Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther
Paul Guenther has been the Oakland Raiders Defensive Coordinator for a week now, and while he's just beginning to dive deeper into his evaluation process, a few things are certain: he wants to maximize the potential of the defense's best players, he wants all 11 players on defense to play as a unit, and he's anxious to build something fresh with Head Coach Jon Gruden.
Wednesday afternoon, Guenther was introduced to the local media via conference call, and the team's defensive coordinator seemed eager to discuss the future of the Silver and Black. The 46-year-old from Richboro, Penn., joins the team after spending four seasons as the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati, and helped the team finish as one of the best pass rushing groups in 2017, notching a total of 46 sacks.
Now paired with one of the best pass rushers in the National Football League, Guenther is excited to get to work with former Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack, and knows if he can get him matched up one-on-one with opponents the odds are in Mack's favor.
"Having a talent like that [defensive end Khalil Mack] and ability of a guy like that, certainly you want to make it the centerpiece of the defense," Guenther said. "We have to continue to develop our younger players to bring those guys up to speed and add people as we go through the draft and free agency. He's a guy that you can really build a foundation through and around. He's an exciting guy to be able to coach for sure."
No. 52 undoubtedly garners a lot of attention, but one player Guenther is also drawn to is linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who joined the Raiders midseason to help fill a void in the middle of the field. While the 29-year-old might be in the latter stages of his career, Guenther recognizes the veteran presence Bowman brings to the table.
"I think NaVorro is a prototype middle linebacker, really," said Guenther. "The thing that impressed me most with NaVorro is that they got him here midseason and by the end of the year, it appeared to me that he was kind of the leader of the unit, making a lot of calls. You can see that on tape. It looks like he is a smart guy that understands the game. I love smart guys that love playing football. Hopefully we can get him back in the fold and keep him a Raider."
The talent Mack and Bowman possess are obviously essential to the team's success, but like any sport, the Raiders success relies on more than just one individual. In 2017, the Raiders defense ranked 23rd in the league, giving up 350.1 yards per game. The Bengals were just a bit above that mark at 18th, allowing 339.1 yards per game; however, Guenther's defense ranked eighth in passing yards allowed per game (211.2), which was an area the Raiders struggled.
Like I said though, Mack, Bowman, and whoever else can't remedy the defense by playing individual football, the defense needs to work as a unit, which might sound obvious, but there's a lot of coaching that goes into making this happen.
"I don't really try to make it overly complicated the way I teach it," he explained. "I teach all 11 guys what all 11 are doing, not just saying, 'I don't just need to know in my little area here what I'm doing. I need to know the guy beside me, the guy behind me and the guy in front of me, whatever it may be what he's doing,' because it all fits in a line. It's 11 guys playing guys playing a game together, not 11 guys in the same uniform running around the field every Sunday, if that makes any sense."
During Head Coach Jon Gruden's press conference last Tuesday, he made it a point of emphasis to say the coaching staff is focused on establishing a new culture, one that will help the team "create a new greatness."
That greatness is exactly what lured Guenther to the Raiders, and it's his partnership with Gruden that he's hoping will aid the Silver and Black's return to glory.
"The ability to come with him and start something fresh from the ground up really excited me," shared Guenther. "To have this opportunity with Jon coming to the Raiders and the brand of the Raiders really attracted me. Overall, just an opportunity to come coach with him, see him do it, see how he runs this organization, this team, would be a great thing for me to learn from."
Now that he's settled in at the team's practice facility in Alameda, Calif., it's safe to say the work is officially underway, and I'm anxious to see where Guenther can lead this defense as a unified group going forward.