Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver gets chased down by UConn LB Sio Moore. Photo by Tony Gonzales
The Raiders contingent at this week's Senior Bowl practices is trying to build on the foundation it laid last year and move away from the current string of 10 non-winning seasons that began in 2003, the year after Oakland played in the Super Bowl.
The first step was to allow a head coach the opportunity to coach. No team has undergone more change at the head-coach position during a given 10-year stretch over the past four decades.
Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, the Raiders are the league's only team with as many as seven individuals to hold the permanent title of head coach over a 10-year period. Two other franchises, the 1972-81 Saints and the 2003-12 Dolphins, also have had seven head coaches in a 10-year span, but each of those teams had two interim head coaches never given the permanent title. Seven individuals, including Dennis Allen, have had Oakland's permanent title since 2003.
BEST PLAYER AVAILABLE: Don't believe any of the draft analysts that attempt to predict how the Raiders will select based on their perceived needs. As he did last year, GM Reggie McKenzie will select the best player available, regardless of need.
In 2005 with McKenzie in the Lambeau Field draft room, Ted Thompson in his first selection as Packers GM chose a QB from Cal named Aaron Rodgers, even though Brett Favre would start three more years. Rodgers won a Super Bowl and an NFL MVP in his first four seasons as a starter.
Seattle GM John Schneider, the 2012 NFL Executive of the Year, thoroughly evaluated Russell Wilson at the Senior Bowl a year ago and drafted him, even though he'd signed QB Matt Flynn as a free agent a month earlier. Wilson competed for the starting job, then took Seattle to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.
And when the Chiefs earlier this month hired Green Bay's John Dorsey as their new GM, what did he say? Kansas City will draft the best player available.
The roots of that philosophy are in Ron Wolf, who devoted much of his life to the Raiders before eventually becoming GM of the Packers in 1992. Wolf built a Packers team that has one of the NFL's best records since the dawn of the current era of free agency and the salary cap. And once in Green Bay, Wolf hired Thompson, Schneider, McKenzie and Dorsey.
Thompson in explaining his philosophy on drafting the best player available once pointed to 1984, when the Portland Trailblazers passed on Michael Jordan at No. 2 overall because they already had their guards, and selected Sam Bowie to fill a need area. Chicago snatched Jordan with the next pick, then won six world championships.
Think the Raiders will draft a cornerback because in theory that's one of their biggest needs? That's not how the NFL works in 2013. Most teams draft the best player available. Expect the Raiders to do that in April.
The real work is done in setting the draft board.
RECENT HISTORY: The Vikings and Redskins, last year's Senior Bowl coaching staffs, were able to reach the playoffs in 2012, but there's obviously no guarantee.
COACHING VOICE: Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver was chatting with NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock Wednesday morning, as a sound engineer was attaching a wireless microphone to the coach for a feature on the day's broadcast of the North practice. When the assertion surfaced that Tarver, who was struggling to talk, was sick, Tarver quickly shot it down. "Coaching voice," Tarver corrected.
DISCO DAYS: During Dennis Allen's first Senior Bowl press conference Tuesday night, a television spotlight in the back of the room had a few issues. Three times during Allen's press conference, the spotlight lost power. In the middle of an answer on Texas speedster Marquise Goodwin, Allen said, "We get a disco ball in here and we'll be all right."
Allen also revealed some of his great personality on Sunday night at the Senior Bowl welcome reception. Meeting Allen for the first time, the Mobile civic leader that presented Allen with a key to the city jokingly asked Allen if he was still in college. Allen, impersonating Mike Gundy, replied, "I'm a man; I'm 40."
THURSDAY: Oakland's North squad will move to a new location for Thursday's practice. The team spent its first three days at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, site of Saturday's game. Thursday, the South squad will be at the stadium and the North will move to the Fair Hope location.