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Tony Sparano does not pull punches in team meetings. If a player or position group is failing in a certain regard, the Raiders interim head coach will let them know. In no uncertain terms.
“We know what he expects from us and what he sees out of us,” defensive tackle Antonio Smith said. “That included the bad things. When he talks about the bad, he gives it to you blood raw. There’s no sugar coating.”
There were plenty of things to criticize after an 0-4 start. The offense is the NFL’s worst in scoring and total yards. The run defense is porous. The pass rush isn’t sacking the quarterback often enough. The ground game can’t get out of it’s own way.
“You have to give respect to your opponent, no question about that,” Sparano said. “But we’ve got to take look at how Oakland is beating Oakland.”
That’s how he made this criticism constructive. He talked about technical miscues and incorrect alignments, poor tackling angles and run fits. He offered solutions, devoting portions of practice to fundamental work.
He also offered some light, saying that the Raiders aren’t all bad despite an 0-4 record. No defense has allowed more trips into the red zone, but only three teams allow fewer touchdowns inside the 20.
According to the Associated Press, they have an NFL-low 13 offensive plays for negative plays. Sparano brought up that stat and a few others to show that all is not lost.
“That’s a good technique. It’s a powerful Jedi-mind trick that Obi Wan Kenobi used to use,” Smith said. “It’s something this team really needs. It needs to believe in itself. You need full belief in what we are and who we can be. The moment he took the stage (during our first meeting) he brought that commanding presence.
“He knows what we’ve done well and what we’ve done bad. If you focus on nothing but the bad, there’s this thing called a tank that you go in. That’s when you stop caring about winning or losing and just come to work every day. It’s not in my DNA or anyone around here, but it has happened.”
The Raiders desperately want to avoid that. All these aims are designed to get the Raiders moving in a positive direction. Sparano’s candor, in good times and bad, has his players buying in to this new method.
“You knew right off the bat that this isn’t another one of those guys come in just to fill time and do the best he can do, so he can win a head coaching job next year,” Smith said. “No, he said, ‘I’m going to demand more out of you. I’m going to give you more and I want more wins out of the team.’”