ALAMEDA. (AP) — Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen and his staff delivered a clear message during their first official meeting with their new players.
Being the biggest and fastest team was no longer good enough. Knowing how to play football the right way is now paramount.
The Raiders began their first offseason program under Allen on Monday. Allen was brought in by new general manager Reggie McKenzie in January as part of a major culture change in Oakland. After being run one way for decades by late owner Al Davis, things will be different under the new regime.
The biggest changes will come on defense where despite keeping a 4-3 base alignment, new linebacker Philip Wheeler said the coaches promised a lot more blitzing and variety than Oakland had used in the past.
“I actually heard some of the coaches saying we’re not just big and fast anymore,” Wheeler said. “We’re going to be big, fast and we’re going to be smarter, work harder and have good football players.”
Wheeler signed a one-year deal last week to join the Raiders, where he is slotted in as the starting strongside linebacker.
He picked the Raiders over Miami and credited an aggressive campaign by Raiders fans on Twitter with persuading him to sign in Oakland.
“That kind of helped me in my decision because it showed me how big of a football city this is and how much they paid attention to football instead of going somewhere else,” he said.
Wheeler played 13 games for Indianapolis last season, making 80 tackles and recording one sack. He played four seasons overall with the Colts with 182 tackles and two sacks.
He said he is looking forward to leaving the structure of the Cover-2 defense in Indianapolis for a more freewheeling style under defensive coordinator Jason Tarver.
“Coach Tarver told me there was going to be a lot of blitzing, just a lot of mixing up things, not just standing still in Cover 2 like I did with the Indianapolis Colts,” Wheeler said. “Nothing against that, we had a great offense that kept the lead a lot. We were able to sit back in Cover 2 and rush the passer a lot because teams had to catch up, and we had two great defensive ends that did that. But I also like to rush the passer and everything from the linebacker position and coach Tarver told me that it would be some of that going on.”
The Raiders also were not known for blitzing under Davis’ leadership. He preferred his teams to play man coverage and win individual battles with superior size and speed.
“They were always bigger, faster and stronger than everybody,” Wheeler said. “But the awareness of the game, some of it was down or whatever. I feel like Mr. McKenzie brought in a lot of players in who actually know how to play the game and aren’t just faster than everybody. We have actual football players here now.”
Wheeler also comes in with detailed knowledge of one of Oakland’s newest adversaries. Having played in Indianapolis with new Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, Wheeler now gets to translates what he learned on the practice field to the games when he faces the Broncos twice each season.
“He’s always unpredictable. That’s why he was so good,” Wheeler said. “You don’t know where he is going with the ball. You know what type of play he runs but you don’t know when he’s going to run it. I feel like I’m better just from going up against him in practice every day and I’ll be prepared to face any quarterback like that. I think I can help the team do that.”