Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp is back for a second go-round with the Raiders. Many things have changed since he left after the 2008 season, including the owner, head coach, quarterback and many of the players. Knapp spoke with the media Saturday about what he sees in this Raiders roster:
You’re back for round 2 with the Raiders. Feel strange?
“Actually Round 3 because I was a player, a wannabe player from 87 to 90. I was in the camp, a quarterback for a couple years and then a camp arm for another couple. I tell you what, I’m very excited. A big reason why I’m here is because of Reggie and D.A. and the leadership they brought to the organization, under unfortunate circumstances. There had to be some changes and I’m very excited about what they bring to the team and the organization.”
Any trepidation at all about coming back?
“It’s a totally different environment. But what is exciting is having Carson Palmer here and his experience. I heard great things about when he came in in the middle of the season and really took charge and had great leadership. I’m very excited with the guys that are returning here, one of them which I know, Darren McFadden, real well, because I was here when he was a rookie. But this young receiving corps and some young tight ends that we’re working with, it’s exciting to work with because they’re full of energy, and their eyes are open, ears are open and they really want to make themselves better pros.”
You have Carson this time. Last time you had JaMarcus.
“We had wide variety. We had JaMarcus, Daunte, Josh McCown and Andrew Walter. So it was a unique quarterback group.”
How has it been with Carson so far?
“It’s been real good since we’ve stepped in the building with Carson and Terrelle. They’ve really taken heed to the way we’re teaching this offense and the way we like it to be coached, and they want to be coached. Usually the great ones do. I’ve been lucky to be around some very good ones. The great ones want to be grinded, they want to deal with details, and both of these guys have really shown that. And we just picked up Matt Leinart. He’s someone I’ve worked closely with the last two years and trained him, so he and Terrelle will be competing for that backup spot, and Carson is real excited about learning some new stuff.”
Will it be tough for Carson to adjust to this system, having to roll out more, etc…?
“If you looked at what he did USC – he just wasn’t asked of it at Cincinnati as much as we do here – and you look at what Matt Schaub has done in this system and quarterbacks that are his size and stature, he’ll be just fine.”
Is Carson as athletic as Schaub?
“Yes. Very similar.”
Will having Leinart here help the other QBs?
“I think so. Because there’s some stuff I understand as a coordinator that, you know what, the players’ perspective might be good. And since I trained Matt a certain way to learn this offense, I know it’s going to be translated the same way to the guys that are here now. There’s some little nuances that will help make the growth a lot faster for Carson and Terrelle.”
Zone blocking scheme … You have some linemen who are familiar with that scheme. Will it be a tough transition for the line?
“Here’s my background in it. I have a very firm and a strong belief in the zone scheme. I probably have been in a very unique situation from a coaching perspective in that I’ve gone to four different places and have implemented the zone scheme or it was already implemented when I was there. So when I was in Atlanta. Warrick Dunn had his career best season, running the zone scheme. That was with Alex Gibbs. Then when I came here, Tom Cable was the O-line coach with new linemen, and Justin Fargas runs for 1,000. I go up to Seattle and Justin Forsett averages 5.4 a carry and 600 yards in half a season. Then I go to Houston – all these places ran the zone scheme – and an undrafted rookie leads the NFL in rushing. So, if you did a research project and said change all the variables and see what comes out, I’ve lived it first-hand on how much that I think the zone scheme benefits a team. And bringing Frank Pollack from Houston, who’s been trained under Alex Gibbs and John Benton the last five years, will make for a smooth transition. The guys up front will do fine. I feel confident about that.”
How is McFadden with the zone scheme? Has he accepted that well because last year he said he didn’t like the zone scheme as much?
“He’s been fine. And he had some success when he was here as a rookie. He’s very excited.”
When you came to the Raiders you were very excited ….
“I actually got the phone call when I was coaching the Pro Bowl in Hawaii that there might be a chance for an opportunity here. It gave me some time to think about it. Very excited it, and for a few reasons. No. 1, it started with what, when I sat down with D.A. and Reggie in my interview process to see what kind of direction they were focused on and how it was going to be run from a personnel and team standpoint. And that really got me excited about the infrastructure and the plan of attack to have success, long-enduring success. Secondly, having Carson Palmer here was a big plus. I heard some very good stories about him coming in mid-year and really taking charge and really doing a fine job under tough circumstances. Those two things make it exciting for a coordinator. When management supports you and you’ve got a quarterback with the experience of Carson Palmer made it real exciting to come join.”
How excited are you to be a coordinator again, back calling plays?
“Love it. I really enjoy calling plays. And I was very fortunate. Gary Kubiak in Houston was very good about taking input during the week and even on Sundays. But it’s really one of the exciting parts of my profession. On Sundays I get to play the chess game with the defensive coordinator.”
Does help the communication, save the one step?
“Yeah. In fact, I’ll be on the sideline when calling the plays, so I’ll have the communication process with the quarterback. For me, I like to give little reminders or even a positive comment – hey, great throw there, now let’s get the conversion on third down, checkdowns are fine. Little comments like that I think help manage the game for a quarterback. If I can support them in any way, I’ll do it.”
Have you always been a sideline guy as an offensive coordinator?
“I have, from a play-calling standpoint.”
What was your relationship with Dennis Allen, and how did it help you get here?
“We worked together in Atlanta for two years and got to know him real well then. But as this profession goes, sometimes you go different paths. But certainly getting the chance to work with him closely day by day for two years helped for him giving me an opportunity to come here and coach.”
Any similarities? What do you both like?
“A lot of similar beliefs. We want to be a balanced offense. We want to be able to run efficiently and get some explosive plays down the field in the pass game. The way the structure of practice is run, the way we do things preparation. All these things are something I’ve been trained on as well as he has. A lot of similar beliefs in how to operate the team.”
Q: What kind of carryover is there from your first stint here?
A: “Uniquely, if you looked at the roster, there’s only two or three guys here since the last time I was here, but there’s a lot of carryover from when I was here before from the formational standpoint and dropback. What I picked up in Houston, with Gary Kubiak and some of the play-passing keepers they do, with the zone scheme, really is exciting to implement here. With these young receivers and tight ends – the tight ends got a little bit of work to do, but the young receivers, there’s a lot of talent there. I’m excited to put them in some of the schemes that we do.”
Q: Is there any need for a veteran wide receiver such as Plaxico Burress or Terrell Owens?
A: “It’s too early to tell. We’ve only had the one vet mini camp, three days of practice. I want to get through the OTAs and get a better feel for where we’re at. Like I said, I’m real excited to see some of these young guys, once they learn some of the offense with a few more reps, to perform.”
Q: How different is the talent level now compared with your first stint?
A: “I’m very excited about it. There’s a lot more depth at the receiver spot than when I was here (before), and that excites me quite a bit. Having Zach Miller, when we brought him in, he fit in right away. So, we got a little growth to go at the tight end position. I tell you, at the running back spot, there’s more depth. I’m excited about the O-line, the young Veldheer at left tackle, moving Wisniewski inside will be very good for us. There’s some more youth up there, which is good from a sustainability and health standpoint during the season, because the season is so long. Certainly, an established quarterback is the cherry on top there, with Carson Palmer’s experience. The cupboard is definitely more full than last time.”
Q: Is the quarterback position less of an issue than when it was with JaMarcus being the starter?
A: “This may sound like a typical coach backing his players, but along with John DeFilippo, who was helping our quarterbacks coach, I was very pleased with JaMarcus’ finish in his career here. In his last six games – keep in mind, that the year that we were here, he went through three play-callers; Lane Kiffin, myself and Tom Cable. That’s tough on anybody to play. He, really, the last six games played at a pretty high level. He had almost a 90 (passer) rating. So, he wasn’t as established as Carson, but I was pleased to see the growth and, unfortunately, the staff got blown up and had to be readjusted. So, I couldn’t see the development continue.”
Q: Will there be enough carries for McFadden, Goodson and Jones?
A: “Yeah, in my background, in doing research on me, I’m a believer in you need at least two backs for a season because the durability factor is so hard. I’ve been pretty lucky to be at some places with Arian Foster and Ben Tate, back in Atlanta with Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett, when we were here it was Fargas and then McFadden came in. There’s a need to have two or three running backs. It will take care of itself when the season plays out. So, I’m glad we have some depth there.”