GM Reggie McKenzie strives to rebuild Raiders
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- When Reggie McKenzie took over the Oakland Raiders last January, he knew he had a tough task ahead of him.
The roster lacked depth and elite players after years of bad personnel moves by the old regime led by late owner Al Davis.
Bloated contracts left the team significantly over the projected salary cap, leading to the loss of a few valuable players, and the team had no high draft picks.
Even with those daunting circumstances, McKenzie did not expect the Raiders (3-8) to struggle this much in his first season as general manager.
"Going into this training camp, I liked the prospects of the way it was going," McKenzie said Friday. "I knew where the talent level was, and I knew we didn't have depth to lose players, not one, because I knew it was going to be a drop off. That's without a doubt. But to be where we are now, at 3-8, disappointing. Don't want to be here. I know the fans are not happy, I'm not happy, the coaches, I know the players are not happy."
The Raiders have lost four straight games and have struggled even to be competitive at times in what McKenzie described as a "terrible November" when the Raiders were outscored 169-79 as they fell out of contention in the AFC playoff race.
It was capped by the announcement Friday that 2010 first-round pick and starting middle linebacker Rolando McClain had been suspended for two games for conduct detrimental to the team for a series of transgressions that eventually led him to be kicked out of practice on Wednesday and sent away from the team.
Despite the on-field struggles and the problems between McClain and the coaching staff, McKenzie stands behind first-year coach Dennis Allen.
"I'm still pleased with Dennis," McKenzie said. "It's like, I'm a rookie in this thing, Dennis is a rookie in this thing. So I'm sure he has some rookie mistakes, but overall I'm happy with Dennis."
McKenzie said everyone will be evaluated after the season, including Allen and all of his assistants. Coordinators Greg Knapp (offense) and Jason Tarver (defense) have come under fire this year and McKenzie said he would have say in the staff for next season.
"This is my football team," McKenzie said. "It's not a dictatorship by any means but it's my football team and I'm responsible. We have a great line of communication so that's not going to be an issue guys, at all. It really isn't. It's my job to evaluate the situation and I'm going to get that done."
McKenzie was hired last January by owner Mark Davis to take over the football operations that had been run for nearly a half-century by Al Davis, who died in October 2011. McKenzie hired Allen to replace the fired Hue Jackson and quickly began the roster overhaul.
He inherited a roster that lacked depth, was significantly over the salary cap and had few high draft picks to help fill the holes.
After hiring a personnel staff, his first task was to get under the salary cap by restructuring contracts and cutting ties with many of the high-profile and high-priced players acquired in recent years by Davis, most notably cornerback Stanford Routt, pass rusher Kamerion Wimbley, running back Michael Bush, quarterback Jason Campbell and tight end Kevin Boss.
Many smaller moves followed including trades of former draft picks Louis Murphy and Bruce Campbell. In all, 26 players who were on Oakland's 53-man roster at the end of last season are no longer with the organization.
"We're under the cap, we trimmed the guys that we had to," McKenzie said. "But guys, this thing is going forward. We're going to get better from here on out, especially in the player personnel department. That's my quest and we get on that, really, on a weekly basis."
The roster overhaul has failed to pay dividends on the field. After losing four straight games for the first time in four years, the Raiders are one loss away from their first losing season since 2009.
They haven't even be competitive in recent weeks after a promising October that included a last-second loss at previously undefeated Atlanta and wins over Jacksonville and Kansas City.
They have been outscored 169-79 in the four losses, losing the past three by at least 21 points for the first time in franchise history. The 169 points allowed are the second most in a four-game span since the merger in 1970 and the Raiders are on pace to allow the second-most points ever in a 16-game season.
"The November part of the season has not been good at all," McKenzie said. "That cannot continue to happen. And it's our job to fix it, starting with me. Player-wise, and the coaches trying to get the situations fixed."
With the Raiders playing out the string in these final five weeks, McKenzie wants to see what players want to remain with Oakland and get a better sense of what he has in some of the younger players.
Rookie receiver Juron Criner has gotten more playing time in recent weeks, third-round pick Tony Bergstrom has been used as an extra offensive lineman and third-string quarterback Terrelle Pryor could play.
Pryor was Davis' last draft pick, taken in the supplemental draft last August. He got on the field once as a rookie and has been inactive the first 11 games this season. He is expected to be active Sunday against Cleveland and could get some playing time down the stretch.
"The only way I can evaluate him, is to play him," McKenzie said. "Now, when he plays, how much he plays, that will be a charge to the coaching staff, but yes. We've got a third of the season left, and this is a good time to try to figure out what works best for him."
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Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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