The trick question came from an NFL television personality at the combine attempting to seize upon my uncertainty surrounding the Raiders defensive coordinator position.
“You know who the Raiders’ defensive coordinator is, don’t you?”
No, I said, I don’t.
Then came the punch line: “It’s Al Davis.”
Hardy, har, har.
Why not? Hue Jackson calls his boss “coach Davis.” In an conference call with Raiders beat writers a few years back, the Patriots’ Bill Belichick openly wondered why he was ever interviewed for the Raiders head coaching job in 1998 because “coach Davis” was so heavily involved on that side of the ball.
We know now that Chuck Bresnahan has returned as the Raiders defensive coordinator, with the club making it official Monday. I talked to Bresnahan briefly at the combine, just to say hello and renew acquaintances, in an informal setting. He wasn’t available for interviews and gave no clues to his role. Seemed to be the same personable guy he always was in his previous go-round.
To know Bresnahan is to like him. He’s relentlessly positive, extremely enthusiastic, and after all, the Raiders did win three division titles when he was defensive coordinator from 2000 through 2002.
But it’s pretty clear Bresnahan isn’t the “people’s choice,” not that such a designation would every carry much weight in these parts.
He’s been in the UFL for the last two years with the Florida Tuskers, which isn’t the route most teams choose when seeking their next defensive play-caller.
I’d heard when Bresnahan was hired it was initially to be linebackers coach, with the club only going so far as “defensive coach.” Then Greg Biekert was elevated to linebackers coach, and Bresnahan remained in a sort of public limbo. Only Bresnahan knows if he has been defensive coordinator all along, simply waiting for the organization’s announcement.
What is clear is that coach Hue Jackson talked on at least two occasions of talking to outside candidates. Jackson expressed disappointment at the scouting combine that the New York Jets had blocked an interview request for Dennis Thurman, their defensive backs coach. Whatever interest the Raiders actually had in Winston Moss and Darren Perry of the Packers never materialized in an interview for whatever reason, whether it was because of a Packers’ block or disinterest from the alleged candidates. Or perhaps there was an interview that was kept quiet.
Whether it’s good move or a bad move, Bresnahan comes in understanding the terrain. Davis has his ideas about defense. He’s let offensive coaches do much more away from his core beliefs than defensive coaches.
Years ago, when Davis would be in the press box a few rows above the media, it was common place to see him scribbling notes which were run down to the field. Only the coaches involved know how much attention they paid to them, and they’re not saying.
As it’s been explained to me, the Davis rules regarding defense include the following:
— A heavy reliance on press man-to-man coverage.
— A free safety in the middle of the field.
— Ends are responsible for bootlegs and naked bootlegs.
— Blitzing as an infrequent element of surprise, rather than a staple.
— Certain fronts are required and personnel is determined at the top.
The end result is a defense usually free of frills and rooted in a philosophy espoused by every defensive coordinator Davis has ever had : “We will put our superior athletes in a position to win one-on-one matchups.”
Any defensive coordinator who comes to the Raiders knows the rules. Rob Ryan is a 3-4 man dating back to his days with the Patriots, used it in Cleveland and is now running it in Dallas. He was a 3-4 man in Oakland for exactly one game _ the ill-fated alignment with Tyler Brayton and Grant Irons as outside backers in the 2004 opener against the Patriots.
Then it was back to the 4-3, talking about superior athletes and being a company man at every turn.
The fact that the Raiders waited this long to publicly acknowledge a defensive coordinator, with Jackson saying it wasn’t a priority, speaks volumes.
In Oakland, the coordinator doesn’t install the system.
The system, as Bresnahan knows, dictates to the coordinator.