By Steve Corkran
Wednesday, September 18th, 2013 at 6:43 pm in Oakland Raiders.
ALAMEDA — Before Wednesday afternoon, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenize last spoke with the media early in training camp, though most of the media already were engaged with head coach Dennis Allen.
Wednesday marked the first in-depth, far-reaching interview with McKenzie since well before training camp started.
Therefore, we got our first glimpse into things such as what McKenzie thinks of Terrelle Pryor supplanting Matt Flynn at quarterback, how well coach Dennis Allen and his staff are faring in Year 2, whether signing safety Charles Woodson was worthwhile and if McKenzie feels vindicated by the Raiders solid showing the first two games.
Here’s the transcript of what McKenzie had to say during the 31-minute question-and-answer session:
Q: What’s up with the Oct. 6 game against the San Diego Chargers?
A: To date, nothing, as far as I’m concerned. They’ll let me know when it’s finalized.
Q: That’s out of your hands, the league handles that?
A: Yeah, They kind of just keep us on point and kind of go through the scenarios of what could happen, but they’re going through some of that and I’m sure they’re in conjunction with MLB along with San Diego. But, we just sit and wait, see what happens.
Q: You prefer to keep the date as is?
Q: Thoughts on Pryor, Allen, Tarver through first two weeks?
A: It’s always early, you’re talking two games. But the bottom line is it’s going in the right direction. I think Coach Allen’s got these guys focusing, playing hard and same with Tarver, working the defense. And Pryor, he’s, in my mind, he’s made leaps and bounds from last year, from the time I spent with him. He’s done a good job.
Q: A seminal moment where it became evident Pryor was the best option at quarterback?
A: Not really a play or anything, it’s just more his progress. The guy just comes in, goes to work, from the summer to training camp to each and every preseason game, he’s just gotten better and better. I think he’s getting more confident, and that just comes with playing. So, just let him play.
Q: Pryor surprised you, since you obviously went out and got Matt Flynn to be the quarterback?
A: From a standpoint of taking this offense, what (Greg Olson) has done, yes. I mean, he’s come in, everybody’s coming in to compete and learn this offense, and he’s taken it and he’s done a good job. I’m pleased. Very pleased.
Q: In your mind, what happened with Matt, a confidence thing, his arm?
A: It maybe a combination but his arm definitely did not fare him well in preseason.
Q: Does a guy like Pryor just electrify the fan base?
A: I think he energizes more than just the fan base. He energizes his teammates and anybody that’s watching, everybody like the see big plays. And he’s a big play guy. So, yes, the fan base, I’m definitely sure they love to see him play.
Q: There’s an outside perception that you would be resistant to go with a player who was here before you. This evidence that the best players are going to play regardless of how they got here?
A: Regardless. I mean, good players will stay here. Point blank. It’s not about driving off players who were here and bringing in, you know, our own guys. It’s trying to put together a good nucleus and core group of guys and then funnel other players in that can help complement them and put together the best team. And whoever plays will be whoever the coach thinks gives us the best chance to win. And that’s what it’s all about. We’re going into this Monday Night game with 10 starters on defense, new, that did not start last year. You know what I’m saying? So, it’s, to me, it’s about just getting some players in here who can do some of the things that we want them to do, and have the mindset to get together, and try to play together, practice together and get on the same page. Let’s try to win some games.
So little expected of your team nationally. Two games in, you feel a tiny tinge of vindication?
No, no, no. Vindication? Noooooooo. Not at all. It’s way too early. Vindication is when we’re in the playoffs. Then it’s a whole new season. That’s my goal, regardless of what media or other teams things … it doesn’t matter. Our goal is to try and win as many games as we can and get to the playoffs.
Of course, we understand all the factors that factor in. We’re not going in blind. We had to settle in on a quarterback and other positions. We feel that we’re going in the right direction, and that’s key.
Do you see a team that you can be proud of, that is building toward something positive?
Absolutely. It’s about competing. We have good enough players that can compete. I totally understand the negativity that was thrown our way throughout the whole offseason. But, with that being said, we knew what we had. We knew we had some guys that could compete. Whether it turns into a lot of wins, that remains to be seen.
We’ve got to execute, we’ve got to make plays when the opportunity comes. But as far as guys, we have some players that can compete. It’s nice to see for the first couple of weeks that those guys are fighting, they’re competing. It’s good to see.
Last year you said two years before your vision of a team is on the field. Are you closer?
I think we’re moving in that direction, we really are. Next year, from an offseason standpoint, we’re going to be in line like the other teams. What I’m saying there is the cap won’t be an issue. I won’t be way out here while everybody else is able to play the free-agency game. The first three picks? You got ‘em. That’s 2014. This year, we were able to get some pieces that we feel can help us. Hopefully, we can build on that every week and turn some of these games into some victories.
Q: Flynn’s arm, was it a concern when you traded for him?
A: It wasn’t a major concern. If it was, we probably would’ve looked into it deeper.
Q: If Pryor gets hurt, would you skip him and go with McGloin?
A: He’s not throwing the ball not nearly as much as he was with the No. 1s in camp. Just like anyone who throws the ball, whether it be a quarterback or pitcher, the less you throw the stronger the arm gets. It’s not the fact that he can’t throw at all. It’s about how much he can throw and how strong it is.
Q: With 10 new starters on a defense that’s represented well, and with an offense that’s had to adjust with a running QB late yet still played well, what does that say about the coaching staff?
A: I appreciate that. You have to do what you have to do personnel-wise, and coaches have to adjust and get them going. The coaching staff is to be commended. There’s doing a great job. I really do. When you talk about players competing, the coaches are competing to, trying to get those guys to play to a high level. It’s a pretty good job they’ve done so far.
Q: Can a running quarterback survive in this league and stay healthy?
A: I think so. It seems like the league is doing whatever they can to limit certain types of hits and protect the quarterback. Once those guys turn into a running back, players like Terrelle are going to have to use their judgment to get out of bounds and do whatever they can to stay upright and carry on to the next play. It should work, and hopefully the guys can keep this type of play up. At some point, a player’s competitive nature will take over and they’ll fight for extra yards. Hopefully they can survive that play. That’s the last thing you want is to have a really good player go out on an competitive play.
Q: Talk about your evaluation of Tyler Wilson and your decision to let him go before signing him to the practice squad?
A: At the time, his progression through the offseason and training camp was behind Matt McGloin. That just a competitive thing. The position doesn’t matter. The best man wins. If you really go out there and say that every job is open for competition and the best man doesn’t win, we’re not doing our job. But we have Tyler here and he’s here to learn and get better. We seem him as a down-the-line player for us. All of those practice squad guys, or inactive players or backups are in the same company. We want those guys to get better, compete and be ready to play when their number’s called.
Q: How would you evaluate your draft classes so far?
A: “You really got to wait. You can evaluate them athletically, but some of these guys, they got to go through games, they got to get into the heat of the battle. They got to play, not just down in and down out but week in, week out. It gives them a whole season under their belt. Really, you got to see how they play next year, to be honest with you.”
Q: Even last year’s class?
A: “Last year? Last year, I can barely evaluate those guys, You got two guys that are hurt, the first two guys that we took – Bergstrom and Miles. So, the other three guys are backups. The three guys that we signed after the draft, Marquette, Streater and Nix, they’re all starters. The three free agents are starters.”
Q: Does D.J. Hayden need to be an impact player this year to justify his selection so high?
A: “The situation that surrounded D.J. with all the other stuff that was going on, we knew that we were going to have to wait and kind of let that whole, let his progression grow. So, to be impactful in the first three to five weeks, it’s my hope that he’s a whole lot better in week 14, 15 and 16 than he is in weeks 1 through 4. And that’s with all those guys – Sio, Mychael Rivera, Kasa, Stacy, All those guys, my hope is they’re playing a whole lot better later in this year than now. They’re going to flash, both good and bad, right now. That’s what rookies do, for the most part.”
Q: Has Woodson been everything you hoped for, if not more?
A: “Yes. Yes. He really did (exceed expectations), and probably more.”
Q: He still has plenty to offer?
A: “Charles is a football player. That’s what he is. He’s not going to be cautious or play like he’s waiting for the next week or waiting for next … When he dresses, when he laces his shoes, he’s out there to play. That’s just him. He’s what you want in a football player. He exudes that swagger he has and all his teammates feel it. Hopefully they can absorb something from it and take a little piece.”
Q: Were you in Green Bay in 1998 when Woodson was a rookie?
Q: Was it pretty evident that Manning and Woodson were going to be this successful?
A: “Yeah. Those two, you knew. What, they were one and two in the Heisman. I felt that those two guys, were great players. They weren’t good players, they were great players. They were graded as those annual perennial Pro Bowl guys. Scouting those two guys was easy. It really was easy.”
Q: Who did the Packers pick that year?
McKenzie: What was that 98 draft? It was Vonnie Holliday. Yep. Big Vonnie. We felt good about that pick. You’re making me think way back.
Q: While others are saying Raiders will get blown out on Monday Night football, what are your thoughts?
McKenzie: We’re going to compete. We’re not going to lay down and say, OK, Peyton, have at it. We know what kind of quarterback he is. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But we’re going to show up. We feel good about our chances of competing with those guys, so I’m excited to get on that plane and get there. We’ll see. We’ll see. I’m not going to make any predictions of how we’ll play, but I do believe we will be able to compete with those guys.
Q: Mark Davis been clear about wanting to see progress . . . have you gotten feedback from him that he’s seeing that now?
McKenzie: We just talk football, talk injuries, talk about how the guys are doing. We know what we have before us, but he likes what he’s seeing so far, yeah.
Q: Didn’t really address pass rush in offseason, not a lot of help there, is that showing faith in Lamarr Houston?
McKenzie: We thought last year Lamarr was probably our best defensive player. So we felt good that Lamarr could provide some kind of pass rush. Now will he be that dominant Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White, one of those kind of guys, we didn’t have that in mind but we thought he could be a disruptive force for our defense. We just wanted to fill in some good pieces around and just complement the defense to where we can execute some things. Now, if I had a chance to get a guaranteed 15-sack guy, yeah, whether I had the resources to get that done or not, probably not. But we felt good about Lamarr.
Q: Lamarr one of guys in last year, have already made moves to lock up others, expect to see more of that as season goes on?
McKenzie: Yes, and we have been talking to Lamarr’s guy _ for awhile. We’ll see how that works out.
Q: Do you think Jared Veldheer’s status will be affected by injury, missing a lot of the season?
McKenzie: There will still be talks, yep. But I know he wants to play. He’s a competitive guy now, so we still have time, but make no bones about it, we want to sign as many of our good players as we can. With the cap is the way it is this year, we won’t have a chance to do a whole lot with big money guys like those two guys. It’d be highly unlikely we could do two, but at least we’re in a situation next year to retain some of our high-dollar guys.
Q: How is Veldheer progressing?
A: He’s had no setbacks and he’s itching to start the process now. Some of the work he’s not able to really do any of the football stuff yet so that will be in the coming weeks. We have no negative things that are happening with his elbow that are causing any setbacks at all.
Q: Retaining guys like that higher priority than signing free agents?
A: Yes. We’re working diligently to keep our own.
Q: Also count guys recently signed on one-year deals?
A: Yep. We consider even those here on one-year contracts, we consider them our own. The guys whether it’s one year deals, even if they had a couple of years. If we can lock some guys up that’s going to be key for us. That’s how I want to build this thing. I don’t want guys to go to the end of their contracts and then you’re scrambling trying to keep them.
Q: Will that help you focus on needs in free agency?
A: It helps. Definitely helps. But draft will always be a major component of what we do.
Q: Important for Darren McFadden to stay healthy to be a guy you want back?
A: He probably put it best. He knows it’s important. He wants to be out there, he wants to show what he can do for the year. It’s important because contracts are important to players. Definitely not going to take that outlook away from him or any other player. Everybody wants to play well so they can get that contract.
Q: People often wonder why Marcel Reece doesn’t get the ball more often?
A: I know. Some of that is stuff they have as a receiver, we have to find him too. At times he can be covered. At times when it’s designed to go to him for whatever reason he doesn’t get it his way. That falls on a little bit of everybody. But he’s definitely a part of the offense now. We’ll get him the ball. I’m not drawing up the plays. I don’t know what I’d be doing, maybe a fumblerooskie. He’s fine. It was nice for him to score the first touchdown of the year for us. That was nice. Nice run. I’m sure we’ll see more of Marcel this year. Trust me.
Q: Matt Flynn’s mindset?
A: I’m sure he’s … I haven’t talked to him about his mindset. I’m sure as a competitor he just wants another chance to get back out there and do it
Q: Was he shocked?
A: That decision was told to him by the head coach. I wasn’t in the room to see if he was shocked or see what his mannerisms were like. But he knew that his arm was giving him problems. I know he can’t be shocked too much with that. But when he said we’re going to go with Pryor as our guy, I’m sure anybody worth their salt, they aren’t going to be excited about it. They want to compete and see if they can get that job back. But that’s something that you’d probably have to ask him or Dennis about.