Here is how Raiders first-year offensive coordinator Greg Olson feels about an array of topics as he embarks upon replacing Greg Knapp. His responses came in a question-and-answer session with a handful of Bay Area writers in Alameda:
Q: Taking over for a guy who took a lot of heat for everything that went wrong . . .
Olson: I just think it’s the nature of the position as an offensive coordinator in the NFL. People want to be entertained and people want to see explosive offense. You kind of know that going in when you assume the position or take on the position as an offensive coordinator. People are going to be very critical of what you’re trying to accomplish. You go into it knowing that. I know the situation here last year. I’m not naive enough to believe it’s all Greg Knapp’s fault. I think the fans out there probably know that as well. Certainly there are some things that I hope I can bring to the table that will allow us to have some success.
Q: How different will the Raiders offense look this season?
Olson: To say how much different, to put a percentage on it, I don’t know how you put a percentage on something like that. I can tell you this _ your job as a coach, your job as a coordinator, is to identify the skillet of the players you have, to try and acquire specific skill set, that you feel like you’re lacking in certain areas, to try and acquire that skill set. But the bottom line in the NFL, you’ve got players in and out. It’s different now than it was even 10 years ago in terms of how free agency works. You may not be able, in the old days, with Bill Walsh and even Al Davis with the Raiders, you were able to collect players and keep them on your team for an extended period of time. Those days are somewhat over. So you’ve got to be able to be flexible and adapt your system to the players that you have at any given year. So, our job as a coaching staff will be to identify the skill set of the players, who are our best players, what do they do best, and how can we put them in position to be successful and do what they do best. I think probably coming in a year ago; they made a switch to a zone system. I don’t know if you ever want to pigeon hole yourself that way and say, `That’s what we do.’ You may not be able to do that based on the set of players that you have. Our job here, again, with this staff is to identify the skill that they have and what they do best and let’s try and tailor our offense to those players’ skills, and then who are those best players. Marcel Reece is a different kind of a fullback, so what does he do well and how can we get him involved in some of the matchups that will create problems for defenses. Darren McFadden, in this league, maybe a year ago, they weren’t sure about that zone scheme. Now, after a year of having to look at it, maybe he is a downhill runner. So we’ll get back to some of the gap schemes and the things he does well. What does he do well and how do we fit our offense to the player’s skills? The wide receivers, what do they do well, our tight ends, we’ll have to, whether Brandon Myers is re-signed or not, what do they do well? We’ll try to tailor our offense based on the skill set of the players we acquire.
Q: How closely do you look at the offense from two years ago?
Olson: We’ve been watching a lot of it since I’ve gotten here. To be honest with you, not until I got here, when we went through and watched last year’s offense and then went back and watched, not the entire season, but all of Darren McFadden’s carries and just wanted to get a feel for Darren McFadden. I think we’re fortune to have Skip Peete, Kelly Skipper here, because he’s a guy that’s been here through a number of different coordinators. I think that helps me in evaluating Darren and kind getting a feel for what his position coach thinks that he does well.
Q: Able to talk to players or not?
Olson: They’ve dropped by, contacted a few when got the job, so I got a chance, Terrelle Pryor has stopped by, and Carson Palmer, I had Jordan Palmer this past season so I know the Palmers. A couple of players have been in for workouts so I’ve had a chance to meet some of the players.
Q: Able to see playbook?
Q: Changing league, read-option quarterbacks, how do you see Terrelle Pryor and what do you think that kind of quarterback does in terms of challenging the defense?
Olson: Well, obviously, watching the 49ers across the bay and the Seahawks and the Panthers, three teams that come to mind with those types of quarterbacks, I guess. Certainly, if that player is the starter, he’s going to create a number of different issues. If he’s just a role player and there’s a package, that creates a set of issues as well. Right now, where we stand at the quarterback position, certainly we’ve got a veteran player in Carson Palmer that really has a unique set of skills himself, much different than Terrelle Pryor’s certainly. We’ll go through, and we’ll let those two compete. I like the ceiling of Terrelle Pryor and where we think he can get to, but his skill set is completely different than Carson’s, so we go forward with the idea, we know what Carson palmer is. He’s played in the league a number of years. We know what he can do. We don’t really know quite yet what Terrelle Pryor can do at this level but we have a good feel for what he is athletically, so there will be packages for both of them to allow them to compete and we’ll just be ready in either direction. Again, with this league, in terms of injuries and different scenarios that can happen throughout the league you’ve got to be ready to tailor your offense to whoever that player might be that’s pulling the trigger. We’ll certainly have a package to go for Terrelle Pryor and be ready to go in that direction if that’s the direction that we see fit.
The quarterback job is open?
“In visiting with Dennis and Reggie, I know Reggie’s made the statement that there will always be competition. I think there has to be competition at every position. I don’t ever think you hand anyone a position from season to season or year to year. Excited about Carson Palmer. Certainly, again, he’s a guy that’s got experience and experience at playing at a high level in the National Football League. We’ll go forward with the direction that the organization sees fit. If they want competition, we’ll have competition. At this point I think they want us to have a real good feel as we watch the tape. You never know what’s going to happen in the upcoming month in terms of contracts and whatnot. I’ll let you know that when we get to the day that we can get out on the field and start practicing.”
Are you open to using two quarterbacks?
“I just think you have to have a package. My feeling is if when have someone, if you’re going to have someone, and he’s on your roster. And again, if he’s got a unique set up skills that maybe is different or better than some of the other 10 players that you have or 11 players that you have on the field, if he’s not playing the quarterback position, does he have a set of skills that might be as good or better than someone else there. So, I just think once we get out and get a chance to see Terrelle, and certainly have seen him in college, and he was an explosive player in college, and I know that. I just think it’s important that as a coach you’re willing to adapt and be flexible and be able and try to put a player like him, that may be an explosive player, on the field for you.”
Who would you count as your influences in terms of offensive football?
“I’ve had a number. I’ve been fortunate, I think. The guy that really to me opened my eyes to the passing game, and specifically the spread passing game, was Dennis Erickson, the first coach that I was a graduate assistant for. And then I went from him to Mike Price. So those were two guys that probably I would say my learning curve went up tremendously. Joe Tiller coached under Price, so Joe hired me at Purdue. At that point we were throwing the ball all over the field. We threw 85 times one game at Purdue. So in terms of the passing game, those would be the biggest influences. Once I got in the National Football League, to me, Steve Mariucci brought me in the league, into San Francisco. Coached with him in Detroit. And then really, I felt like, kind of a, not a rebirth, but when I got the opportunity to work with Jon Gruden, it was an eye-opening experience for me. I really took to that and took to him and still remain very close. I think he probably influenced me more than anyone in my years in the NFL.”
How much of being open to the quarterbacks is a result of what happened with a Kaepernick? Do you feel like you have to find out if you have your own Kaepernick?
“We’d like to find that out. What’s different about Kaepernick is certainly that they feel great about him in all areas of the game. They feel great about him as a passer. So he’s a guy that plays full time. It’s not as if they bring him in for a package or a play or two. That’s the difference between a Tebow or a wildcat or some of the other things, packages that have kind of hit the National Football League. If you have a guy that can stay there and play 65 plays a game and do those things and also be able to throw the ball from point A to point B accurately, if he possesses those skills as well, then you certainly have something. So that’s what we’ll have to find out with Terrelle Pryor. We know what kind of an athlete he is. We need to find out what kind of decision maker he is, and we need to find out if he’s a guy that can also sit in the pocket and deliver the ball from point A to point B accurately and on time and making the right decisions. That above all else becomes most important. Can he make good decisions and is he accurate as a passer?”
Will you be able to figure that out in minicamps and OTAs or will it take exhibition games and real games?
“I’d like to, but it’s always an ongoing evaluation process. You’ll get a feel for a player throughout the OTAs, throughout the June minicamps into training camp and, then obviously, the bottom, even to me preseason is an evaluation tool. There’s a big step from preseason to the regular season, as many players will tell you, and even regular season playoffs. But you should have a pretty good idea at that point; we’ll have a pretty good idea about what he can and can’t do.”
What did you see from Terrelle Pryor when he got the start in the final game?
“I saw some good things. We saw some good things there. I think it’s too early to say what he’s going to be based on that limited playing time that he’s had. You can see the athletic ability in him. I’d say he’s raw. I’d still say he’s developing.”
Did you look back at his Ohio State tape?
“I remember when he came out. As a quarterbacks coach, you’re always involved in the evaluation phase of those players, and he did a lot of good things in college at Ohio State. But again, it’s a different game. There are a lot of players that played very well in college that never have been able to make the transition to the professional game.”
You mentioned the unpredictability of the game in terms of contracts. Do you have to be prepared for possibility that someone other than Carson Palmer will be the quarterback?
“Oh I think always. That’s the nature of the beast and that’s the nature of the National Football League. I understand that. I think Carson Palmer understands that. He understands that. That to me is the importance of being flexible and being willing to adapt as a coach and be willing to adapt your philosophy as an offensive coach in what you’re going to do and how you’re planning on attacking people.”
What do you see from your wide receivers? There were a lot of dropped passes and miscommunication between the QB and a couple of the guys?
“Well, one, I could say, it’s not a perfect scenario, but it’s the NFL, when you’re turning over systems, a new system this year, a new system the following year. There will be, to me, as a coach again, you’re trying to eliminate any of the miscommunication that’s happening, and that will be my job to eliminate any of the miscommunication. I do see, though, obviously a young group of wide receivers that are talented and yet they’re still developing. As a group, as an overall group of players, I do see a good skill set in that group overall. And they’re all kind of different when you look at them. There’s not one that really jumps out or sticks out. They all have their unique set of skills. The one thing that they do is they look tough. They are willing blockers, and that’s important. That will be important to me and important to us as a coaching staff, is developing the physical and mental toughness at every position. I like the group overall as a group because they are a young group, they are still developing. They’re not a finished product yet but I still see a high ceiling for them much as I do for Terrelle Pryor.”
Q: Do you need a No. 1 receiver?
A: Certainly you’d like to have someone like that, someone who stands out above the rest. But if not, again I see a solid, solid group overall. Those touches may get spread out amongst that group if you don’t have one. That’s part of the adaptability as an offensive play-caller or offensive coordinator. If you don’t have that guy then let’s spread out the touches. If we don’t have a guy who is significantly better than everybody else, let’s find a way to spread the ball around, which makes it very difficult to defend as well if you’re doing it that way. Certainly you’d love to have a Calvin Johnson type guy. If you don’t, find a different way to move the football.
Q: How long does it take to learn your system?
A: Hopefully about four months, which is what you hope. That’s how it is. It has to be player friendly. Whatever system you have it has to be player friendly because you don’t have a lot of time, you’re not given a lot of time in the National Football League. Whatever that system is let’s make sure it’s something the payers can assimilate and learn very quickly. If they’re playing slow, if they’re thinking too much, they’re going to play slower. That creates problems. If there’s indecision or if there’s miscommunication, those types of things you try to eliminate as a coaching staff. It’s a system that will be player friendly and make it easy on those players.
Q: When you were with the Rams, they threw it a bunch. When you were with the Jags, they ran it a lot. What type of offense do you see this one looking like?
A: We really don’t know who we’re going to have yet. There are certain positions where we still have some unrestricted free agents. To me right now at this point there’s just too much uncertainty. Based on the 11 players that were predominant starters last year and knowing the type of tailback and type of quarterback if you’re talking about Carson Palmer as the starter and Darren McFadden as your tailback. To me, Carson is a pocket passer. So you’re looking at heavy play action, push the ball down the field that way and you’re looking at tailoring some of the gap scheme stuff for Darren McFadden where he’s able to hit the ball going downhill. Those two go hand in hand; the downhill gap scheme and the hard see play action to me fit those players if those are the players we’re looking at. We just have to assimilate some of those concepts into what we’re doing offensively.
Q: Marcel Reece as a weapon?
A: He’s got such a unique set of skills for a fullback. He’s a college wide receiver. He’ll present some matchup issues. I was pleasantly surprised in watching the tape to see that in a lot of the downhill lead plays where you need a fullback to go in there, would you characterize him as a big thumper type fullback? No. But he did willingly go in and block some of those linebackers on those downhill leads. To me I was pleasantly surprised in seeing that. I was excited about that to be honest with you. Also, again to see him get out of the backfield and to spread out in some of the one-back sets and empty sets and look at the matchups you can get with him was exciting as well. He does have tremendous speed. He has very good hands. He has loose hips. He can run some of those option, choice routes that are matchup nightmares for defensive players.
Q: Open to Reece as third-down back?
A: No question. That’s the other thing to me; I was excited to see him in that role. He did run the ball well when he was handed the ball in the one back. Obviously he’ll have some carries as well from the fullback position. It’s nice to know especially from a quarterback standpoint to have somebody like that who is built like he’s built and is also intelligent enough to be that third-down back who understands the blitz packages that other teams are doing and to have tremendous hands coming out of the backfield. I was really pleasantly surprised in that part of the game that he could go in and be a third-down back. Not just a plug-in type guy but not only did he do it but he did it well. I was excited to see that.
Q: 85 passes in one game with Brees?
Q: What’s it like to coach Brees?
A: Just a special player. I knew he was special right away, accuracy wise. I’ll never forget it was probably the second week of two a days when we elevated him to the No. 2 spot as a true freshman because of his accuracy and what an accurate player he was. Just the intelligence, just the total package from him, overachiever in everything he does within the game of football but also outside he is a special guy. I was just fortunate to have a chance to coach him.
Q: How will you and Tony Sparano work together?
A: We’ve kind of shut the door really this first couple of weeks here. He and I have kind of gone in and shut the door and talked through philosophy and how we’re going to call things and what things in his brain as opposed to mine in terms of calling a game and the different ways. We might be running the same plays but they call it differently. Just wanted to get on the same page in terms of terminology and language. We’ve been able to do that the last couple weeks. Philosophically speaking I think we’re on the same page in terms of what we want to do and how we want to attack people as an offense. I use that term attack. To me I don’t want the defense to set the tempo of the game. I want us offensively to be able to set the tempo. He’s all about that. I like his mindset. I think we’ll work very well together.