Offensive Coordinator Greg Knapp is returning to the Oakland Raiders this season, after spending 2007 and 2008 with the team for the same duty. Although his offense didn’t leave much to be missed by Raiders fans (ranked 23rd and 29th in total points), it looks like, after the first three days of Training Camp, that the current squad has enough pieces to make the scheme successful.
Coach Knapp is known for operating a zone-blocking scheme with the Offensive Line, as well as plenty of bootlegs and play actions with the quarterback and receivers in a very fluid West Coast style of attacking the opposing team. The Raiders, as usual, have one of the fastest, if not the fastest, offenses in the NFL and that certainly will boost the new playbook’s capacity to do damage. But speed alone is not enough, so let’s take a deeper look into our pieces and see how they fit into the new style.
Our offensive linemen are agile enough to handle all the movement the zone-blocking scheme demands. Jared Veldheer and Stefen Wisniewski are young and mobile. Cooper Carlisle was originally brought in by former OL coach Tom Cable in 2007 to help implement the “ZBS” in Oakland, since he already had experience with the scheme working under Mike Shanahan’s offense in Denver for seven seasons. Mike Brisiel came to the Raiders this year after working with Greg Knapp for the last couple of years. So those two veterans shouldn’t have any issues with the new style. Khalif Barnes is the most intriguing piece of this puzzle, but his 8-year experience shall give him plenty of tools to make the adaptation decently. Although changing schemes after a fairly successful year for the OL might be risky, it’s conceivable that this group will make the transition well.
Next are the Running Backs. In short, coach Knapp wants his RB’s to be patient with the ball until the O-Line create a hole up ahead. When that happens, the runner must be able to quickly find it and blast through it, in what is also known as the cut-and-go. Darren McFadden is one of the most talented Raiders ever and could be considered the best RB in the league. There’s no scheme too big for him. Not to mention his great change-of-direction ability and burst, which are great assets to the cut-and-go. He looks as good as always in Camp. Also looking good are Mike Goodson and Taiwan Jones, who seem to be great fits in the scheme, but in slightly different ways. Jones is more explosive breaking through the hole and Goodson does a better job spotting the gaps. On top of that, all three of them do a good job catching the ball, which is very important in the new offense.
Carson Palmer might not be considered a mobile quarterback, but he’s savvy enough to perform the rollouts with precision. He knows how to run. Also, he’s been doing extra work on his footwork and mobility in the offseason, being the hard worker that he is. Palmer stated that “the defenders’ eyes get lost so much in this offense that you don’t need to run a 4.4 to get around corners. If you execute it with the right technique and all those small things, then the offense takes care of not having a quarterback that runs (fast).”
Our fast receivers shall do a good job running around the field in cross routes, looking for big gains after the catch. Darrius Heyward-Bey has shown in his first seasons that he is more successful with the short to medium routes, so we all should expect an even better year for “DHB”. Big possession receivers like David Ausberry and Juron Criner should also get good opportunities to make those kind of plays. Also, the running game and the West Coast’s short to medium passes will make the opposing defense more focused on what happens near the line of scrimmage, creating good opportunities for the long fly routes that receivers like Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore love to run.
Last but not least, the most interesting piece of the puzzle. Marcel Reece was already considered a matchup nightmare because of his excellent speed and ball skills for a fullback. But with the new offense, he has everything you need to be an even bigger threat. The playactions should put Reece in great position to make big runs after the catch or sneak out of the backfield disguised as a blocker. Coach Knapp must be pretty excited to have a weapon like Reece to operate in his system.
It’s definitely too early to tell if the new Raiders offense will be a force to be reckoned with, but it certainly looks like the Silver & Black has plenty of pieces to fit in the new style.