Hue Jackson spoke with the media Thursday, and the topic of his standing in the Oakland Raiders organization came up. Earlier in the week, Jason Cole of Yahoo Sports reported a rift between the offensive coordinator and head coach Tom Cable. “We laughed about it,” Jackson reiterated what Cable had said Monday.
“I’m really surprised. I don’t know where all that stuff comes from. We all here have a pretty good working relationship. I have known Tom here longer than probably anybody that’s on this staff, other than Mike Waufle because I worked with those guys before. I was a little surprised by it.“
Jackson didn’t stop there. The first-year offensive coordinator made himself even more clear on the topic. “There’s no truth to it. It’s amazing how things get out there like that. One thing I do know is that we’re here and we’re going to do everything we can to win football games. Myself, Tom, our whole staff, that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to become the best staff in the league and we’re trying to become the best team in the league. And that’s a work in progress.“
That ‘work in progress’ may include getting some of his offensive players more involved in the game plan. After accounting for 95 yards rushing two weeks ago in San Diego, Michael Bush rushed just five times for 22 yards against Jacksonville, yet Bush has routinely been told that he’ll get more carries.
While Jackson doesn’t believe Bush hasn’t gotten opportunities this season, he’d definitely like to see him get more. “Obviously Darren’s been the hot guy and Michael’s had his opportunities too,” said Jackson. “We’d love to get him more, no question, but I think they kind of feed off each other. I’d like to see Michael get more touches than he has. Sometimes games dictate otherwise, but Michael’s been great about it.“
Getting Bush on the field more is a problem for Jackson, even though the offensive coordinator won’t come right out with it. However, he did intimate that Darren McFadden is a roadblock to seeing more time for Bush. “That situation’s been good but there’s no question he’s a very good football player that we’d love to have play more but right now this guy McFadden’s playing really good.“
Despite McFadden’s 997 yards rushing this season, Jackson believes that the third-year tailback has only scratched the surface of what he’ll eventually become. “There’s no doubt, there’s no question,” Jackson answered to a question asking if there was more improvement to see from McFadden in the future.
“I’m not surprised by anything Darren’s done. When I came here I told him he was going to be one of the better backs in the league and not because I was here, just because that’s what I believe he is. I seen the young man when he was coming out being drafted, a phenomenal talent and it’s starting to show week in and week out. What he’s doing, I don’t think any of us are surprised by it. I don’t think he’s surprised by it. I just think that there is a lot more there. There’s a ton more there. There’s more runs, more catches, more opportunities for him and I expect him to go get them.“
The Raiders have another highly touted draft pick that thus far hasn’t been the type of presence on the field that McFadden has — Darrius Heyward-Bey. Jackson says not to worry about that, because it’s more of a system issue rather than a player issue. “That happens in our system,” said the offensive coordinator. “In order for Darren to do what he’s doing, it means somebody better be running downfield to get some of these guys up off of us a little bit.“
Despite what most analysts have said about the second-year pro out of Maryland, Jackson is standing behind Heyward-Bey, and isn’t ashamed to do it. “I think Darrius has done his job. It’s unfortunate but I think everybody has this expectation that he’s supposed to catch seven balls or eight balls in every game. I don’t see that. I don’t think that that’s what it’s all about. It’s about him doing what we ask him to do play in and play out.“
“There’s a lot that goes into a football game. It’s not just Darrius Heyward-Bey catching eight balls. It’s about him having opportunities to catch the balls that are thrown his way, which he did last week. I thought he did a tremendous job.“
Jackson said that there have been games in which the Raiders haven’t thrown Heyward-Bey the ball like they should have, some games in which he was covered and they went a different way, and some games in which his receiver was taken completely out of the game by the other team. Even so, his 21 receptions for 306 yards and one touchdown is a little lean for the seventh pick in the draft going into the 14th game of his second year.
Nonetheless, Jackson did make his case to the media on Heyward-Bey’s behalf. “This guy a year ago was ridiculed, honestly, for dropping balls. I don’t see that. We all can agree to that, right? That’s not happening. This guy is catching the ball in games. He has more catches than he did a year ago and he’s playing with confidence. I see improvement.“
But Jackson was clear about wanting more from his highly paid pass catcher without backtracking on his previous statements during the press conference. “There’s no question we want to see the big jump and I think that’s coming. I want him to have that eight catch game for 224 yards and three touchdowns. I think that’s around the corner, but I want to see improvement from our whole offensive football team and that’s what we’re doing and that’s what I’m most proud of. Now what we need is wins. We need to do whatever it takes to win and that’s the true reality of what we’re doing.“
If Jackson is having trouble getting more opportunities to Heyward-Bey, it’s highly unlikely that Chaz Schilens will make much of an impact the rest of the season. Schilens, who’s been injured often over the last three years, has been playing sparingly since coming back against San Diego two weeks ago. In the two games he’s played, he’s been thrown to twice without any catches.
Schilens, at 6’4″ and 225 pounds, is a big target — something Jackson covets in a receiver. “He’s a big, physical presence,” said Jackson. “I’ve always said this: Big throwing to big in this league is unstoppable. I really do (believe that). And he’s another big athlete who we get a chance to put out there.“
While chances are not good that Schilens will make much of a difference, Jackson no doubt is thinking of ways to utilize him. “He’s just finding his way. I’m glad to have him back out there. He’s doing a tremendous job. Hopefully, he’ll get in the mix here soon and catch some balls and make some plays like all our other guys. But he’s a tremendous talent.“
With the success that Jackson has had with a Raiders offense that has mostly been miserable for the last seven years, other teams will most likely give him the opportunity to discuss a head coaching position at the end of the season. There has also been talk that he could be a candidate in Oakland if Cable’s contract is not renewed.
Jackson wasn’t as willing to throw his hat in the ring just yet. Asked if he’d be interested in one of the open head coaching positions at the end of the year, Jackson responded cryptically, “Let me say this: I have the best job in football right here, coaching with the Oakland Raiders as their offensive coordinator. I like what I do. I like our players. I like the people that I’m around every day. I’ve gotten to know some of you and I’ve enjoyed my time here.“
After handing out the gratuitous response, Jackson continued, “I would be wrong to say that everybody who’s in my position doesn’t want to go have that opportunity some day to be the best that they can be. That’s what I want to do. That’s what we all want to do.“
“But I love what I’m doing right now,” Jackson said as he went back into being gracious to the Raiders. “I got three games to, hopefully, earn a fourth game here. That’s the most important thing that I got going. Like I said, I’m still pissed off about last week, about losing a game that we should have went down and scored on. So, my mind is so far away from what’s going to happen down the road because I have a great job here, with great people, a great owner and a great city. I’m enjoying it.“
With that being said, Jackson should be a hot coaching commodity this offseason. His demeanor, the way he handles the media, and how he’s coached the Raiders’ offense this season, has all of the makings of one of the future head coaching stars in the league.
So if a team calls, would he be interested this offseason?
“I would say if someone calls, I’m not going to tell you I’m going to say no because it al depends on what the situation is. But I’m not going to tell you that I’m going to say yes, either, because I’ve really enjoyed my time here and what’s happening here with Oakland Raider football.“
Chances are, Al Davis will want to find the next Hue Jackson to step in once the current offensive coordinator is gone.