It's been the narrative all offseason – 2015 was a definite improvement, but while the product on the field was better than in years past, the team still did not meet the goals they laid out before the season.
"It was bittersweet," McKenzie told Mark Dominik and Alex Marvez on SiriusXM NFL Radio earlier this week. "Your aspirations are to get to the Super Bowl, but the road that we took this year, [there were] a lot of highs; had some lows, but we had some good showings, and the players are responding."
He continued, "I think the coaching is going well. The players are responding, and to have five guys that are playing in the Pro Bowl is a testament to what we're doing. We just want to continue that process and get stronger."
When you look at the season as a whole, there are a multitude of reasons for the team's improvement: the cultural change that Head Coach Jack Del Rio cultivated in his first season in Oakland, the emergence of defensive end Khalil Mack as a legitimate game-changing-type-player, but maybe most importantly, the jump quarterback Derek Carr made in his second season under center.
It's no secret that in today's NFL a team needs a top-flight quarterback to be successful, and that's what Carr proved to be in his sophomore campaign, improving his stats across the board, and proving to be the type of franchise quarterback that McKenzie envisioned when he selected him in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
"You can talk about all the talent that any rookie has – year one to two is a big difference," McKenzie said. "His maturation, the players around him, him just feeling better about himself and his talent, and knowing the NFL better, and hopefully that continues."
Yes, Carr had an improved complement of receivers around him this season, but his increased comfort and calmness operating from the pocket grew evident as the season wore on.
2015 served as a marked improvement for the Raiders, and after a solid first year with Del Rio, McKenzie is looking forward to getting back to work and continuing to build upon the foundation he's built with the Raiders' head coach.
"The chemistry is great between me and Jack," McKenzie said. "The chemistry is even better moving forward, and when you got the continuity from year one to two, with no staff changes, no system changes, that's great for the players, and it's great for the coaches also, now they just tweak whatever they need to do and get these players going. It's the same with us, being able to go through it one year together with the entire staff and the continuity and the chemistry is going to be even greater."
He continued, "Jack is going to be a really special coach here in Oakland, and it's moving in the right direction, and we're excited about the 2016 season."