OAKLAND, Calif. – When Reggie McKenzie took over as general manager of the Oakland Raiders last January, he knew it would be a long process to transform the franchise back into a consistent winner.
Four games into first his season, it's still a work in progress.
The Raiders (1-3) head into their bye this weekend looking for answers into how to revive a running game, generate a pass rush and bolster a struggling secondary.
"I understand patience. I can channel myself," McKenzie said. "But nobody likes losing and I'm on the top of that list. We'll get this thing turned around."
The change began about a year ago, on Oct. 8, 2011, when longtime owner and franchise architect Al Davis died of a heart attack, leaving his son, Mark, in charge of his beloved team.
Mark is far less involved than his father, who was the rare owner who made almost every football decision from which players to draft, what assistant coaches to hire and what defense to run.
But Mark, who has spent almost his entire life around the team, wants to end a nine-year run with no playoff berths and eventually bring back the fourth Super Bowl trophy that his father spent almost the last three decades of his life chasing.
"He's like all of us. He'll be the first to tell you that he wants us to play better," McKenzie said. "He also understands that we're trying to retool and improve every day and every game. He totally understands that we're in this thing not just for weeks 1 through 4. We want to continue and finish strong in week 5 on out. We're going in the right direction. That's the key with him."
Since Al Davis' death, Oakland made a bold trade to get Carson Palmer off his couch to take over as quarterback, hired McKenzie as the team's first real general manager since before Davis took over, fired coach Hue Jackson and made Dennis Allen the team's first defensive-minded coach since the 1970s.
With few draft picks to use, bloated contracts that made bringing in top-level talent nearly impossible because of the salary cap and little depth on the roster, McKenzie and Allen were given a tough task to rebuild the team.
McKenzie has also cleared out many of Davis' draft picks and prized players. McKenzie is careful to say he is not purging the old era as much as finding players who could produce to the level he needed.
Since McKenzie took over in January, nine players Davis drafted have been traded, cut or left as free agents. Previous offseason acquisitions Kevin Boss and Kamerion Wimbley were also cut as McKenzie tried to get the salary cap in order.
"I wasn't looking to get rid of the guys who were here," McKenzie said. "It's about production and some of it was cap related. Most of it is trying to get guys you think can better help the team."
While some of the newcomers like linebackers Philip Wheeler and Miles Burris and running back Mike Goodson have made an impact early in the season, others have not contributed much. The biggest issue has been in the secondary where newcomers Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer went down early with injuries, forcing the Raiders to replace their starting cornerbacks.
The problems in the secondary have played a big role in the struggles on defense. The Raiders have allowed 125 points so far this season, more than they ever did in the opening four games in Davis' 48 years in control.
Oakland has allowed scores on more than half of opponents drives, allowed quarterbacks to complete 71-5 percent of their passes and are giving up more yards (411.5 per game compared to 387.6) and points (31.3 per game compared to 27.1) than last year's unit that was one of the worst in franchise history.
This all has come after an offseason when the returning defenders were outwardly excited about a new defensive system that promised to be more aggressive and versatile than the bump-and-run style Al Davis always preferred.
"I said all offseason, all camp, I believed in this scheme," defensive back Michael Huff said. "So, it doesn't really have nothing to do with the scheme of things. It's just us players aren't really executing when we need to. The playmakers aren't making plays when we have to. For us, the players have to step up and make more plays."
The bigger surprise has been on offense, where the Raiders were hoping that pairing a healthy Darren McFadden with Palmer would create a dynamic scoring machine.
Instead, Oakland is last in the league in rushing as the new zone blocking system has failed to click and Palmer has struggled with the deep pass that was so successful his first season in Oakland.
Allen said part of the bye week would be spent analyzing whether any changes in system were necessary but he still believed in the changes he brought to Oakland.
"We've got a lot of improvement that we've got to make," Allen said. "Our guys are still committed to sticking together, staying together as a team, because we're the only people that can help ourselves out. There's no magic formula. It's a bunch of guys in the locker room and a group of coaches that are committed to each other that are going to continue to work to get this thing fixed."
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