ALAMEDA – Head coach Jack Del Rio wants to "eliminate the gray" from his Raiders defense. He talked about that several times this offseason, believing uncertain reads and fuzzy communication got that unit bested, too often in explosive ways.
Del Rio wants his defense to read and react quickly. At times last year, it was far too slow because players were uncertain. Uncertainty causes hesitation. Hesitation gets you beat.
Eliminating gray's a major reason why John Pagano is wearing silver and black. The longtime Chargers assistant coach and defensive coordinator changed color schemes this offseason to give the Raiders defense fresh perspective, greater efficiency and improved communication.
"I'm another set of eyes that gives them a different way to look at things," Pagano said after Tuesday's OTA session. "I'm here to be able to hear and to be able to help guys understand. Communication with (defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.) has been outstanding from a point that we try to talk everyday about certain situations, just to be able to give another set of eyes and be able to handle those things."
Pagano is here to help fix a system, not take it over. Norton will still call plays, and says Pagano's presence doesn't alter his job at all.
"Nothing changes for me," Norton said. "Obviously Pagano is a guy that has a lot of experience. We all have a lot of experience. Certainly you have to use the people around you and it's important that we all fall into and understand what he's been able to accomplish. Obviously right now his role is to help us on the back end with our communication and shore up what's going on to make sure we stay on top, and that we're all talking about the same things every week, about them throwing the ball deep on us. That seems like all we want to talk about so let's make sure with his addition and his experience, let's put that fire out."
The Raiders gave up a league-worst 61 pass plays of 20 yards or more. Del Rio finds that volume unacceptable, and hopes Pagano can decrease it significantly.
Stopping big plays starts with good communication, especially on the back end. Pagano has primarily worked with the secondary this offseason alongside defensive backs coaches Rod Woodson and Brent Vieselmeyer, and drilled those points home.
"With him seeing it and helping us out with our communication, I think it's been great for us," free safety Reggie Nelson said. "It's been helping us out. I think we've been right on track and we still got a lot of work to do, but it's coming along good."
Pagano has a clear focus on the back end, but is a well-rounded, well-respected football mind. He coached Chargers linebackers for nearly a decade, and proved a productive coordinator adept at creating pressure and exploiting offensive weak spots.
Norton runs this Raiders defense. Pagano's focused only on tasks designed to make it run more efficiently.
"No. No, there's no stepping on anyone's toes," Pagano said. "I have a job to do and Coach Del Rio told me what I needed to do and the first thing was to improve our overall communication as a defense. It starts in the backend. Once we get those things, because as long as we're saying the same things and we're doing the correct things, you get 11 guys doing that you get 11 guys out there hunting on the field. That's what it's all about."