One of the more intriguing story lines for the Oakland Raiders this season will be defensive coaching, and what the role of John Pagano is to be specific. Last offseason, many Raiders fans, myself included, assumed that if any coordinator would see the chopping block, it would be Ken Norton, Jr. Instead, the Raiders opted not to bring Bill Musgrave back, despite the offense being among the best in the league.
As time passed, we learned that the Musgrave decision had as much or more to do with promoting Todd Downing than getting rid of Musgrave. We also learned that while the Raiders opted not to fire Ken Norton, Jr., they also weren’t just going with the status quo as far as the defensive coaching staff was concerned.
The Raiders created a new position in order to hire John Pagano but to this day no one really knows what Pagano’s role with the team is.
If you believe the coach speak we’ve been fed all offseason, Pagano has focused primarily on communication issues in the secondary. Now, I don’t mean to downplay the importance of communication on a defense, but you don’t create a new position, assistant head coach for defense, and hire a former defensive coordinator just to get guys to communicate better. That would be absolutely absurd.
Many believe that Pagano is already the de-facto defensive coordinator and it’s his defense we will see this season. Others, like myself, believe he’s essentially an assistant defensive coordinator who’s there to mentor and help KNJ, not take over for him. The reason I believe that is because I believe Jack Del Rio is stubborn and sees Ken Norton, Jr. as his protege. Giving up on Norton means admitting you were wrong when you brought him in. Thus, getting an experienced DC like Pagano to teach him the ropes benefits both KNJ and JDR.
But if you were to ask those in charge of television production for the Raiders vs. Dallas preseason game, they might say I was wrong. Or at the very least, they believe that Pagano is a significant player with regards to the Raiders defense. Throughout the game (and this was true of the other preseason games as well), the cameras constantly showed Pagano on the side lines. And most of the time, he looked much more important than just a mentor to KNJ.
Whether it was Pagano barking at referees or watching him coach up defensive players as soon as they returned to the sideline, Pagano looked the part of someone who is influential with this defense.
Of course, that’s just appearances and they could be completely wrong. But regardless, the saga of why John Pagano is with the Oakland Raiders and what exactly is he doing will likely remain a major story line for the Raiders all season long. Or at least until they fire Ken Norton, Jr. (wishful thinking).
So far, we haven’t seen enough of the Raiders defensive scheme to know how much of an impact Pagano is having. The one thing I can confidently point at and say is likely an impact of Pagano has been the blitzes. Last season, the Raiders tried to bring pressure almost exclusively with four men. In the preseason, we’ve seen a number of both DB and LB blitzes. That, to me, wreaks of Pagano’s influence on the defense. But aside from that? It’s really hard to tell.
But that’s the nature of the preseason, we don’t get to see the full show. For that, we have to wait for the regular season. And once the regular season begins, the Raiders defense will be the focus. If it’s still terrible, everyone will share some of the blame. But if it’s improved? And yes, I do think there’s a chance this defense is an improvement over last year, though how much of an improvement I don’t know. But if it does show improvement, that’s when the real speculation and analysis begins. That’s when we try to figure out just how much of the improvement should be credited to Pagano and how much to Norton.
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