It’s that unmistakable time of year again, when harsh reality sets in, playoff hopes dim and suddenly things suspected for weeks, if not months, are confirmed by players and coaches.
You see it in owner Mark Davis telling colleague Tim Kawamami that his team is nearing the end of a two-year deconstruction phase and about to embark upon a reconstruction phase. It comes in the form of safety Charles Woodson’s candid critiques of his team’s play. And so on.
The message is clear: There’s only so much the Raiders can do right now, given their lack of salary-cap room, which resulted in general manager Reggie McKenzie filling out his roster with a slew of players that commanded base salaries for $1 million or less in most cases.
Next season, McKenzie will be flush with cap room — some estimates place it in the $70 million range — and able to arm his coaches with a much-needed infusion of talent.
Perhaps on cue, coach Dennis Allen, offensive coordinator Greg Olson and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, along with players, are sending out not-so-subtle messages that a lack of depth and talent played a huge role in the Raiders losing nine of their first 13 games and that more time and patience are needed.
“You have this collective group, and it was built here and it was built here through every means that we had to get here for this year, and we all understood that when we took this,” Tarver said in talking about the growing pains of his troops. “I knew when I walked in this building, I grew up sitting in the Black Hole, and that’s what I wanted to do. I wasn’t walking into any building, I was happy at the place I was.
“This was a challenge. This was a chance to try everything you’ve learned and see how you can get these guys, which you knew was going to be a different group because you knew what the situation of the organization was.”
Last week, Olson offered this about why the Raiders offense lacked continuity.
“When you look before the season started and what are the Raiders, where are the Raiders going to be? Certainly our goal is to score more points,” Olson said. “Has that happened? Have we scored more? No we have not done that. I believe that part of it is lack of continuity, part of it is lack of depth.
“When you look back at the beginning of the season, and where we’re at, everyone has injuries. Those teams that may not be as talented, when they have injuries during the season, it takes a bigger toll in my opinion. That’s been a big part of it is the constant turnover and the constant changes in the lineup.”
None of the coaches is making excuses. They’re simply pointing out things that manifested themselves as the season progressed, regardless how staunchly they refused to accept the possibility of such earlier.
On Thursday, Allen pointed out what the Raiders offense was reduced to for the Jets game, when opening-game starters Terrelle Pryor, Darren McFadden and Denarius Moore weren’t in the lineup, along with key backup Rashad Jennings.
“Every one of our skill players in the Jet game were undrafted free agents,” Allen said. “It speaks to what those coaches have been able to do with those players. It speaks to those players and their determination and their work ethic and how they go about doing their job.
“Also it’s one of those things where that’s something we have to continue to always develop our roster and try to add pieces here and there that we think can help us.”
Strong safety Tyvon Branch chimed in, saying that the Raiders, indeed are closer to being a team capable of competing for a Super Bowl title.
“I’m sure we’re going to do some things in the offseason, bring some new guys in,” Branch said. “That’s the way the NFL works. New guys come in all the time. So, with all the money we got freed up, they’re going to go out and chase some big-time names. Hopefully, we can bring some guys in and help us turn this thing around.”
How does Branch know that the Raiders are closer this season than they were last season? The proof comes in the Raiders being in all but three games this season.
“We’re making strides in the right direction,” Branch said. “It’s not like the Raiders of old, you know what I’m saying?”
When asked to clarify, Branch added:
“We’re actually in these games. Years past, it was like we just lost. We’re actually in these games and we have a chance to win in the fourth quarter. Once we learn to execute down the stretch, it’s going to turn everything around.”
In fairness, they are dead on in their responses as to why the Raiders defense is “worn down” at times, as Allen said after the past two games, or as to why a defense that looks top notch at times other times breaks down, or about the struggles of an offense that has not scored more than 28 points in any game.
— Olson said Matt McGloin audibled out of a bad play call, based on the way the Jets defense lined up, and changed to a run on the play in which Marcel Reece bolted up the middle for a 63-yard touchdown.
“The timing of getting the ball out, getting through his progressions, he’s shown improvement in that area and just the overall understanding the protections, getting us out of bad plays and into good plays,” Olson said. “Marcel’s touchdown run was a check on his part at the line of scrimmage, understanding what the front was that they were giving us and we needed to get out of the initial play that we had given him and he got us into the touchdown run. He’s just getting more comfortable overall with the scheme and how we want him to operate it.”
— By Allen’s estimation, the Raiders eight different lineups with their offensive line the first 13 games. In other words, things don’t quite look the way Allen, Olson and offensive line coach Tony Sparano envisioned back in April.
“Yyet, we’re still fourth in the league in rushing,” Allen said. “Tony Sparano has done a great job with that offensive line. Ole has done a nice job of doing some things that those guys can do well and putting them in a position to have success.”
The Raiders lost potential starter Tony Bergstrom to injury before the season started. Jared Veldheer suffered a torn triceps during training camp that required surgery, and he missed the first 11 games. Projected right offensive tackle Menelik Watson suffered a knee injury during an exhibition game and never regained full strength. Center Stefen Wisniewski, left guard Lucas Nix and right guard Mike Brisiel also missed time with injuries, as well as backup Andre Gurode.
— Allen said defensive tackle Vance Walker is “very questionable” for the Chiefs game as a result of the concussion Walker suffered against the Jets. Walker missed practice Wednesday and Thursday because he experienced concussion-related symptoms.
— The Raiders signed wide receiver Jared Green and linebacker Eric Harper on Wednesday to their practice squad. It’s worth noting that they also worked out running back Jonathan Grimes, cornerback Travis Howard and receiver Dwight Jones.
None of the three was signed. However, it points out that the Raiders are concerned about depth at those positions for the remainder of the season and shows that the team always is on the lookout for players that might provide an upgrade, even if it’s down the road.
— Bears coach Marc Trestman made good on his stated intent to give back the starting job to Jay Cutler once Cutler returned from a sprained ankle.
That seemed like a given when the injury happened. However, backup Josh McCown played so well during Cutler’s absence that some wondered whether going back to Cutler was such a wise move.
This is interesting to Raiders fans if only for how it ties in to the Raiders quarterback situation this season. Pryor started eight of the first nine games this season — Matt Flynn started one game while Pryor recovered from a concussion — before he was sidelined by a right knee injury.
Once Pryor recovered well enough to play again, McGloin remained the starter. The big difference here is that coach Allen never promised Pryor the job once he returned from injury.
Also, there’s the matter of Cutler being one of the league’s most experienced quarterbacks and getting paid far more than McCown.
— Here’s Olson’s explanation for inserting Pryor into the Jets game after McGloin guided the Raiders offense the first two drives, then resumed control once Pryor engineered one series.
“We thought we could come back to it,” Olson said. “Again, there were plans, we talked at halftime and talked with Terrelle, ‘Hey, just stay ready at all times,’ but we got into a pretty good flow and rhythm in the second half so at that time we didn’t feel the need to get back to it.
“That’s going to be a part of us, especially in a situation like that where you’re missing three tailbacks. For the outside people, they looked at it as we pulled Matt McGloin and were trying to provide a spark and that wasn’t the case whatsoever.
“From the very start, in the first team meeting that we had on Wednesday, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do.’ We could be up 14-0 after the first two series of the game, we could be two three-and-outs, but on the third series of the game, we’re going with the Terelle Pryor package, so here’s the plays we’re going to run in it. Obviously we practiced the plays in advance and that was the plan going in.”
— Branch, TE Nick Kasa, LB Sio Moore and WR Denarius Moore were limited in practice today. It’s likely that all will be available for the Chiefs game.