Since the regime handed the keys over to the new GM Reggie McKenzie, the Oakland Raiders have seen a total makeover.
In a press conference on Wednesday, the general manager addressed the team’s gameplan for the upcoming 2012 NFL Draft.
Expressing his commitment to take things one step at a time, McKenzie mentioned he wasn’t going to sell the farm for one particular player and would stick to taking the best player available, rather than reaching for position needs.
“I do not want to trade future picks—especially high ones,” McKenzie said. ”I’m not going to reach down for a player that plays a certain position.” While he left a jar open to the possibility of moving up in the draft, he also noted, “If I have to give them my first born, it’s not going to happen.”
McKenzie and company had their hands full entering the 2012 NFL Free Agency frenzy cap-strapped to the max, and the deck won’t be stacked in their favor for the draft, either. Barring any trades, the team’s first pick will come late Saturday night on April 27 after 94 players have been taken. McKenzie will be the first decision-maker other than Al Davis since the early ’60′s, so it’s a new challenge for him and his staff.
Nevertheless, considering the mess that was left when he came into the organization, McKenzie has cleaned house exceptionally well from Day 1.
After kicking out Stanford Routt, the Raiders signed Shawtae Spencer and Ronald Bartell. While both aging veterans are coming off injuries, they will provide an immediate impact in the secondary. The added veteran presence will also help Chimdi Chekwa and DeMarcus Van Dyke as they both enter their sophomore season. In addition, Oakland brought back guard Cooper Carlisie and added Mike Brisiel from the Houston Texans.
At the end of last month, the Raiders also struck a trade and acquired a starting-caliber linebacker, as they wheeled in LB Phillip Wheeler and traded for RB Mike Goodson in exchange of OL Bruce Campbell with the Carolina Panthers.
In addition to restoring the staff and player personnel, the general manager has also improved the personnel department in terms of computers and technology, a process he described as having gone “much better than I expected.”
The biggest change between the new and old organization might be the way the Raiders evaluate prospective players. Before McKenzie, the Raiders’ philosophy was built on height, wight and speed, with an emphasis on the component of Combine warriors. Now, the focus is on overall field production and a player’s willingness to learn and grow.
“You have to make sure they really love the game and make sure that they’re good football players,” McKenzie said. ”Then all of the other stuff—how they test, how they play, what kind of skills they have—that all plays a part in how you evaluate them.”
He also indicated the team would assemble a draft board with number grades and remain true to the board with no exceptions.
“We need some depth, regardless, to compete and hopefully win jobs,” McKenzie said. “And that’s what we’re targeting. When we say best player, whether it’s D-line, O-line, tight end, it doesn’t matter. We want to get a good player.”
Once we’ve made the decision, we’re not going to think back and start listening to a whole bunch of coaches or scouts,” McKenzie continued. “If the board tells us to do one thing, that’s the way we’re going to do it. And everybody will know that going in. That’s why you spend all this time setting the board.”
Expectations will be running high this week as Oakland begins its important voluntary minicamp.
Look for the franchise to continue to make more daunting decisions to try to strengthen the team’s chemistry and instill much-needed discipline as the 2012 NFL regular season inches increasingly closer.