How New Oakland Raiders Coaching Staff May Shake Up the Running Game

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With the arrival of new head coach Jack Del Rio and OC Bill Musgrave, a new offensive philosophy has dawned in Oakland – or, more accurately, returned to Oakland. While the Raiders are only two years removed from having the 12th-ranked rushing offense in the NFL, that year was an aberration, borne out of necessity rather than desire. The Raiders ranked 32nd in rushing in 2014 and 28th in rushing in 2012, as both Greg Knapp and Greg Olson prefered to throw the ball rather than run. When Dennis Allen took over in 2012, he abandoned the philosophy that Hue Jackson had instilled in the Raider offense that had brought the team to two consecutive 8-8 seasons. With Jackson as OC and then as Head Coach, the Raiders had finished 2nd in rushing offense in 2010 and 7th in 2011.

That hard-running offensive philosophy may be back in Oakland, if the history of the current coaching staff is any indication. Between Del Rio, Bill Musgrave, and Mike Tice, the coaching staff has been a part of some of the most impressive and prolific rushing offenses in the NFL in the 21st century. In Del Rio and Musgrave’s two seasons together as Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator in Jacksonville, the Jaguars finished in the top half of the league in rushing both years, and ran the ball on roughly 45% of offensive snaps over those two seasons.

Mike Tice, the new O-line coach, was head coach in Minnesota when the franchise record for total rushing offense was set, and his best Vikings teams, as well as his 2012 Bears offense (where he was OC), ran the ball as much as 47% of the time.  Jack Del Rio’s Jaguars ran the ball regardless of who was his offensive coordinator, consistently finishing near the top of rushing offenses league-wide and in some years running the ball as much as 50% of the time. While Bill Musgrave was OC in Minnesota, Adrian Peterson had a 2,097 yard rushing season. While none of these coaches have ever worked with a quarterback quite as good as Derek Carr, it’s safe to say that they are going to want to run the ball heavily, and run it powerfully.

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Del Rio, a defensive coach by trade, is less invested in offensive scheme and x’s and o’s and more about philosophy, meaning the nuts and bolts of the run game will be handled by Musgrave, Tice, and potentially a running backs coach as well. During much of Del Rio’s run in Jacksonville, he had the talented Fred Taylor, a 6’1″, 230 pound back who clocked in at as fast as 4.28 40-yard dash before he was drafted. Taylor rushed for nearly 2,800 yards in two seasons with Musgrave as his OC.  In Minnesota, Musgrave had the incomparable Adrian Peterson, who is essentially a stronger, more elusive Fred Taylor.

Musgrave has made heavy use of fullbacks as lead blockers wherever he has been, especially in Minnesota, where he was not afraid to run Peterson out of I formations with extra tight ends. This dovetails nicely with the type of style that Tice coaches on the o-line: Tice is not a big proponent of the zone scheme, and likes to pull players to create power runs and kick out defensive ends or get downfield to linebackers and defensive backs. Del Rio, for his part, was willing to use a running back tandem if he had the luxury, and used Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew together for years.

In the passing game, Musgrave – who was originally a student of the West Coast offense as a player in San Francisco – uses backs as receivers sparingly, although he can and will do it: in 2012 in Minnesota, Adrian Peterson had 40 receptions, and in 2003 and 2004 in Jacksonville Fred Taylor had a total of 82 catches. The use of backs as pass protectors is of great value to both Del Rio and Musgrave, and will need to play a role behind a Mike Tice O-line, as Mike Tice O-lines are not necessarily always great pass-blocking units.

Bill Musgrave is also known for his ability to use unique players, notably Percy Harvin, who was with the Vikings when Musgrave was there. Harvin had his best season as an offensive weapon in 2011, gaining over 1,300 yards from scrimmage and scoring eight offensive touchdowns. Harvin was on pace for another huge year in 2012 with 773 yards from scrimmage through nine weeks before sustaining a season-ending injury. No other offensive coordinator has since been able to use the talented but unconventional Harvin in the manner in which Musgrave did in Minny.

So how will this philosophy and style fit the Raiders personnel? What changes to the running backs group will take place in order for Del Rio and Musgrave to execute their philosophy with the offense? Here are some potential scenarios

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