I’m not exactly sure what an Assistant Head Coach Defense is, but on Monday, the Raiders brought in John Pagano to fill that crucial (and unheard of) position.
— FOX 5 San Diego (@fox5sandiego) January 24, 2017
Let’s do our best to sort out the Raiders version of double secret probation.
So, who is John Pagano?
Pagano comes over from the San Dieg-errrr-Los Angeles Chargers where he had been Defensive Coordinator for the last 5 years (after previously working with the Chargers since 2002). Pagano has had moderate success since taking over as DC, in 5 seasons running the Defense, they were ranked in the top half (16th or better) in 3 of those seasons. Twice, Pagano’s units were in the top 10.
What exactly is an “Assistant Head Coach Defense”?
I’m just speculating, but I think it’s a nice way of saying Ken Norton Jr has been demoted (while retaining him in a lesser role). I’m guessing Jack has a great deal of respect for Ken, they were teammates at one time, and he may be doing him a solid on this one. Based on the way the Defense performed in 2016, firing Norton Jr outright would have been easily justified, but I’ve gotta think Pagano didn’t come here to serve under a much less accomplished Coordinator, so until we learn otherwise, I’m going to assume Pagano (and rightfully so), is running this Defense.
What system should we expect under Pagano?
The Chargers have deployed a 3-4 base, but not your typical 3-4 where a massive NT covers the 2 gap in the middle. Think more of the Wade Phillips hybrid 3-4 where an athletic tackle is asked to penetrate often, which could perhaps help Jihad Ward become more useful than the traffic cone he was in 2016. Under Pagano, I would look for Mario Edwards Jr (if healthy) to thrive, and if someone like Calais Campbell could be brought in…my god.
Pagano has been particularly successful working with linebackers, and ours have been MIA in recent years (outside of Mack whos most often with his hand in the dirt). I wouldn’t be completely shocked if the team brought in Manti Te’o for a look, though I would not support such a move, his style of play is repulsive if you enjoy mean, physical (and not completely shitty) linebackers (as I do).
Reasonable expectation for our 2017 Defense.
I’d say average would be realistic. We’ve still got a few holes to fill, but with the reigning DPOY, and a full season of Edwards Jr, I think improvement should be expected. I’d also expect Karl Joseph to take the next step in his sophomore campaign, Safety is a notoriously difficult position for rookies to grasp immediately, Joseph’s mental game should benefit from the year under his belt. The biggest reason for optimism is the move we just made, Ken Norton Jr has been in over his head running this D, Pagano at worst is mediocre, but there are reasons to think that he might be the right man for this job. With Derek Carr leading the offense, just fielding an average defense could lead to a whole lot of wins next season.
One final note, Pagano got his coaching start as a Graduate Assistant at UNLV. I’m sure some will speculate that Pagano may have been attracted to moving back to Las Vegas, though I won’t do that now (oops, I just did).