Once the 2015 regular season ended, the postseason awards started rolling in for the Oakland Raiders – the team had three Pro Bowlers, Pro Football Focus named cornerback David Amerson the "Most Improved Player" in 2015, and Khalil Mack made history as the first player to be a named an Associated Press First-Team All-Pro player at two different positions in the same year.
Now, it's time for the Raiders' position coaches, the men behind the scenes to get some recognition for the role they played in the growth of the team this season.
For the first time in their history, Pro Football Focus decided to hand out Positional Coaches of the Year Awards, and the Silver and Black had a pair of winners as quarterbacks Coach Todd Downing was named "Quarterbacks Coach of the Year," and offensive line coach Mike Tice was awarded first runner-up for "Offensive Line Coach of the Year."
Downing earned the nod for his extensive work with second-year quarterback Derek Carr, who in his sophomore campaign showed a marked improvement across the board statistically, as his completion percentage, number of passing touchdowns and overall quarterback rating all improved in 2015, his first year working under Downing.
Another area of his game that also showed a dramatic jump from year one to year two? His recognition and effectiveness when facing the blitz.
"While people saw talent in rookie QB Derek Carr, he was still our 38th of 39 ranked quarterback in 2014," wrote Pro Football Focus. "His deep and underneath game was significantly flawed, and his ability to read blitzes remained poor. That completely changed in 2015, turning into a borderline top-10 signal caller whose deep game has improved out of all recognition, with a penchant for taking on extra rushers—his QB rating when blitzed is now 108.7. Downing deserves credit for his part in turning Carr from a borderline case to a franchise-worthy player."
Like Downing, Tice also excelled working with his respective unit, as the offensive line was arguably the team's most consistent position group throughout the season.
As the season wore on, the line was bitten by the injury bug, but Tice managed to make adjustments within the group and keep the unit playing at a high level even after going through multiple personnel changes.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Raiders' offensive line was ranked second in pass blocking and 18th in run blocking, making them the sixth-ranked offensive line in the NFL this season, a sizable leap from being the 16th-ranked offensive line just a year ago.
"Nothing sums up the transformation going on in Oakland like their offensive line," Pro Football Focus wrote. "The left side is particularly strong, with Jackson and Donald Penn ever present. Sure, Rodney Hudson probably isn't worth the money, but even his addition resulted in better play on the line."
The Raiders were undoubtedly an improved team in 2015, on both sides of the football, and the position coaches under Head Coach Jack Del Rio were a major reason for that success.