By Steve Corkran
Saturday, January 28th, 2012 at 2:40 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Recently hired Raiders head coach Dennis Allen will field questions from the media Monday at his introductory news conference in Alameda. That will be just the start of the process of answering questions for the first-time head coach.
Allen inherits a Raiders team that finished 8-8 for the second straight season and one that hasn’t won more than eight games or qualified for the playoffs since 2002.
He is the seventh coach since 2002, when the Raiders finished 11-5 and advanced to the Super Bowl under Bill Callahan. Late Raiders managing general partner Al Davis fired Callahan one season later.
Then came Norv Turner for two seasons, Art Shell for one, Lane Kiffin for one-plus season, Tom Cable and Hue Jackson. What makes Allen a better candidate to get the Raiders back on track for glory? We’re about to find out.
For Allen to succeed, he is going to have to find answers to questions that eluded his many predecessors. Among them:
How to solve the persistent penalties issue. The Raiders are fresh from a season in which they set NFL records for most penalties and penalty yardage in a season.
Jackson promised to get the problem fixed, even if it took him all season. He left town the owner of two ignominious marks and no clue how to break through on a problem that has dogged the Raiders for years.
How to fix the run defense. This was another long-time issue that Jackson promised to fix. Again, he failed. The Raiders allowed 5.1 yards per carry and finished near the bottom of the league in average yards per game.
How to keep Darren McFadden healthy for an entire season. McFadden has yet to make it through a whole season in his four-year NFL career. He missed the final nine games of the 2011 season with a sprained foot.
Allen has to determine whether it’s better to keep McFadden and hope he hits upon the proper recipe to stay healthy for the whole season or if the time is ripe to trade McFadden, while his trade value is high.
The Raiders as of now have only fifth- and sixth-round draft picks in April. McFadden is the player with the most trade value on the Raiders roster. As difficult as it would be to part with McFadden, that might be the only way for the Raiders to recoup some draft picks, though they likely will receive two or three compensatory picks.
Hiring coordinators and the rest of his staff. Allen’s first order of business will be to decide whether to retain offensive coordinator Al Saunders, defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan and any of the other assistants who were part of Jackson’s staff.
Defensive line coach Mike Waufle and wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal already signed elsewhere, Waufle with the St. Louis Rams and Lal with the New York Jets.
It seems to make sense for Allen to retain Saunders so that he can enter his first season without having to worry very much about the offense. From there, he could put a ton of energy and attention toward a defense that cost the Raiders several games last season.
Finding some game-changers on defense. Most of the 11 starters, as well as the key reserves, are under contract for 2012. Even so, none of those players is a bonafide impact player along the lines of a Vince Wilfork, Terrell Suggs, Patrick Willis or Justin Smith.
Several players who fit that bill are expected to be available in free agency. It’s imperative that Allen bring in a couple of those players, or risk another season in which the defense shines at times, struggles at others.
What to do with quarterback Carson Palmer. Jackson mortgaged the future by trading for Palmer midway through last season. It’s a trade Jackson had to make, though it’s questionable whether he had to give up a first- and second-round pick to do so.
Either way, Palmer is 32, past his prime and slated to earn $11.5 million in 2012. The easy move would be to keep Palmer and hope Palmer performs at a higher level with the benefit of an entire offseason with the Raiders.
There aren’t many attractive options on the free agent market — Matt Flynn and Jason Campbell are at or near the top of the list.
Second-year player Terrelle Pryor is the only other quarterback under contract on Oakland’s roster — Campbell and Kyle Boller are eligible to become free agents in mid-March.
Campbell has no interest in returning as a backup. However, if Allen decides to part ways with Palmer, Campbell would be a possibility to return for a third season.
Allen likely will have suitable answers for all these questions. Whether they are the right answers remains to be seen. No one knows how Allen is going to pan out as a head coach. It’s just another on a long list of questions that beg answers.
Follow me on Twitter: @corkonthenfl