One of the stealthier acquisitions of the Raiders’ offseason may be Bill Musgrave as offensive coordinator.
Musgrave coached current backup quarterback Christian Ponder in Minnesota, and was offensive coordinator under Jack Del Rio for two years in Jacksonville. Over his career, he’s spent time working under several head coaches, and absorbed a little at every stop.
The Raiders told SFBay Musgrave won’t likely be available for comment until training camp in late July, but the intrigue of the Raiders revamped offense has been slowly growing.
Unanswered questions mount, like, what will the play count be? Will time of possession decrease? How much of Chip Kelly’s ‘blur offense’ will Raiders fans see?
Nobody within the Raiders organization will say for sure, and not even Musgrave likely knows the full scope of it all. Ponder said:
“We’re going to try everything, we’re going to see what sticks. Bill’s a great offensive mind, a very intelligent guy, and he’s a guy that listens. If players don’t feel comfortable with something, he’ll throw it out. He doesn’t have a problem that.”
Ponder is the starting quarterback through OTAs while Derek Carr rehabs a thumb injury, but his experience with Musgrave is proving to be the biggest indicator of what Oakland’s offense will look like.
“This offense is a little different than what we ran in Minnesota, he’s bringing some of the stuff from Philly over, but a lot of the vocabulary, verbiage is the same.”
Minnesota went from 3-13 in 2011 to 10-6 with a Wild Card berth in 2012. Both seasons Musgrave was coordinator and Ponder was quarterback. A regression to 5-11 in 2013 lead to the dismissal of the entire coaching staff, though the offense scored an above-average 24.4 points per game.
Ponder knows this is Carr’s team, and understands his role is to back him up as needed. But the experience may prove vital to the offense all the same.
The big difference is what Musgrave plans on bringing over from Philadelphia. It’s a closely-guarded secret until game action occurs.
But as the install rolls along, subtleties should become apparent, and how the defense keeps up may be a crucial factor.
The Eagles ran more than 70 offensive plays per game in 2014 with Musgrave as quarterbacks coach, leading the league, but were also dead last in time of possession at 26 minutes and 40 seconds.
Opposing defenses were worn down, but so was Philadelphia’s. Injuries became more common, one reason why the Eagles brought in a whole new fitness regime and nutrition plan.
But it also explains emphasis on run defense, beyond the terrible numbers from last season. According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles were able to run more offensive snaps when the run defense was playing well.
Sure, that’s basic football knowledge, but it’s particularly interesting because Oakland’s offseason essentially abandoned pass rushing and went all in on stopping the run.
Head Coach Jack Del Rio said:
“I’m not trying to turn it into rocket science. There are basic principles that we want to be good at. I think the entire group is doing a pretty good job. I told the group, I think we’re making pretty significant strides in this time that we have.”
The Raiders’ lack of offense has been a clear problem the past few seasons, and to date, no true answers have shown themselves.
Whether the Raiders have found help during the recent offseason, in which they brought in several players in there prime, at key positions, along with the recent draft, remains to be seen.
Soon to be 26-year-old center Rodney Hudson, ranked well above any other free agent center by Pro Football Focus, was one, coming over from the Chiefs. Dan Williams (from Arizona) is another, ranked by the same group as the best run defending defensive tackle in free agency, and turning only 28 this year.
But there’s more than came in the draft. Rookie tight end Clive Walford is quickly becoming one of the new additions that could provide a substantial upgrade.
And that’s a bigger deal than some many would likely realize. As sneaky of an upgrade as Musgrave could prove to be.
During Minnesota’s last playoff run, which included Musgrave, tight end Kyle Rudolph was targeted a whopping 93 times by Ponder, far more than any other Viking. Only Percy Harvin had more receiving yards on the team that year.
With Philadelphia, tight end Zach Ertz was targeted 89 times in 2014, nearly once for every six snaps he played, and there’s little doubt Walford could be next in line as beneficiary of Musgrave’s schemes.
But we won’t really know until August and September.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.