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Guenther Hints He’s Bringing Back Press Coverage to Raiders Defense

Photo: Sports Illustrated

Guenther Hints He’s Bringing Back Press Coverage to Raiders Defense

When Jon Gruden named Paul Guenther his defensive coordinator upon his return to Oakland, many welcomed the addition of a more aggressive and seasoned coach to a team that has struggled defensively for years. But will Guenther bring press coverage back to the Raiders?

Raiders Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther dropped some hints on what his defense will look like this season in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated. One of the hidden gems inside that interview should get some longtime Raiders fans excited, as Guenther seemed to indicate that the defense will feature more press coverages.

“Guenther not only wants unified verbiage, with everyone calling everything the same thing, he wants many of the instructions unified,” SI writer Andy Benoit wrote. “For example, Guenther told his coaches to have cornerbacks ‘kick-slide and not let the receiver go untouched.’ A coach who tells a cornerback to just press and kick-slide is wrong; he must say, ‘Kick-slide and not let the receiver go untouched.’ The more unified the verbiage, the easier it is to teach and learn deviated concepts.”

When Guenther said ‘kick-slide and not let the receiver go untouched,’ he told us what technique the cornerbacks will be playing this season. It is a form of press that has the corner mirror the receiver’s release and strikes him as he attempts to get past and run his route.

Man coverage and the Oakland Raiders have been synonymous ever since Al Davis came to the organization, as a head coach, on January 18, 1963. The last few seasons under former head coach Jack Del Rio and former defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. saw the team run more zone concepts with off coverages with some poor results.

Last season saw the Raiders defense rank 20th in points, 26th in passing yards, and, of course, dead last (32nd) in interceptions. Nobody has to be reminded that it took 11 games last year for the defense to secure their first interception of the season.

Even during the 2016 campaign that saw Oakland finish with a 12-4 record, the defense ranked 20th in points and 24th in passing yards. They did come in ninth in interceptions which helped make that winning record possible. Hopefully, the switch to more man coverages can improve those numbers this season, fans grew increasingly frustrated watching plays like this.

I do have to point out that defensive back Obi Melifonwu plays his responsibility in this quarters coverage correctly. It is completely understandable why fans would be frustrated witnessing another receiver seemingly left wide open 10-yards downfield. Melinfonwu has to drop with the vertical route being run by the second receiver. This drop left the first receiver alone on his curl route. You would like to see the front-side linebacker widen his zone to take away that throwing lane, but he did have a receiver in the middle of the field he had to be aware of as well. Opposing offenses taking advantage of zone coverages will be a thing of the past with the press coverages the Raiders will employ this season.

When Guenther said “kick-slide and not let the receiver go untouched,” he told us what technique the cornerbacks will be playing this season. It is a form of press that has the corner mirror the receiver’s release and strikes him as he attempts to get past and run his route.

Projected starters, Gareon Conley and Rashaan Melvin, are long and rangy cornerbacks, with Conley listed at 6’0″ and Melvin coming in at 6’2″ tall. A press system will take advantage of their size and allow them to use their length to physically manipulate opposing wide receivers.

” I feel like it (Guenther’s system) suites me well,” Conley said during minicamp. “We play press a lot, just like I did in college. I mean that is basically the defense for the corners. Play press man and lock your man down.”

The biggest difference in this first technique and the jam style press most people are used to is the corner’s first step. In the kick-slide, as the first video shows, the corner matches the receivers release in a lateral motion. As he mirrors the release, the defensive back will club or strike with the opposite hand of the direction of the release.

He will continue to use his legs to force the receiver off his route for the first few yards. Typically the corner will then play a “Dog” or trail technique and only look back for the ball at the last second. Compare that to this video of Nick Saban‘s press technique.

This is a much more aggressive form of press coverage. The first step is towards the receiver with the release side foot and a club from the release side hand. It is extremely important not to miss with the strike in this technique as it will not only allow a free release but the receiver will be running behind and away from the cornerback.

Opening his hips back to the ball (quarterback) is another difference between these two techniques. In Saban’s pattern match system a corner may come off a receiver and cover another one based completely on the route combination. It remains to be seen if Guenther uses any pattern matching schemes in his system.

Of course, NFL wide receivers are masters of beating aggressive press coverages and creating big plays as a result. Photographs from this off-season’s minicamp also seem to indicate that the cornerback’s technique will be much more in line with the first video than the second.

Going back to their roots in the new defensive scheme should have the players and fans excited for the upcoming season. The Raiders have some long, physical cornerbacks. Letting them use their length and speed will give Oakland’s list of pass rushers an extra second or two to get to the quarterback. If the defense can perform even at an average level, the offense could put some games away. Head coach Jon Gruden‘s first season back in Oakland should get to where his last season with the team ended, the playoffs.

 

Chris Reed is the former Senior NFL analyst for Silver and Black Today.

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