Ken Norton Jr. awaits Raiders fate

Jack Del Rio certainly didn’t give Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. a vote of confidence.

During his end of season press conference, Oakland’s head coach refused to give a direct answer to whether his top assistants Norton and Bill Musgrave would return, stating only “we’ll see how it goes.”

Del Rio did add that opportunities arise for some coaches who might be coveted enough by other teams that they could receive a promotion.

Del Rio also mentioned his unhappiness with the performances along the defensive line, naming rookie Jihad Ward, Stacy McGee, Denico Autry and Mario Edwards Jr.

Edwards missed the majority of the season, and never got a real shot to display his promised comeback, but Ward, Dan Williams and Justin Ellis all failed to effectively rush the quarterback from the interior defensive line.

McGee and Autry finished the year with 2.5 sacks, Williams notched half a sack, and Ward failed to record a single quarterback tackle behind the line, though he was close on a few occasions.

Del Rio said:

“I didn’t feel like we got enough inside push. That’s going to be an area for sure that we’re going to have to be better and do better.”

The roster could be better, but Oakland was expected to do much better than their team total 25 sacks, good for last in the NFL.

That falls on Norton, and the league-worst performance follows the 38 sack 2015 season when Norton arrived in Oakland, and is hardly better than the 3-13 Raiders’ 22 sacks in 2014.

Del Rio’s largest issue, though? He explained:

“There were far too many explosive plays allowed this year, whether it be run or pass. That’s, you know, that’s an area that must be addressed. That might be the number one thing that we must do better going into 2017.”

The Raiders addressed their secondary last offseason, signing cornerback Sean Smith and safety Reggie Nelson, after a 7-9 season that also included several explosive plays. Both players performed admirably, but the big plays didn’t cease.

A decision to retain Norton wouldn’t make much sense. There’s not much defensive help to be found in this year’s free agent class — defensive tackle Kawann Short it the headliner, but he’s a likely franchise tag recipient, and the Chargers should be working on a deal with defensive end Melvin Ingram — and while some tantalizing prospects will be around for the draft, Oakland is a longshot for any major improvement given their draft position.

And Norton’s scheme, player-friendly due to its simplicity, is too easy for other team’s and coaches to figure out. The Chiefs coordinators and assistant sure have the Raiders’ number, as can be heard loud and clear when they’re shouting and pounding in their box — with only about a quarter-inch thick flimsy wall between them and the Coliseum press box.

So what can change without change?

The reasons Oakland has to keep Norton hinge on development, and continuity within a system. Not to mention that Reggie McKenzie and Mark Davis are clearly patient men, having kept Norton’s predecessor, Jason Tarver, around for three seasons despite outlandishly awful showings.

But the expectations can’t be high.

What’s most interesting about Norton’s non-firing is the abundance of acclaimed coordinators currently available. Wade Phillips, formerly of Denver, Rex Ryan, formerly of Buffalo, and others who may be moving around. And there are in-house candidates such as defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson.

What ever happens in the coming days is sure to be intriguing one way or another, and with every second Ken Norton Jr. isn’t fired, the Raiders’ odds of receiving national criticism grows.

It appears, though, that no decision has been reached. But the numbers do talk. And they must be killing Del Rio.


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 Raiders football.