belief that the holes on the roster are so great that they’re better served moving back in round one to acquire more picks. No thanks to the trades for Palmer and the out-of-football Aaron Curry there isn’t a second or fifth round pick this year. But this draft is top heavy with defensive talent and this team needs D-linemen, linebackers and corners badly, so addressing all those needs shouldn’t be a stretch even with limited picks.
Zoneblitz: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Shellcroft: As if all of Oakland’s troubles aren’t enough as it is this season could truthfully make or break the franchise for years to come. Already the Raiders have waived the white flag by reducing the O.co Coliseum’s seating capacity to the lowest in the league. Their lease is up after 2013 and there is a real need for a new stadium that simply cannot be funded by the cash-strapped city of Oakland. Major moves could be coming unless a miracle happens. L.A. Raiders part deux is a reality that Roger Goodell cannot ignore even though he’s expressed his desire to keep the team in its natural home.
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