Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton, Jr., is not a quiet guy when it comes to football. You can hear him down the hall before meetings and on the field during drills.
But when you meet him in person, he's unassuming, quiet, and almost shy.
I think it's because he's an observer.
A look at the Raiders position by position - we continue with the linebackers.
The first time I sat down with Coach Norton for an interview, he could tell who I was – my personality and work ethic – within a minute. It's an incredible quality to have as a coach, the ability to understand who a person is right away, when you have to deal with a large number of men on a daily basis and coach each one of them differently.
Coach Norton made an impression on me that day and has made an impression on his players as they've gotten to know him throughout the offseason program.
Coach Norton has made one thing clear from the beginning – "I am who I am," he said. "I've coached and played the same way."
His unwavering style has been appreciated and noticed by his players. "You can tell just how all of [the coaches] carry themselves that at some point in their lives or careers, they were in a pain in the ass to somebody on the other side of the ball," said LB Sio Moore. "For them being coaches, you can tell how they coach, that's how they played."
LB Malcolm Smith played for Coach Norton at University of Southern California and with the Seattle Seahawks, and knew it was only a matter of time before his long-time linebackers coach would reach the defensive coordinator position.
"I think it was just a matter of his choice – whenever he wanted to make that move. He's been ready, it's just whether he wanted to," said Smith. "He obviously has a great amount of energy. I think the fans and everybody in the building appreciates when he comes to work because you can hear him coming. It's going to affect us and it's going to be contagious and we're going to play defense like that."
The energy he brings to the field and in the meeting rooms really has been infectious; the players have been embodying his passion in their work. "It's fun. Different, just because of how fired up he is every day," said veteran safety Charles Woodson. "Every morning when you walk in, he's the one guy that you're going to hear in the building. When you come in and you hear him, you almost have to be ready for work. It's been great. I think the guys have responded to him and his style. I think it's going to be fun to get a chance to work with him."
Coach Norton's understanding of the game after playing at the highest level for so many years, as well as coaching at both the college and pro levels, helps him relate to his players. "You've got two linebackers [Coach Norton and Head Coach Jack Del Rio] that played in the NFL for many years," said LB Curtis Lofton. "That's a ton of knowledge and experience. As I'm getting older in my career; I'm still young now, but as I get older in my career, that is something I can lean on and learn from. I can pick their brain and they can take my game to the next level."
Coach Norton and Head Coach Del Rio expect the best from the entire defense, particularly the linebackers. The players know it, appreciate it and are ready to show it. "I understand the expectations and they're high; they're really high," said Smith. "He's going to be hard on us…you can see it and there's going to be days where you might not want to look at him, but you know it's for a good reason and the benefit will be the product on the field."
Second-year linebacker Khalil Mack is feeling good about his new defensive coordinator, as well as his head coach. "It's a lot of great energy, a lot of positive energy, especially from Coach Jack and Coach Ken," said Mack. "Being in that room with him is exciting and he gets you excited to do your job and you love it even more, because you see how much he loves it. It's a great match having them and us. It's going to work. It's going to work out."
Rookie DE Mario Edwards Jr. is also confident in what he sees from his defensive leader. "I like him a lot," said Edwards Jr. "He is very vocal, and he wants the best out of his players. He is yelling and screaming because he wants to push you and get every drop out of you that you have in you, so I like that type of coach."
The players believe the enthusiasm that emanates from Coach Norton. "Energy. High energy. Serious belief," said cornerback TJ Carrie. "The mental focus that he has in changing our mentality and making us believe, within everything that we do, from waking up in the morning, driving here to work, lacing up your cleats, everything. Everything that he is installing from presentations that he's been giving us has been a real mental focus. I think coming in to meeting rooms, you're excited because you don't know what he's going to say or what he's going to do. He definitely brings that excitement and that mental capacity that we need to gain and grasp as a sponge."
They believe it because it's real; it's who Coach Norton is and always will be. His personality allows the players be who they are. The culture is building a high level of respect between players and coach.
"He's just allows you to be yourself. He's out there, he's just like us," said linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong. "He might talk more than us. He's yelling and screaming more than the players are, so he gets everyone into it. He makes practice fun. He brings the energy every day. You're not going to look at him and go, 'Oh man, where's coach at? You don't hear him today.' He's going to be out there in your ear and I think that helps me a lot, to just be yourself and play ball."
"Coach Norton is a guy that's really committed to everything he stands for," said Moore. "He's creating an environment for everyone that's in it to stand for that same purpose. The thing about the purpose that's unique, I think, and that's what's unique to him, is it's not just his own purpose; he allows the players to create the purpose, so it's not driven from him, it's driven by us."
Coach Norton has made an impression on his players. He puts everything he has into his work every day. You can hear it when you watch.
And when he's quiet, you know he's absorbing everything there is to know about what's going on around him in order to be even better than he was the day before.
"You give them everything you have," said Coach Norton. "And a lot of times the players, they have a tendency to become like their coach. I wouldn't mind guys having a lot of energy, feisty, smart, enthusiastic, really care about what they're doing, giving everything they have. I like to have players like that."