Five Candidates to Replace DeFilippo for Oakland Raiders QB Coach

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Dec 1, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman (12) and quarterback coach Craig Johnson (right) watch drills before the game with the Chicago Bears at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. Vikings win 23-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

1. Craig Johnson

Craig Johnson is currently the running backs coach of the New York Giants, but has lots of NFL experience as both a quarterbacks coach and an offensive coordinator. He and Del Rio have never worked together, but Johnson was Bill Musgrave’s quarterbacks coach in Minnesota, where the two tried to coax an NFL starting quarterback out of the body of Christian Ponder.

Del Rio is also very familiar with Johnson’s work as an opponent: Johnson spent eleven years on the Tennessee Titans staff, nine of them as the quarterbacks coach, working with the late great Steve McNair and later the youthful Vince Young.

Both signal-callers had success with Johnson guiding them: McNair had the best season of his career in 2003 in Johnson’s second year as the Titans’ QB’s coach, and was the MVP of the league, a 2nd-team All-Pro, and a Pro Bowl selection. He led the league in yards per attempt (8.0) and passer rating (100.4) that season, and threw 24 TD’s (his career high) to only 7 INT’s. McNair had his third career Pro Bowl season in 2005, in his fourth year working with Johnson.

In 2006, rookie Vince Young was drafted to replace McNair, and made the Pro Bowl in his rookie year despite throwing 13 INT’s to only 12 TD’s and completing only 51.5% of his passes. The mobile Young gained 552 yards rushing and scored 7 rushing TD’s that season, and was as electrifying a quarterback as any in the league that year.

Young struggled as a passer throughout his tenure in Tennessee, but made the Pro Bowl again in 2009 after throwing for 10 TD’s and 1,879 yards in only ten starts. In Young’s final year in Tennessee, he threw 10 TD passes to only 3 INT’s in nine games, managing a career-high passer rating of 98.6.

Johnson also did some great work with the backup and replacement quarterbacks he worked with. Former Fresno State Quarterback Billy Volek also spent time working with Johnson as the backup quarterback of the Titans from 2002 to 2005. In 2004, when Steve McNair missed significant time with injury, Volek was brilliant in relief, throwing for nearly 2,500 yards and 18 TD’s while completing 61.1% of his passes in eight starts and ten game appearances.

In back-to-back games against Kansas City and Oakland late in the 2004 season, Volek completed 69 of 103 pass attempts for a combined 918 yards and eight touchdowns to only one interception, one of the most incredible back-to-back performances of any quarterback in NFL history. In 10 starts and 23 game appearances between 2002 and 2005, Volek completed nearly 61% of his passes for over 3500 yards and 26 TD’s to 13 interceptions.

Early in the 2008 season, Vince Young went down with a knee injury, and was replaced by the 36-year old Kerry Collins. Collins, who had been the backup in Tennessee for the previous two seasons and had thrown one TD pass in 172 attempts during ten game appearances, filled in admirably. He led the Titans to a 12-3 record in his 15 games as a starter, throwing for almost 2,700 yards and 12 TD’s and earning himself a trip to Hawaii.

His 80.2 passer rating was the third highest of his career up to that point.  Collins found himself filling in a lot for Young in 2009 and 2010, logging 13 starts in those two years and recording over 3,000 yards passing and 20 TD’s.

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  • Johnson spent his final year in Tennessee working as a running backs coach after being replaced by Dowell Loggains as the QB’s coach, and then was out in Tennessee when Jeff Fisher resigned and found himself working with QB’s again, this time in Minnesota under OC Bill Musgrave and head coach Leslie Frazier. In his first year, he worked with the rookie Christian Ponder and an aging and – quite frankly – disinterested Donovan McNabb.

    McNabb threw for 1026 yards and 4 TD’s in six starts as the Vikings started 1-5, and the team turned to Ponder.  Ponder played very much like a rookie, throwing 13 TD’s and 13 INT’s and completing 54.3% of his passes to lead the team to a 2-8 record the rest of the way. In 2012, with a healthy Adrian Peterson having his near-record 2,097 yard season behind him, Ponder improved significantly, completing 62% of his passes for 2,935 yards and throwing 18 TD passes.

    While the narrative of the 2012 Vikings season is that the team simply rode Peterson into the playoffs, Ponder averaged over 30 pass attempts per game that year while Peterson rushed just under 22 times per game. Ponder was also the teams second-leading rusher in 2012, with 60 attempts for 253 yards and 2 TD’s. Ponder did benefit from the presence of WR/KR/RB Percy Harvin, who caught 62 of his passes, and TE Kyle Rudolph, who caught nine of his 18 TD passes.

    In 2013, veteran QB Matt Cassel was brought in to push or guide the young Ponder, and the two ended up in competition for the starting job. Ponder completed 63.6% of his passes, but threw nine picks to only 7 TDs, in his nine starts, losing time to both injury and “coaches’ decision.” Meanwhile, Cassel threw for nearly 1,800 yards and 11 TD’s in eight games where he saw significant action.

    Neither QB could salvage the season, and Leslie Frazier and staff were fired as the franchise rebooted after the 2013 season. Johnson spent 2014 working with the Giants’ running backs for Tom Coughlin, and is still currently under contract, so it is not clear that he would even be allowed to interview for or take a QB coaching job with the Raiders.

    Johnson would be a solid hire, bringing some significant experience and a solid resume to the table for the Raiders. He has had success with a number of quarterbacks, both young QB’s like Billy Volek and Vince Young, and old QB’s like Steve McNair and Kerry Collins. He did his best with Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel, but Ponder is no Billy Volek or Vince Young, and Matt Cassel is no Steve McNair or Kerry Collins.

    Johnson is obviously very familiar with the Raiders coaching staff, having served as Bill Musgrave’s QB’s coach in Minnesota and having helped prepare his quarterbacks to face Jack Del Rio’s Jacksonville teams fourteen times in his career.  He could make a solid fit for the veteran Raiders coaching staff.

    Next: Candidate #2: Dowell Loggains