Humboldt Beacon (http://www.humboldtbeacon.com)

Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther talks Jon Gruden, Khalil Mack and more


By Matt Schneidman, Bay Area News Group

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

(Click here, if you are unable to view this photo gallery on your mobile device.)
Paul Guenther spoke to Bay Area media Wednesday for the first time since being hired by Jon Gruden last week.
The former Bengals defensive coordinator said Cincinnati tried to keep him on staff, but the urge to start anew with someone like Gruden became too intriguing.
Here are five notable things Guenther said on his conference call with reporters.
1. Why he left Cincinnati for Oakland
Guenther coached with the Bengals since 2005, serving as the defensive coordinator since 2014. In Guenther’s four years leading Cincinnati’s defense, his unit ranked 12th, second, eighth and 16th in points per game allowed.
In those same four years, the Raiders ranked 32nd, 22nd, 20th and 20th in the same category. Though he inherits a weaker defense than back east, Guenther couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
“I’ve known Jon for a long time and just the ability to come with him and start something fresh from the ground up really excited me,” Guenther said. “I’ve been in Cincinnati for a long time. My kids were basically raised there. I know a lot of the players, but to have this opportunity with Jon to come to the Raiders and the brand of the Raiders really attracted me. Overall, just the opportunity to come coach with him, see him do it, see how he runs this organization and the team will be a great thing for me to learn from.”
Guenther said Washington head coach Jay Gruden, Jon’s younger brother, tried to pluck him last offseason since the two know each other well from their days as coordinators in Cincinnati. With one season remaining on Guenther’s contract in Cincinnati, though, the Bengals wouldn’t allow the move. A year later, and the other Gruden brother lured Guenther away from his longtime home instead.
“Cincinnati made a strong push to keep me there, but the opportunity to come out here with Jon and start this thing from the ground up was way too intriguing,” Guenther said. “I just looked at it as an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.”
2. What he sees in Khalil Mack
Mack erupted in the second half of the season, tallying six sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the Raiders’ final seven games.
A monstrous payday awaits in the near future, and Guenther can’t wait to have one of the NFL’s best pass-rushers at his disposal.
“I watched pretty much every game from last year and actually I watched a couple from 2016. Having a talent like that and ability of a guy like that, certainly you wanna make it the centerpiece of the defense,” Guenther said. “We gotta continue to develop our younger players to bring those guys up to speed and add people as we go through the draft and free agency, but he’s a guy that you can really build the foundation through and around. He’s an exciting guy to be able to coach for sure.”
Asked later in the call about his blitzing philosophy, Guenther expressed his desire to do something many teams visibly tried to combat this year.
“I’d like to get Khalil Mack one-on-one,” Guenther said. “That’s more of a blitz to me than anything.”
3. His impression of the defense he inherits
The Raiders were terrible defensively under Ken Norton Jr. and average under John Pagano for the season’s final six games.
Oakland finished 20th in points per game allowed (23.3), 12th in rushing yards allowed per game (108.9), 26th in passing yards surrendered per game (241.1) and 23rd in total yards per game allowed (350.1).
“I believe there are a lot of good players here, a lot of good young players,” Guenther said. “You gotta get ‘em out and develop ‘em and get ‘em to understand your system. I think there’s a lot of good pieces here for a foundation for sure. Obviously every year, whether you’re the No. 1 defense in the league or the No. 32 defense in the league, you’re always looking to add pieces and fill out your lineup card. That’s what we’re gonna be working through the spring and the draft and free agency, as well as developing the young players that we have here.
The Raiders featured a mixture of youth and grizzled veterans last season, combining the likes of Eddie Vanderdoes, Nicholas Morrow, Cory James and Karl Joseph with Reggie Nelson, NaVorro Bowman, Bruce Irvin and Mack.
Next season more young talent will be counted on, mainly in Gareon Conley, Obi Melifonwu, and a likely early draft pick.
“This day in age in the NFL, when you draft guys and you think they’re worthy, you gotta get ‘em out on the field,” Guenther said. “You can’t sit on these guys for a couple years because before you know it, their rookie contracts are over and they’re out the door. So I certainly think there are some good young prospects here that I’m eager to work with.”
4. What he remembers scouting Gareon Conley
The Bengals took cornerback William Jackson III with the 24th overall pick in 2016, so they weren’t going cornerback in the first round for the second straight year.
Even though Cincinnati chose wide receiver John Ross in the 2017 first round, Guenther’s impression of Conley out of college sticks with him today.
“We’re not too far from Ohio State, so we drove up there and they had plenty of guys coming out,” Guenther said. “Actually he was probably my favorite corner coming out last year. We didn’t take one last year because we took one the year before, but he was my favorite corner coming out, just his ability. He’s smooth on the pedal. He’s a good press corner, which we love to have, so I’m excited to work with him.”
Conley played only two games this season, in Weeks 2 and 3, before hitting injured reserve with nagging shin issues. If Conley returns to full health, the Raiders will count on him to aid a cornerbacks group that struggled mightily in 2017.
5. He wants to keep NaVorro Bowman
The Raiders’ 29-year-old middle linebacker enters unrestricted free agency this offseason after serving as a stalwart run stopper for 10 games in Oakland.
Bowman stepped in on three days notice for a Thursday night win against Kansas City in Week 7 and assumed primary duties at middle linebacker for the remainder of the season. The Raiders face a decision of bringing back the veteran or opting for a younger set of legs in the middle.
Guenther has his opinion on the matter.
“I think NaVorro’s a prototype middle linebacker, really,” Guenther said. “The thing that impressed me the most with NaVorro was they got him here midseason and by the end of the year it appeared to me, without really talking to a lot of players, when you watch him on tape he was kind of the leader of the unit, really making a lot of the calls. It looks like he’s a smart guy that understands the game. I love smart guys that love playing football.
“Hopefully we can get him back in the fold and keep him a Raider.”