By Steve Corkran
Thursday, June 14th, 2012 at 3:14 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Raiders first-year general manager Reggie McKenzie spent a little more than 30 minutes with the media Thursday, fresh from watching his players and coaches over three days at a mandatory mini camp.
McKenzie talked about a wide range of things, including the performance of head coach Dennis Allen and his staff, quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s progress, signing strong safety Tyvon Branch to a long-term contract, running back Darren McFadden’s health and the Raiders salary-cap situation.
Here is the entire transcript:
How do you think things went at minicamp and OTAs?
“I think we upgraded some depth in some areas. I am glad that there were no major injuries. Those are the kinds of things when you come into the offseason, the newness and the competitiveness, everyone wanting to show the coaches what they got, you have a tendency to lose one or two guys in that situation. It seems like everybody will be reporting to training camp so that’s good.”
“From a talent standpoint, I liked the tempo of the practices. I thought there was a lot of great communication between the coaches and the players. It seemed like there were a lot of great responses – players responding to what was being coached and being asked of them. That all looked good. I thought Carson Palmer had a great camp. Those quarterbacks need to get on the same page with those receivers and get the system under their belt. Trying to do both at the same time is not easy. Everybody thinks you just toss it to the open guy, but there is a lot that goes into it. Listening to the coaches, working on steps and release, it seemed like they were taking everything to heart.
How much different will roster look at training camp than it does now?
“Hopefully we can get some continuity and if everybody stays healthy, hopefully it’s not a lot different. Especially as far as starters are concerned. But there is going to be some competition, people are going to get pushed, but to stay that people who started at this minicamp are going to be the starters Week 1, I couldn’t tell you that. Hopefully, the competition raises the level of the current starter and if not then the player pushing them wins the job. To me, it’s all about playing the best man. I don’t want to predict, but I do like some of the backup guys pushing these guys.”
Q: Is team further along than you thought with implementing new system and all?
A: I personally think we’re further along than I thought we would. I knew they were going to throw in a lot on both sides of the ball. But it was good to see things going right a whole lot more than wrong as far as coaches yelling and screaming, running a play over and over again. Every day you didn’t hear a lot of that. That’s a good indication that players are getting it and coaches are coaching it. But hopefully training camp they digest it even more and we become more complete. It’s still year one. I don’t think we’re looking for a situation where players are going to act like they’ve been here for five years in one system, playing with each other and they know each other like the back of their hand. I don’t see that but I do see guys working very well together and getting it right. I feel good about it.
Q: What was done equipment-wise to get team into the present day?
A: When I say equipment you’re talking from an infrastructure on the personnel side and even for the coaches. We updated software and the film watching package and also hardware and computers. We’re re-doing the structure of rooms and monitors, stuff like that. When I talk equipment that’s what I mean.
Q: Millions spent?
A: I couldn’t tell you. I didn’t write the check. It wasn’t that. Buying some of that stuff is not … it didn’t’ get out of hand. None of that.
Q: To accomplish what? Make the job easier? (regarding upgrading equipment)
A: It made it more conducive. It was needed. It was to definitely improve not only the team concept of what we’re trying to get done, but the efficiency in getting it done and trying to get it done right.
It aided in that. Yes, it was needed.
Q: Are you comfortable with the Rolando McClain situation, both that you want him here and also you think he’ll be able to play next year?
A: Yes I’m comfortable with that.
Q: Was that hard to come by? You mentioned character early on.
A: You know, since we’ve been here he’s been great. I’m not going to hold anything over his head about what he’s done in the past. We’re only concerned with what he does from here on out. Coaches preach to the players about being accountable, being disciplined on and off the field, so we’ll take care of the issues as they come.
Q: You guys sat down and talked?
A: I haven’t. The head coach has spoken with him.
Q: Do you have to worry though that legally he could potentially not even be available to you?
A: Oh yeah. That’s part of our deal is just sitting and waiting for that process to kind of take its course. Absolutely. The only thing we can do is sit and wait.
Q: You’ve added a few guys as free agents but there’s also a lot of “big names” out there. Guys you have brought in, have anything to do with the fact you only have so much money to play on free agency?
A: That played a part, yep.
Q: What kind of cap situation are the Raiders in at this moment?
A: Are we in at this moment? I can’t go out and sign Drew Brees. I can’t make a trade for him. This year is what it is. It’s very limited. I don’t know the exact number of where we are but we don’t have a whole lot of cap space to kind of bring in a big name guy.
Q: Are you in much better cap space for next season now than you were coming in?
A: Yes. We don’t want to continue to be in cap jail forever. So yeah, the plan was to improve our outlook for the future.
Q: You still have your first-round pick next year so you can trade that for Drew Brees.
A: No we’re OK. We’re OK.
Has there been any progress with getting long-term deal with Branch?
“Other than it’s been good communication. Nobody’s slamming the phone on each other so that’s positive.”
What’s been your overall impressions of Pryor?
“You know, that’s one thing that jumps out. The guy wants to be good. And he wants to do well, he wants to play. So his effort and how he’s going about his business has been great. Now, he’s improved with his technique and his fundamentals and all the little idiosyncrasies of what they want from a quarterback, he’s improved since April when they first got him on the field. So they’ve seen some progress there. Now it’s going to be up to him to dive into that playbook and know it when he comes back and so he don’t have to think plays, technique work, and you know, it’s a whole going through his style of quarterback. His history has not been as indepth as the other guys so he’s learning the whole gamut. I’m ecstatic on how he’s going about his business here. But time will tell when we put him in preseason games. See how he does.”
You think it’s important to get the team offsite for camp?
“I kinda like that. The last 18 years I’ve been onsite, you know, in Green Bay we didn’t go anywhere, we stayed right there on the same field we practiced on during the season. But I do think there’s something to going offsite, getting away from the city, where your families are, it can be a lot more distracting than not. But the pros of it is you have everything right there without moving. If you have that facility, I think you have to take advantage of it. [Un] Like these teams that have the facilities to do that like Green Bay. If you got it you have to look at the big picture. I think staying home outweighs, as far as Green Bay is concerned, outweighs going offsite.”
Q: What does Green Bay have that you don’t have in terms of a training camp facility?
McKenzie: The thing is, the game stadium, parking lot, practice field, indoor offices, it’s all right there. We don’t have that. So trying to have training camp here is not going to work. Because you would like, of course, the hotel situation and driving back and forth. I’ve seen the Napa setup, I like it. It’s too easy as far as staying all in one place and walking out on to the practice field. The set up here, the logistics and the way everything is structured with the building and fields is not conducive to training camp here.
Q: Without a first or second-round pick, no trouble signing draft picks?
McKenzie: No, we do not. We feel good about everybody showing up at training camp.
Q: What do you think about your rookie class?
McKenzie: Most, they are what we thought, which is good. Some better. Maybe a couple that needs more practice, like all rookies. But we feel good about it. We didn’t feel like anyone was out of place, which is a good thing. But we like our rookie class.
Q: Anyone who has outshined everyone, more than what you thought.
McKenzie: Yes. I’m not going to tell you.
Q: Looking for big back with loss of Bush?
McKenzie: We don’t have that big back, but we’ve got a couple of backs that are playing fullback for us that can be that guy. We feel good about the versatility of Marcel, and all our fullbacks have the ability to run it. Schmitt can run it, short yardage. We got some guys that can, I’m kind of anxious to see them in preseason. But like I said, we’ll continue to beat down the doors and see if we can bring guys in. We won’t stop that until it’s time to play our Monday night game in September. We’ll continue. Nothing is on the horizon, though.
Q: Coaches hard at it and need to recharge, same goes for you?
McKenzie: Yes. Yes. I’ll be working a little while those coaches are relaxing a little bit. They’ve been going at it, so it’s been very good, the work that they’ve put in. But yes, they need to recharge a little bit.
Q; What have you learned about Dennis the past few months as a coach?
McKenzie: I think, from a standpoint of big picture, he gets it. He’s always a step ahead, which is good. I like the way the players are responding. And his assistant coaches. He’s all over that defense, which I like. That’s good. He’s talking to the offense, too, he’s not just all defense, but he’s acting like a real head coach. You can’t tell he hasn’t been a head coach before.
Q: Looking for teachers?
McKenzie: yes. Can’t teach, can’t coach.
Q: Can you describe your approach to the changes you made with the infrastructure?
A: “I wanted to make sure that we had football guys. When I say football guys, guys who have been around football. Scouts don’t have to have played in the NFL or coached in the NFL, but I do like guys who like football and been around it, whether they played in high school or they were involved in college some kind of way. When you interview them and talk to them, or intern them, you can tell they understand the game. When they talk it or when they write it, when you’re watching tape, they can give you stuff back. So, the guys that we got in here can do that. It was important to get a group that meshed together. I wanted to put in my system, so it was important to get somebody who understood what I wanted. A lot of that, when you’re talking about reorganizing and restructuring, in a way, those are some of the things that I looked at. And putting people in the right place, be it area scouts or pro scouting, trying to figure out which area. You put people in the right place and give them a chance to do what they do.”
Q: Was it important to bring in guys that you have a history with?
A: “Getting people that I know? And trust? And believe in? Absolutely. That’s all part of it. You kind of prepare for a possible role like this, so the thought process went into it way before I made the decision. Yeah, you want guys who kind of have a feel for you so that when they’re coming onboard they know what they’re getting into.”
Had you talked to Raleigh for years about getting into scouting?
“You know what? We talked about that, along with a million other things that twin brothers of 49 years would talk about. We talked about it initially when he did an internship with the Redskins. He liked it. That’s all I needed to know. And I was involved in getting him that internship. And he’d been to the combine about three times. So he understood what it was all about. Yeah, we talked about it.”
Has the newness of this whole situation worn off yet or is every day something new, positive or negative? Because since 1963 this organization has had one name, one face …. and now you’re that guy.
“The newness has started to dwindle, but every day is something, and I think that’s going to be for a little while, at least into the season because what you just said, things have been done a certain way for so long. It’s just the way it is. Still stuff with the building, trying to adjust. To me, changes are going to continue to be made through this time next year because you can’t build Rome overnight, so certain things will stay status quo until we can jump on it during the offseason. But yes, it’s starting to sink in, but there’s still stuff that goes on daily that needs to be addressed.”
When Huff talks about being excited to play on a real defense – you played on a defense for the Raiders that was pretty good with Al having a heavy hand in it, and he always hired offensive-minded coaches. How much of a change was needed to have a defensive-minded coach and a defensive coordinator being allowed to do what he wanted to do?
“It was important for me – I’m a defensive-minded person. But going out to specifically say I’m going to hire a defensive coach, was not the case, but going out wanting to make sure I interviewed defensive coaches and hopefully liking one, I really wanted that. Because I really, truly believe defense wins championships. But, you know, to Huff’s quote, I do think we’ve got some real defensive coaches, a real coordinator. I’m glad he feels that way that we got some good coaches and we got a good defense. I’m kind of anxious to see it play itself out in games, but more importantly I’m anxious to see how the players respond and play within that scheme.”
Q: What training camp battles are you most looking forward to?
A: I’m looking at the linebacker position, because we added so many numbers. I want to see who jumps out and makes plays. I want to see some of these young receivers in live action, see how they jump out. As well as some of these young offensive linemen. With these DBs, I want to see what shakes itself out, out of the whole. Especially the cornerback group, see what shakes out there. I’m kind of looking forward to these positional competitions. Even the tight end position. Those guys are all competing their tails off, you know? I think all those guys will show well. All five of them, really. Kind of excited to see, just from the competitive standpoint, who steps out.
Q: Cornerbacks, you think the two young guys have a chance to beat out the vets, it still in play?
A: Yeah. That’s still in play. Absolutely. Absolutely. Nobody got it locked down. Not at all.
Q: Comforting to see McFadden get through this without any relapse from his foot injury?
A: Yup, absolutely. I mean, across the board, nothing that was major. You see some of these guys throughout the league, they’re going to be out midseason, out for the season. I mean, that’s one thing you kind of dont want to happen.