Now that the Oakland Raiders have extended the contract of assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tony Sparano, the attention is focused on defensive coordinator Jason Tarver.
Sparano, who was seeking a two-year deal and was reported close to accepting a job offer with the Tampa Bay Bucs, has now received it, the team announced Friday. So Sparano will stay on the staff of head coach Dennis Allen, keeping a continuity that Allen had hoped to maintain.
But as of now, only Sparano, offensive coordinator Greg Olson and linebackers coach Bob Sanders are under contract for 2014, reported Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com. That leaves Tarver, the team’s defensive leader, in limbo. His contract will soon expire.
That question is, will Allen bring him back? And should be return?
There was no question during the first half of the season that Tarver’s unit was the best aspect of the 2013 Raiders. Tarver started the season with just two returning starters from 2012 – Lamarr Houston and Tyvon Branch – and a mishmash of free-agent veterans and rookies. Yet the Raiders used a blitzing, pressuring scheme to get to opposing quarterbacks and keep scores close.
Tarver , 39, came to the Raiders with a solid pedigree as a longtime 49ers assistant and then defensive coordinator at Stanford after Jim Harbaugh left for the Niners. Under Tarver, Stanford was among the best Pac-12 defenses. When the Raiders hired Tarver, they liked his experience and his mind. It’s obvious he not only knows X’s and O’s, but a lot more. He has a degree in chemistry from Santa Clara and a master’s in biochemistry and molecular biology from UCLA.
A headline on a story by Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group in October christened Tarver as the “Raiders’ mad scientist of defense,” and McDonald noted in the story that Tarver’s blitzing schemes – he brings pass rushers from all positions and sets – had left established NFL QBs such as Philip Rivers and Alex Smith confused.
Through late October, the Raiders defense was allowing just 22 points per game and 99 yards rushing, with 16 sacks. Raiders defenders were singing his praises for how Tarver could make such a complex defense seem simple.
“He’s really smart and he’s able to take something that might seem complicated and make it as simple as he can for the players,” said Allen.
But as the season wore on, the Raiders defense wore out.
By the end of the season, it was spent. Over the final five games, Oakland gave up 31 points to Dallas, 37 to the Jets, 56 to the Chiefs, 26 to the Chargers and 34 to the Broncos.
The Raiders finished 21st in the NFL in total defense, giving up 363 yards per game, and allowed the fourth-most points in the league, 28.3 per game.
Injuries and a lack of depth certainly took their toll.
Just before the final game of the season, Tarver was asked his assessment of his unit in 2013.
“I would say this: There are going to be ups and downs as you go through the year,” he told the Bay Area media. “I think certain players have been able to handle it and be consistent. I think some of the other ones have learmed and shown the ability to work through pain and things like that, that maybe they haven’t experienced before.
“I think there are definitely some things that have shown who you want to keep and who you don’t, going forward.”
Now, too, that time has come for the Raiders and Allen with Tarver.