GM Reggie McKenzie sat with the media and answered their questions.Photo by Tony Gonzales
General Manager Reggie McKenzie's opening statement: "I appreciate you all bearing with me and kind of getting some things straightened out here. At the end of the season, a lot is going on. This is kind of where my season picks up as you all well know, but I appreciate you guys waiting here. I want to get this thing before I head to the Senior Bowl. It's going to start rolling again after the Senior Bowl. But I'm here to answer questions. The one thing I don't want to do is give the other teams in the league any competitive advantage against the Oakland Raiders, so with that being said, certain questions will not be answered [in detail]. It all depends on what you ask, okay guys? I'm here for you guys. Shoot away."
Q: So who are you going to draft? [Laughter]
McKenzie: "We're not going to do that. You can ask…"
Q: Where are you in terms of filling out the coaching staff?
McKenzie: "It's going well. We should be coming up with some answers shortly, but it's progressing well."
Q: Do you think you'll have answers before the Senior Bowl?
McKenzie: "They're winding down right now. All of them, no. But we're trying to wrap them all up within in a few days, so we'll see how it goes."
Q: In terms of releasing information, are you going to wait until you have them all?
McKenzie: "Unless it's one that's further along, we may do a majority of them at one time, but we would like to just get them all done at once."
Q: How involved are you in those interviews or is it mostly [Head Coach] Dennis [Allen]?
McKenzie: "We're both involved and when you get down to the nitty-gritty of it, it's Dennis, especially when you talk particulars, but we're both involved."
Q: When it comes to those particulars, is it philosophy, what are you looking for in an offensive coordinator?
McKenzie: "The entire gamut – not only philosophy, but particulars of how do you use certain players, not just scheme. It's about the players, it's about situations. It's the entire gamut."
Q: Is that kind of a learning process that you guys learn from last year, not just be married to the scheme, to actually adapt to personnel?
McKenzie: "I don't think Dennis was married to a scheme. He saw a scheme that he was interested in and liked what it had to offer. To me, it's not about scheming. People get so tied up in scheme; it's how you use your players and how you execute."
Q: What do you think about the pool of candidates out there for that position [offensive coordinator]? It seems like there's a lot of experienced people available that came free.
McKenzie: "Yeah, right from the beginning when stuff started to hit the fan, we talked to Norv Turner. We talked to all of them. We talked to a lot of guys, but we're winding it down now to a couple of guys and we'll see."
Q: Last year you were obviously hamstrung by the salary cap problems and the need to jettison players. Are you in a position this year to basically shape this team the way you wanted to? How constricted are you going to be?
McKenzie: "Personally, I think we're about a year away from that. We're not in the salary cap situation like last year, but we still have issues and have some decisions that have to be made before free agency or when free agency starts. We're not out of the woods by any stretch, but we are better off than last year."
Q: Do you expect to have, without giving any names of any of them, a lot of your own free agents? I'm sure some of them you'd like to have back. Do you expect to have some of those signed before free agency hits?
McKenzie: "Well, it's hopeful. Anytime when you trying to do a deal, there's two people that you have to work it out, so if we can work it out, absolutely. That's the plan."
Q: When will there be a resolution for Rolando McClain?
McKenzie: "Resolution as to?"
Q: Are you going to get rid of him?
McKenzie: "No...S=see that's a particular question that we're not talking about."
Q: Does that go back to competitive advantage?
McKenzie: "Yes, it does. I don't want to kind of give any information out."
Q: Did he do then what he needed to do when he came back in terms of repairing whatever damage he had caused?
McKenzie: "Yes, he was not an issue. You're talking about when he came back after the suspension?"
McKenzie: "Yeah, he was not an issue."
Q: Have you or Dennis talked to him since the latest arrest?
Q: Do you plan to talk to him?
McKenzie: "Regarding the arrest? No."
Q: Could you have cut him even if you had wanted to because of the salary cap or would there have been issues of having to work other contracts or release another player?
McKenzie: "Doing this (last off-season) when we have over $30 million dollars over (the cap) with him the way his contract was, no. I did not have the luxury to do anything (last off-season) because of our current situation as it was. I was trying to get under. When you're trying to get rid of $30 million-plus, it's hard when you're trying to bring in more (free agents) to add on to that."
Q: That was originally when you were $30 million…but I mean, in-season could you have done it without some sort of acceleration that would have been bad for the cap?
McKenzie: "Yeah, there's always acceleration with anybody that you have money tied in to."
Q: Did that preclude you from making a move, that acceleration?
McKenzie: "To be honest, I'm not going to sit and try to…it's my hope to not be hamstrung by any contract situation. You can make anything work out. You can manipulate other contracts and get some cap room, but it wasn't a situation where it was squeaky-clean deal."
Q: The 'you can make anything work out' seemed to be the philosophy here for a long time. And obviously you could do that too if you wished, but you choose to go in a different direction. What are the advantages of the way you want to do it?
McKenzie: "I'm looking for the future. We're trying to build something here. And with building, you can't mortgage the future in doing that. So we're trying to lay down a good foundation, get the core players that we've seen can build this team the right way and make good, sound decisions, be it financial, the personnel, coaching, whatever it is. You see the mistake, correct it. That's the only way you're going to get better. And that's kind of our philosophy. We're not trying to hurry up to win one or two games and mortgage the possibility of winning 10 more, you know what I'm saying? We're just going to build it the right way, make good, sound decisions."
Q: Do you have less of those core players than maybe you thought you were going to have going into Year 2 or was there no way to know as you move forward?
McKenzie: "When you evaluate like last year during the off-season, of course you wish you had more of the core players, but no, there's no way knowing going in. But at the end of the season, you evaluate what you have and you're hopeful that the ones that you thought were going to be good are good and you want the players to continue to get better and your veteran players, you want them to continue to be productive. We have a ways to go. We're not there yet by any stretch."
Q: Disappointing year statistically and production-wise for Darren McFadden – 3 yards per carry or 3.5 (actually 3.3), not what he expected or you or anybody else. He's got one more year, at least he did in his original contract. Is there a decision to be made there or are you pretty confident that Darren is going to play his last season here?
McKenzie: "I'm confident Darren is going to play his last season, regardless of what's out there. We have no decision to do anything with Darren."
Q: You say it's not necessarily about system, it's about players making plays; was there an issue with the system and how it fit with Darren?
McKenzie: "That's what I'm saying when you talk about system versus looking for production, looking for plays that fit the players. It's obvious that Darren is much better on certain type of plays. That goes without saying. That's how you've got to do it. You talk about being productive, when you're talking about offensively moving the ball, scoring points, getting some plays out of your big-play guys, you've got to find ways to figure out letting him do what he does best. We didn't do that."
Q: Why do you think he struggled so much?
McKenzie: "If you're running Darren – I'm not an offensive guru – but I do know that when Darren is running certain plays, it's pretty doggone good. And he had some last year. But when you talk about a scheme, he's not a lateral mover. He's not one of those guys. As soon as he can go north and south, that's when he's at his best."
Q: How much of Darren's problems were from the line, were a result of what went on upfront with the line?
McKenzie: "It's the whole gamut. The offensive line did not play as well as we had hoped. I'm sure Darren would like to take back a couple of his reads. You can't just point it at, this is the only fault. Was it scheme? The execution of it? How you draw it up? Who made their blocks? The fullback's block? The tight end's block? It's the total package. You can't just put the failure of the run game on one situation."
GM Reggie McKenzie answers questions from the media. Photo by Tony Gonzales**
Q: When we talked to you last time, you said you wanted to see a little bit of Terrelle Pryor in game action and see what you had. What did you see in the time he got, especially that one start in the end?
McKenzie: "Well, what I did see with Terrelle that I was pleased with, he protected the ball. In the game where you have snapping issues, even with handing off with the ball slipping, protecting when he's being rushed, he protected the ball. That was a plus for me. To see that and to see snap count, the offensive linemen getting used to his cadence. And him getting the plays out and the motions and all the little things he has to do, to make sure there were no issues with penalties before the ball is snapped. Now, obviously, you can see the plays when things break down where he can kind of create and do some things. But he had a chance to make some throws and he did pretty good. I was encouraged. Hopefully the new offensive coordinator can find a way to see what he can do best in this off-season and see what he looks like in preseason games."
Q: Would you be confident in him as the No. 2 guy next year?
McKenzie: "Right now he's our No. 2. We've got Matt Leinart as a free agent. I'm going to bring guys in. I'm not penciling in anybody at any position as one, two. I'm going to have somebody in here to try to compete with everybody. So I'm not going to get into who is two or three, or number one for that matter."
Q: Obviously running quarterbacks this year have had some success around the league. Do you assess his skills differently seeing that it can work?
McKenzie: "You've still got to have the total package, too. People talk about RG [Robert Griffin III] and [Russell] Wilson and [Colin] Kaepernick. You have to make the short, medium, long throws to be effective. When you play eight or nine in the box and just all off and come get you, if you can't complete balls, too…"
Q: From a talent evaluation standpoint, as you see the league, at least some teams gravitating toward more quarterback-oriented runs, does that make you evaluate the position any differently going forward?
McKenzie: "You've got to evaluate. That doesn't mean you change your philosophy and you're going to go strictly with an option running-type quarterback. It's always nice to have options. If you can get a guy that can throw it, which all quarterbacks are going to have to be able to throw the football, then on top of that he can run it, that's the old adage of being a dual threat. Get a defensive end that can play the run and rush the passer, that's what you want. You got a dual threat with a guy that's touching the ball every play. So, people are making a big deal out of it. If you've got a guy that you have to watch out, creating a lot of plays when things break down, making something out of nothing, that's hard to defend."
Q: Is making something out of a broken play more dangerous than all the buzz about read-option? Is a dual threat harder to defend than a one-dimensional quarterback?
McKenzie: "Yeah, because the read-option, you can defense that, but that read-option and throwing the ball all around the field, it's hard. That's hard to defend."
Q: You being a former linebacker, why don't the linebackers just hit the quarterback in the face on that read-option every single time to give him a second thought?
McKenzie: "I have no idea because I would. You can say that's easier said than done, but players are taught to play the defense and do what's told of them to execute the defense. But that's one execution that I would like to see. If our defense is playing against that type, which we will, we play Washington and Philly, so if they continue with that offense, I would think Coach [Jason] Tarver would make sure we hit the quarterback."
Q: Even if you get penalized still? They protect him even though it's close, they're still going to protect him?
McKenzie: "Yeah, they're going to protect him a little bit. But once they start running the ball, you can never spear a guy. You can't do certain things."
Q: So you're saying once he takes off?
McKenzie: "I think a lot of these NFL coaches are going to be smart about not putting their quarterback in harm's way."
Q: How's Carson?
McKenzie: "He's coming around. He's doing much better. He's healing up fine. That's the reports I've got, earlier this week actually. As of Monday, he's doing fine."
Q: So as far as your understanding, is when the off-season program begins or when you're on the field for the first time for OTAs, whenever that is, will Carson be up and ready to go?
McKenzie: "Yes. He should be ready to go barring any setbacks."
Q: Are you set on keeping that third pick or would you be open if somebody comes and says we want to move up to that spot, we'll give you a couple picks in return?
McKenzie: "I'm not going to get into what we'll do, but I'm not tied down to anything in January. But I'm sure my mind will change so many times before April. But it'll be interesting to see what happens."
Q: Speaking of the draft, I'm curious what your thoughts are on Manti Te'o at this point. We don't know obviously whether he was part of this hoax or if he was just a victim of it, but how much does it diminish him in the eyes of the NFL?
McKenzie: "The one thing I can say, I haven't been reading or been up to date with all this stuff that's going on. I was traveling yesterday and I got so many texts and emails about, 'What in the world?' So I decided to let this thing settle down and then try to figure out what happened. What is this all about? I really don't know the gist of what's going on with Manti, but apparently it's something huge because it's not only because it's not only a story in the sports world, but it's news in general. That's a lot of stuff that's going on there. I'm sure because the enormity of what's going on, he's got to answer some questions. So depends on how it comes out."
Q: Before it happened, did you regard him as a top-10 pick?
McKenzie: "Yeah, the guy, the player, top-10 pick, top-15, top-20, or I don't know, but we liked him as a player. We'll see. It's a shame that all this media attention that's gone to him in regards to this incident or whatever. It'll be interesting to see what happens through it all."
Q: Regardless of what happens when a player does get involved in headlines like that, does it make you not want to take a chance sometimes on that?
McKenzie: "It makes you go and get all the answers – cross your Ts and dot your Is and make sure with any player you've got to know what you are getting from a character standpoint. Other than his ability, his talents, try to get to know the guy. So yes, it's going to weigh in heavily."
Q: There's been some reports of a potential Raiders executive being hired, whether that's going to happen or not, I don't know, but like a team president or along those lines. Is it your understanding that regardless of what's hired in terms of the front office that your job is as you got it last year unchanged in terms of going ahead?
McKenzie: "You know with this whole position, that's a Mark Davis deal and like I said, I don't want to give any leeway or his line of thinking on that. Even if it's in regards to any lead in the NFL to our way of thinking, I don't want to divulge any information in that regard. I'll let Mark answer those questions."
Q: How was Mark's mood at the end of the season, in your perspective?
McKenzie: "Me and Mark, we talk all the time. His concerns were, as mine, how are we going to get better, mainly offensively? We talked about players, we talked about everything. Nobody is happy with a four-win season, let's get that straight. At the end, we talked about how to upgrade. We didn't dwell on the negative, if that's what you're asking. We talked about, what is the plan? That's where we were."
Q: What do you think you got moving forward, in terms of last year's draft with no premium picks? Do you think moving forward you have some good players coming out of there? This year's rookies, and including Rod Streater in there even though he wasn't a draft pick?
McKenzie: "We were pleased. You hope to have three players in the top-100, but we didn't. But what we were picking, we are excited about what we have. We think we're going to get those guys improving moving forward to next year. We're happy with the Class of 2012."
Q: Was it a disappointment at all that [Tony] Bergstrom couldn't get on the field more?
McKenzie: "No. I'm sure he would have liked to have played more, but the (coaching) staff decided to go with the veterans and let them play. I'm not mad at Bergstrom, but I think he was definitely worthy of playing some."
Q: How would you assess your free-agent signings from last year? Obviously Streater did well, [Philip] Wheeler did well; what about the rest?
McKenzie: "I don't want to get into it…The one thing I can say with the injury situation - I didn't expect two of the corners to go down in Game 1 (Ron Bartell) and Game 2 (Shawntae Spencer). When you're talking about Bartell getting hurt, he was already hurt during training camp, and then he got hurt on another injury. He just couldn't rebound. You get older players like that and Shawntae couldn't rebound from his foot. It was tough that way. You don't account for injuries. You don't sign guys thinking they're going to get injured. You try to look at the history and go from there. Even with big Mike Brisiel, he had a bad ankle and it got worse and worse. We had to do major surgery here at the end of the season with him. He's going to be working to get back in full."
Q: How much do you think that affected Brisiel's play?
McKenzie: "A lot. He couldn't drive off of it like he would like. But he had a bum ankle. A lot of these guys play through a lot of things."
Q: Did he have it most of the season?
McKenzie: "It was an ongoing deal. He had a whole lot of nicks throughout the season."
Q: You look at the way you seem to be approaching things, salary-cap conscious, building with young players, talent you want to develop yourself. You'd look from the outside and think that, looking at Richard Seymour and Shane Lechler that it would be hard to imagine finding a place for them. Would that be?
McKenzie: "Everything is still going to be predicated on money. You get guys that are used to making a set amount and they're premier players. You don't know what the other teams are going to throw out there from a contract standpoint. I don't think you toss anything out of the window. It's our plan, throughout the roster, to upgrade. If we have a little leeway to sign more players, we'll do that. We're going to try to do it from the standpoint of 'with the future in mind,' not just get a one-shot guy to save the day. We're going to try to build this thing. If we can add two, three, four players in the off-season before the draft, we'll do that, if they're the right guys. If we can get them and get them to fit within our structure and our salary cap, we'll do it. We're not just going to sit back and not go after guys because we want to get in a better salary-cap situation. We're going to pinpoint some guys and try to go after them. If we can get them or not, that remains to be seen."
Q: What kind of advantage is it coaching the Senior Bowl that you can't do just showing up to it?
McKenzie: "No. 1, we can see hands-on how they can pick up a system and how they lead the groups, how they are in meeting rooms, their communication skills. We can sit around in the meeting room, we'll have scouts in there, and we get hands-on information."
Q: So, only your scouts get to go and none of the other scouts from other teams?
McKenzie: "Oh absolutely. When we are in meetings, position meetings, they're right there."
Q: So it's not just the coaches, the scouts are in there, too?
McKenzie: "Yes. We get to be a part of it, too. There's something to be said when you can eat at the dinner table with a guy and get to know guys from that end, as opposed to an interview process, more formal. When they let their guard down a little bit, you can see how they mix and mingle with their teammates. I think it's invaluable information. You get to see the real person."
Q: Besides Brisiel, are there other guys that needed surgery after the season?
McKenzie: "I don't have the whole list. I know Khalif Barnes had to get surgery. He was out there playing with one arm the last few games when he played. I can't remember off the top of my head. We had a couple guys that needed to get taken care of. Miles Burris had to have a little scope, a knee thing."
Q: Was there anything other than, I don't know Barnes' situation, but sounds like Brisiel has a long road, by OTAs should be good?
McKenzie: "Yeah, you're talking about mid-April or May. Everybody should be good to go by mini-camp."
Q: Speaking of Burris and the other linebackers, were you unhappy with their development? Is that why Coach [Johnny] Holland was fired?
McKenzie: "No. I think Coach Dennis Allen had his major reasons for doing that. But it was not the play of Miles and you can't blame Johnny for Rolando's actions or moving around a couple of guys; that's not it at all. That would be something Dennis would be better suited to answer particular questions like that."
Q: How do you assess Dennis' first year, rookie season?
McKenzie: "I thought what he did with his team, trying to create a culture in that locker room and get those players to believe that we're making a change here, we try to do this thing the right way in the way we practice, the way we approach games, and I thought he did a really good job getting these players to buy into what we're doing. In talking to these players, players are looking forward to getting back and that's what it's all about. You want a good response to the head coach, to how he's leading the team and how they follow him. I was very pleased by the way he led the team and, to be honest, I'm proud in the way he identified the issues and attacked it. He didn't just continue to, 'Okay we're going to continue to run this offense and make it work,' or 'We're going to continue to keep this guy or keep this guy.' He evaluated it; he stood up and said, 'Okay, we're going to make a change,' (on offense) and did that. I like the way he led this team, the way the defense played especially at the end. It was encouraging. I see much better things in the future. I mean, he's a rookie coach just like I'm a rookie GM. But for a rookie coach, I like the way he led this team."
Q: The way the defense played in December after a really bad November, was that something you were looking for?
McKenzie: "Yes, and I thought we responded defensively. So, we just have to continue to improve and upgrade what we need to and we'll get better. It seems like the defense was trying to develop an identity at the end, started to figure it out. I thought they played some pretty good football."
Q: You talked about him changing the culture and the players responding; what did Dennis Allen and the staff do as far as having players play more disciplined football this year? That's talked about but it was acted on this year.
McKenzie: "Well, the way we practice. The way they practice, those guys didn't allow for all the negatives in play from a penalty standpoint, jumping offsides, everything was confronted right then. That's the way you've got to do it. You don't let stuff slide, whether it's being late to a meeting, whether it's not doing your assignment in practice, or there's some kind of holding penalty, you know. You let the DBs know, 'No, you can't do that.' You don't just let them do stuff and just… 'Okay, they'll get it in the game.' No, it's right then and there. Let's nip it right here, and that helps. It's not going to be the end all, but it will help. They did a good job. The coaching staff did a good job. I thought practices, even when we couldn't buy a game, the intensity and the enthusiasm and the attention to detail in practice, they were on it. The morale was not down and out at all, so it was good. It was good to see."
Q: Getting back to the timing of when you're going to have a new offensive coordinator and some of the other assistants, I'm a little unclear. How soon do you think you're going to make…?
McKenzie: "Well, I don't want to give a timeline. But we are in the process; things are going pretty well the last couple of days so we'll see how it goes."
Q: Are you still talking to Norv Turner?
McKenzie: "No. I'm saying right from the beginning when we hit this thing running at the beginning. I specifically haven't talked to Norv. He told me he was interested. So we move on."
Q: He took the Cleveland job today…
McKenzie: "Yes, he took it today. But guys like Norv, Marc Trestman, we had our list down. But a lot of guys…there are other jobs out there. It's like free agency. You wish that you could get certain guys, but sometimes you don't always get certain guys, but you've got a list that you feel good about and that's where we are now."
Q: How many of them would you say you've already talked to? A handful?
McKenzie: "I would say…a few."
Q: And your Super Bowl pick?
McKenzie: "I guess I'd have to go with pretty much everyone else. I've got to put my money on Tom Brady."