For the last two years, Oakland Raiders fans have endured the “burn it all down to build it back up again” reconstruction of their beloved franchise. They’ve endured the misery of consecutive 4-12 seasons — which has capped more than a decade of futility — all the while, hoping that better days were on the horizon. For the first time in seemingly forever, the Raiders had a ton of cash to spend, and a full slate of draft picks to use in an effort to upgrade and improve the team. Raiders fans have been understandably excited and optimistic this offseason as an end to their suffering at least seems in sight.
GM Reggie McKenzie has certainly been doing his part by bringing in an array of weapons as he overhauls the culture of the organization. Now it’s up to head coach Dennis Allen to do his part by utilizing them. The looming question, though, is whether Allen is up to the task.
We’re two years into his tenure, and as a coach, Allen is still something of an unknown quantity. It seems safe to say that Raiders fans still have no idea whether or not Allen is a coach capable of leading the team back to greatness. Certainly, after two seasons of ineptitude, lackluster and inconsistent play, notoriously anemic offenses, record-breakingly bad defenses and an overall 8-24 mark, it’s difficult to see the “great, innovative mind” that McKenzie spoke about when he introduced Allen as to new head coach of the Raiders. The question is, how much of that is on Allen, and how much of it is a result of the mess the late Al Davis left behind?
When Davis died, he left the organization in shambles. With mammoth contracts handed out to players well past their prime — who never came close to living up to those monster deals — and a series of really poor draft picks who never amounted to anything but headaches, the Raiders were a disaster of a franchise. The team Allen inherited was way short on talent, and even shorter on resources with which to obtain talent to upgrade the roster. It was a handy, built-in excuse that allowed Allen to shrug, throw his hands up and say, “I was dealt a horrible hand here. Not my fault.” And because it was true, nobody could question it.
But things are different this year. McKenzie has made a number of smart, savvy moves, and has significantly upgraded the team. To go along with the few viable roster pieces already in place, Allen now has a franchise quarterback in Matt Schaub, a running back who won’t get hurt when a stiff breeze blows in Maurice Jones-Drew and a reliable veteran receiver who is lethal in the red zone in James Jones. He also has defensive standouts in Justin Tuck, Lamarr Woodley, Antonio Smith, Tarrell Brown and Carlos Rogers who will put some fire and teeth into the Raiders’ defensive unit. And he is set to get an influx of young playmakers through the draft. On paper, this Raiders’ squad is far superior to the two previous rosters Allen had been saddled with.
McKenzie has stocked the cupboards and handed Allen the pieces he needs to have some success. Is it Super Bowl or bust for him this year? Not likely. But a vast improvement is necessary for him to retain his job for a fourth year. The question is, what will he do with the pieces McKenzie has given him? Will he be the leader and motivator the team needs? Will he be able to wring every last drop out of his players? Or will we simply see more of what we’ve seen the last two seasons? Will he be more like Lane Kiffin? Or more like Tom Flores? At this point, we just don’t know because we’ve yet to see what kind of coach he is. But 2014 is where the rubber meets the road for Allen, and we’re all going to find out.