Assistant Head Coach - Defense John Pagano
Head Coach Jack Del Rio hired John Pagano for one reason: help the communication on the backend of the Oakland Raiders defense.
In his final press conference of the season, following the team's loss to the Houston Texans, Del Rio was blunt in his assessment of the team's defensive effort in 2016 - there were simply too many explosive plays for his liking.
"There were far too many explosive plays allowed this year, whether it be run or pass," said Del Rio. "That's, you know, an area that must be addressed."
Well, after hiring former San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano in late January, Del Rio is hopeful that the area has indeed been addressed.
Now, a few months into his tenure as assistant head coach – defense, Pagano is reiterating Del Rio's message that the number of explosive plays must be decreased in 2017 for the team to find success.
"The number one thing that we have to be able to do is you have to eliminate those explosive plays," Pagano said following Tuesday's Organized Team Activity [OTA]. "It's a focus that you have hit in our OTAs right now and in the offseason. You can't let the ball get over your head. It's those things that we have to correct. As you're working through this process, defensive football, the first thing you have to eliminate is big plays."
So, now the million dollar question is, realistically, how do you take the idea of stopping explosive plays, and actually make it something tangible?
With over two decades of NFL coaching experience under his belt, Pagano certainly has the knowledge and the résumé to find an answer to that question, and while we're likely still a few months away from seeing exactly how he and defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr., go about addressing the issue, what we do know right now is that communication is key.
"The big thing is, communication is key to all success," Pagano explained. "I try to always relate those things even as a family. Communicating to one another as a husband and wife, as you're talking to your kids. For us to be able to communicate, our communication starts as coaches to coaches and then to work from player to coach. Then they take that communication out on the field from player to player."
Veteran safety Reggie Nelson is starting his 11th NFL season, and has had his fair share of defensive coaches, and headed into 2017, No. 27 has enjoyed what Pagano has brought to the table thus far.
"It's just more knowledge in the room," Nelson said of the newest addition to the Raiders coaching staff. "It's not like we don't [have] that here, but they just added on a little more knowledge and he was defensive coordinator for like [years]. With him seeing it and coming in our room as a DB [defensive back], helping us out with our communication, I think it's been great for us. It's been helping us out."
And the feeling from Pagano back to Nelson has been reciprocated as well.
"I have nothing but just gravitated to a guy like that," Pagano said of Nelson. "To be able to talk football with him. Pick his brain of how he sees things, how he understands the game of football. I think the biggest thing that we always talk about back there, usually, is disguising. I think disguising is something that you have to take to a level in your defense that you could really do a lot of different things out of that. He's somebody that understands the game. It's just good to be around a guy like that. Excellent pro."
Del Rio has said that Pagano will primarily work with the team's defensive backs, and regardless of what group of players he's working with throughout training camp, and eventually the regular season, one thing can be certain, communication will be the key to whatever Pagano is teaching.
"I think the biggest thing is making sure that everybody is saying the same thing," Pagano said. "That starts with us as coaches, and that process of going through that. Then you just keep working on those things. Every day we strive for two goals, I know they talk about it in the back end, let's have great communication, how we're speaking to one another and two, let's not let the ball go over our heads."