Josh McDaniels and Patrick Graham will be the much ballyhooed play callers for the Las Vegas Raiders this season. And for good reason. McDaniels — the head coach and architect of the Silver & Black’s offense — and Graham — orchestrating Vegas’ defense — are charged with uplifting and producing quality units.
The Raiders success (or failure) this coming season rides on the shoulders of the two coaches. Yet, while they’ll garner plenty off the attention, McDaniels’ and Graham’s ability will be predicated on how well Carmen Bricillo and Frank Okam do their jobs as offensive and defensive line coaches, respectively.
We got plenty of insight from both coaches during their post-OTAs media session last Thursday. Both know what they want out of their respective units — during the offseason and regular season, have a first-round talent they need to improve or turnaround, and are tasked with creating a starting unit while developing quality depth.
To Be Frank
From the second-ranked defensive tackle in the nation coming out of Lakeland Highlands High School in Dallas, to the University if Texas and, finally a fifth-round pick by the Houston Texans in the 2008 NFL DraftOkam is a player-turned-coach. Billed at a mammoth 6-foot-4 and 350-pounds during his playing days, Okam was a space-eating nose tackle.
After a five-year career (33 total tackles and no sacks), Okam turned to the coaching side of football and previously served as the Carolina Panthers defensive line boss. Now, he’s in Las Vegas where he’s joining forces with Graham and the rest of the defensive staff. As a new face in the place — like several coaches on the Raiders staff — Okam is getting acclimated and seeks his defensive line group to do the same.
“Well, really, right now it’s just about really learning the system, just trying to get guys acclimated, understanding what Coach (Patrick) Graham’s trying to teach the guys and just get them comfortable playing the defense and trying to get some technical things improved Okam said during his press conference.
Fortunately for Okam, his new gig in the desert comes with quite the bookends at edge rusher. The Raiders already had Maxx Crosby as a homegrown pass rush terror and the team brought in sack artists Chandler Jones in free agency. Quite the boon for Okam and Graham.
“Those are really two talented players and what’s even better is they are better people. And so, what you get from those guys, they offer great leadership to the young guys, players trying to figure out what it means to be a pro,” Okam said of Crosby and Jones. “So having them in the locker room and in the meeting room every single day, offering wisdom, offering advice, offering a physical example to the young players has been something that’s special.”
While Crosby and Jones developed into must-account-for type defenders, Okam is tasked with getting more out of Clelin Ferrell, the Raiders 4 overall selection in the 2019 draft. Through his first three season in the league, Ferrell’s racked up 79 total tackles, eight sacks, and two forced fumbles. The previous coaching staff toyed with moving Ferrell outside at defensive end to inside at defensive tackle at times, but nothing stuck. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Clemson product played the least amount of snaps in 2021 (261) during his time with the Raiders.
“You know, when you have somebody as big and athletic as him, all you really try to do is get him as confident as possible so he can play as many positions as possible,” Okam said of Ferrell. “And what I’ve seen so far from the spring is that he’s been receptive, he’s been all ears and he’s been eager, and he’s been playing with great effort. We’re just trying to establish the foundation.”
That type of specifics — where Ferrell will end up lining up, to how Crosby’s role potentially changes, and the 4-3 to 3-4 conversion — will be answered as the Raiders progress through the offseason, then training camp to preseason games and then the regular season.
There was no hesitation from the Raiders new offensive line boss when he was asked what he wants people to think when pitted against the Silver & Black OL. So much so, he said it twice.
“Smart, tough, play their best football when it counts the most. Smart, tough, play their best football when it counts the most,” Bricillo answered. “It’s something that as we’ve kind of gotten the basics of the system kind of installed and now we’re kind of rehashing some of it and they are hearing it for the second and third time, I’ve had an opportunity to start challenging them on some of those things of what you want your resume to be. When you put the film out there, what’s your resume, and so we’re starting to move towards that a little bit.”
High football IQ, sturdy and available, and combining all that in the most dire of times is slated to be the Raiders offensive line’s calling card under Bricillo’s tutelage. He learned from renowned New England Patriots OL boss — Dante Scarnecchia — and noted he would “be ignorant not to say that that hasn’t influenced me greatly.”
The smart part is integral to Bricillo’s philosophy as he, like head coach Josh McDaniels, aren’t looking for one-position, one-trick pony linemen up front. Hence why the Raiders initial roster showcases offensive linemen listed at more than one position. Such as rookie Dylan Parham, a prospect who can play at the guard spot and even center.
“He’s been really good. You had asked before the question about evaluating guys and I mean, Dylan, is definitely one of those guys that I think is important for an offensive lineman to be smart, tough and athletic enough. I mean, it starts with smart,” Bricillo noted. “He’s going to play multiple positions, right side, left side, center to guard, guard to tackle, whatever it may be. You have to be smart to be able to do that. Tough, because it’s not an easy job and it’s thankless. I mean, it is what it is. And then just do the athletic part. I mean, I’d like to think I’m smart and tough, but I’m definitely not athletic enough to play. But we ask Dylan to do a lot of things and like all the guys they’re just continuing each day to try to get better.”
Then there’s Leatherwood, the No 17 overall selection in the 2020 draft. Selected to assume the mantle at right tackle, which he did for four games, before being shuffled inside to guard, the Alabama product was not the plug-and-play type prospect the team hoped for. But all is not lost.
Leatherwood did play and start all 17 games his rookie year (1,105 snaps; 97 percent of the Raiders offensive snaps). That’s ample NFL snaps and teach tape to improve and the 6-foot-5, 312-pounder did tremendous offseason work to get into excellent shape. We’ll see if that translates. But Leatherwood’s willingness to hone his craft endears him to Bricillo.
“I think that’s a testament to him and what he’s about. I would say just like the rest of the guys, it’s a matter of just getting to know him, them getting to know me,” Bricillo said. “I mean, it’s definitely a part of that. So, in that regard, we’re all kind of working together. But I know like the rest of the guys, he’s a worker. He cares. He’s got a high standard for himself just like the other guys, and that’s a good thing.”