Dennis Allen had a rough season in his first year as an NFL head coach.
The Raiders finished 4-12, and some wondered if Allen would be back for a second season.
But with training camp now a week away, Allen is still in Oakland. And though no one is predicting the Raiders will win the AFC West championship, there are reasons to believe the Raiders may have turned the corner and begun their climb back to respectability.
Former Raiders head coach John Madden, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, suggested in a January interview with the San Francisco Chronicle that Allen basically was coaching with one hand tied behind his back in 2012.
“He’s got a ways to go,” Madden said. “He was playing the game without a full deck. To be honest, they don’t have enough players. The cupboard was pretty bare. It would have been tough to do much more than what they did.”
As Madden added, the roster was so thin, “The Raiders need a whole barrel of guys.”
With coaching and roster changes this offseason, there are reasons to believe the Raiders will be better in 2013 than they were in 2012. Even though Allen didn’t gain any IQ points since the Raiders played their final game of last season, he may look a lot smarter in 2013 because of these five changes:
1 – New offensive coordinator Greg Olson and new offensive line coach Tony Sparano. Last season’s offense had Raiders fans ticked off from Game 1 for its predictability. The team never established a physical running attack – its bread and butter from recent years – and often dinked and dunked its way down the field. Olson should add much more creativity, while Sparano (a proven success as an offensive line coach at several NFL stops) should breathe new life into the offensive line.
2 – The offensive line. Now back to its power-blocking scheme, look for players such as Jared Veldheer, Stefen Wisniewski and Tony Bergstrom to reach new levels. Meanwhile, rookie Menelik Watson should prosper from Sparano’s tutelage and contribute at some point at either right tackle or right guard. From being a weak link in 2012, the line could be the team’s strength in 2013 thanks to Sparano and a change in philosophy.
3 – Darren McFadden. A healthy McFadden – running in a new scheme – could make Allen appear brilliant. When he’s 100 percent, McFadden is one of the best backs in the NFL. If he’s back to himself, the Raiders will be able to run the ball again and take the pressure off Matt Flynn (or whoever the QB turns out to be) and the receivers.
4 – The new secondary. Cornerbacks D.J. Hayden, Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins are a big improvement over last year’s crop, and returning safety Tyvon Branch gets a new running mate in veteran Charles Woodson. This unit might be the team’s most improved in 2013. All those big plays the Raiders gave up in 2012 could be reduced significantly, keeping the Raiders in more games in 2013.
5 – New blood, new attitude. Across the roster, general manager Reggie McKenzie has brought in specific free agents and rookies to compete for jobs, while getting rid of high-priced, veteran talent. Only 17 players remain from the roster at the end of the 2011 season. The overall talent level may be lower than it was a couple of years ago, but the hunger level is much higher and the chemistry could be improved. With a whole new culture being built under McKenzie and Allen, this team may be on the road to doing more of the little things right … which could end up being a big thing – and make Allen look much smarter than he looked a year ago.
“We got a lot of change, a lot of turnover on this football team and the thing I’ve been the most pleased with is the mindset of this team,” Allen told reporters in June. “I know there’s a lot of experts out there that might think differently, but I like this football team.”