Photo by Tony Gonzales
Coach Saunders: We're up in Napa Valley and this time of the year is just absolutely beautiful. Everything is going well and we're making progress on a daily basis. I'm really excited about the direction that we're going in now.
Q: What appealed to you about this job?
Coach Saunders: Well, I was raised in Oakland. I grew up, went to elementary school and went to high school here. I played at San Jose State and got my master's at Stanford, as I'm a Bay Area guy. I was a ball boy for Al Davis at Frank Youell Field in 1963. The Raiders, truth be told, you grow up with a team as a kid and it was just the right time for me. I love Hue Jackson and we worked together in Baltimore. I've been around some great head coaches in the National Football League. I've worked with guys like Joe Gibbs, Dick Vermeil, Don Coryell and Marty Schottenheimer. In college, I worked with guys like Johnny Majors and John McKay. I think I've had some experience with some special people and I think I would really love to see Hue have a great deal of success here. As a kid, this was my team. You get to the tail end of your career and there are a lot of things that are more important in what you do. I would really like to see this franchise return to the way it was when I was a kid growing up going to Frank Youell Field and seeing those guys play. I'd like to help the guy that I was a ball boy for years ago and maybe return this franchise to the class and quality is was years ago. I'd really feel great if I could make a contribution in that regard.
Q: Have you had interviews with Mr. Davis before when you were with other teams?
Coach Saunders: I've talked with Mr. Davis since 1963 and there are times in your life when it's the right time to do things. I've worked for some great people and have always had the opportunity to really be in some great organizations. This was really the right time for me to be here given my life and my career. I'm real excited to be a part of this organization.
Q: Talk about the history of you and Jason Campbell.
Coach Saunders: I was back in Washington where Jason was our backup quarterback for one year before developing into a starting role. Unfortunately, he got hurt halfway through the season when we went to the playoffs. I have a great deal of respect for Jason Campbell with what he is as a person. When he came here to the Raiders, he was over in our house in Virginia and we were having a barbeque with him and his family. He was talking about what options he had and I said the best situation for you is to go to the Oakland Raiders with Hue Jackson with the football team that it is and the opportunity you might have there. He chose to do that last year and I decided it would be fun to join him. It was one of the main reasons that I decided to come here in addition to the affinity that I have for the city of Oakland. I also care for the people in the organization with Dick Romanski when I was a ball boy many years ago. Jason is a special guy in my mind and if I can make a contribution to him and his success, I'd be happy.
Q: What is holding Jason Campbell back from making this next step?
Coach Saunders: He's progressed every year. This has been well –documented and I think that everybody knows this. He spent four years in college in the same system. He's been in the National Football League for five or six years and he has had a different system every year. You don't think that's any big deal but if you're a golfer or a tennis player and you have a different instructor every year, you do different things at a different way. Coaches really believe in the techniques that they teach, so now you are learning one technique one year and then another language and technique another year. It's really hard in times of stress to fall back on a concept of doing anything. So, the thing that has kind of curtailed what he is as a quarterback is that if he was in one system ever since he'd been in the league with one coordinator and position coach, he'd be far more developed than he is now. This is his third year in this kind of a system since Hue and I come from the same background with the language being similar and we've put together a language that's unique to the Oakland Raiders. We both have a real good feel of what Jason is and what we believe he can be. I'm hoping he can continue to make strides like he's made. We've been here 13 or 14 days and he's gone back and looked at every throw he's made since he's been here. His mechanics with getting the ball out of his hands and his decisions are getting quicker. With a quarterback, you have to work on two things. You work from the neck up and the waist down. You work with the decision-making process so that he can make quicker decisions and get rid of the ball quicker. You work with his lower body so that he can make those throws each time. Every day, I'm just so excited to see his development and his progress. He's completing over 76 percent of his passes here at training camp in a competitive environment and we're going against a pretty good defense with a pretty good secondary. I'm excited about it.
Q: What about Hue's offense made you think it would be suitable for Jason?
Coach Saunders: Well, we both worked in Baltimore together. That offense is very similar to what I was nurtured in with Don Coryell in San Diego many years ago and of course in St. Louis with Dick Vermeil. That offensive system was one we used in Kansas City when I was there. The thing with Jason does real well that Al Davis believes in is the vertical passing game. He worked for Sid Gilman, who was an influence on me as well as Don Coryell. So, we're in the same philosophy of football with attacking the seams and getting it up the field going from deep to short, rather than going from short to deep. There are sometimes when we do that, but that's what Jason does best. He's going to develop his skills as a touch passer and does it every day. It's the kind of system that we think allows him to be successful and becoming what he's capable of becoming in the National Football League.
Q: Red zone efficiency and spreading the ball up the field have been important things. How do you work on those things with Jason given the style of quarterback that he is?
Coach Saunders: Well, in the red zone to get better you have to run the football. When you get inside that 15-yard line, the most effective way to be a good football team is to run the ball. I can think back to the days in Kansas City when we led the league in offense those five years and we were probably the most effective team in the red zone those years. We had Priest Holmes and he was a very effective runner, but what we majored in was running the football. On third downs and long distance situations, you have to be an accurate passer, your decisions have to be quicker, your angles have to be sharper by the wide receivers, and you just have to be real accurate at what you do. You have to narrow down the concepts of what you do down there because the field is shorter and the defenders have less distance to react. You don't have the ability to move people around like you do in the open field and create special relationships. We're working really hard on his accuracy and those decisions from the neck up so the ball is coming out before the receivers get open. To be an effective team in the red zone, you have to be a really good running football team and that's our strength. I think that will be one of our areas that we'll be very, very good on.
Q: You think as Offensive Coordinator, even though Hue will be calling the plays, you can be that positive voice all the time?
Coach Saunders: I never gave that any thought. I'm animated in the way I coach, I enjoy the game and I love the players. I think when somebody does something really well; they have to know they did it well. When they did it wrong, they have to know they did it wrong and how to correct it right away. I always felt that it was important to let people know that they did something well that we taught them during the week. Yesterday, Darrius [Heyward-Bey] had a couple of routes and a couple of catches that he hadn't made in a week. All of a sudden, he made that catch. Goodness gracious, that's like seeing your kid, he has his concert, he's playing the piano and he does it right. You're excited, you're fired up and that's kind of the way I am. I love this game, I love the people that play it and I really enjoy seeing people accomplish the things that you're trying to get them to do well. It's not an orchestrated thing; it's just the way I am and my personality.
Q: How does that coaching relationship with Hue help you?
Coach Saunders: Well, it's awesome. I have a great deal of respect for Hue and my role in this organization is to help him do everything he can to be an effective head football coach. Every day, as a staff, that's what our job is and whatever he needs me to do, I'll do. I'll do it to the best of my ability and with the experience I've had, with 30 years in the league, I've been around a lot of great people and great offenses. There are things when you're a first-time head coach and I was that at 35 years old. I know what that is and Hue is a young guy with tremendous upside. He's the right man for this job and I want to do everything I can to take some weight off his shoulders because there are so many things on his plate. There are so many experiences I've had in the National Football League that can ease his burden in a lot of areas.
Q: What do you see in Darrius Heyward-Bey and how can you bring the best out of him?
Coach Saunders: The thing that I see in him after being around him for two weeks is a guy who can run fast and a diligent worker on and off the field. It's very important to him and part of coaching people regardless of the sport, is to be a teacher. We're teachers and our forum happens to be on a field like this as a classroom talking about X's and O's. If you have a willing student, then you have a chance to make that guy better. He is a willing student and he's got some talent. He made some catches yesterday that were just outstanding and I told him I watched every single play that you've run here with the Oakland Raiders. There's unlimited talent in that body and, as coaches, we have to do everything we can to put him in a position where he can do the things he does best. We have to look at the things he needs to learn and develop and spend time developing those skills. He uses his feet sometimes when he catches the football and it changes his sightlines. That's part of our job as coaches to keep him on the ground and catch the ball on an even-keel at times. Yesterday, he made catches and that's the guy you're looking for. He can do it and he'll get better, so we're excited about him. I like those fast guys that can go down, make plays and catch the football.
Q: Marcel Reece used to play wide receiver. What are some things you are doing to find better ways to get him the ball?
Coach Saunders: That's a good question and the game is all about matchups. When you can matchup people and matchup people that you know you have an advantage over physically, that's what we would like to do. Depending on people's defensive structure, we can put players like that, that are a matchup advantage for us, in positions on the offensive line to be an eligible receiver and take advantage of one-on-one coverage. The whole precept in this organization is to draft speed and get guys that can run fast. As coaches, we have to make sure that they're in the right places to run fast and beat people that they can run by.
Q: What do you see in Darren McFadden?
Coach Saunders: Darren is a very gifted player and he demonstrated that last year. He has tremendous explosion and in the open field, there aren't many players that have that explosive speed to stop and start. I think his potential is unlimited and, usually, your running game is directly proportional to your runners. You have Marcus Allen, Priest Holmes, and Marshall Faulk in St. Louis and you don't have to block and he can still make five guys miss in the open field. McFadden has that ability to do that and we're excited to watch him develop for sure.