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UPDATED: Two top coordinator candidates emerge for Raiders

With the Raiders having a new general manager and new head coach with no head coaching experience, it has been difficult to gauge how the Raiders’ coaching staff would look when it takes shape. But top candidates have now emerged for both the offensive and defensive coordinator positions.

The top candidate as it appears at this time for the offensive coordinator spot is Al Saunders. The Raiders had a resurgence on offense last season with Saunders as the offensive coordinator and having him back would keep some continuity despite the firing of Hue Jackson as head coach.

Several of the Raiders’ coaching staff have been at the Senior Bowl practices this week but only Saunders was there wearing Raiders gear representing the team. He is one of the most experienced offensive coordinators in the NFL and that experience would be of considerable assistance to Dennis Allen who not only is a first time head coach but is from the defensive side of the ball.

The most recent candidate to emerge for defensive coordinator is Kansas City Chiefs’ secondary coach Emmitt Thomas. He was mentioned shortly after Allen was hired as a possibility based on the fact that the two worked together in Atlanta when Allen got his first NFL coaching job. At the time, Thomas was the assistant head coach and defensive backs coach, and Allen was a defensive assistant specializing in the secondary.

When the idea first came up, it was simply connecting the dots because they worked together, but Friday it was confirmed by Alex Marvez of Fox Sports that Thomas is indeed in the mix for the position. The hiring would make a considerable amount of sense for the Raiders.

Thomas has spent the past two seasons as the Chiefs’ defensive backs coach. The season he arrived in Kansas City, the Chiefs defense jumped from the 30th ranked in the NFL to 11th and maintained that solid ranking last season.

Thomas, like Saunders, is a longtime NFL mind. He has been an NFL coach for over thirty years. He has also been a defensive coordinator for three different teams (Eagles, Packers, Vikings) from 1995-2001. On top of that, he was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008 as a player.

UPDATE: Just hours after confirming Emmitt Thomas was “in the mix” for the Raiders DC position, Alex Marvez confirmed that Thomas is “OUT of the mix.” BUT, as things often go, another candidate has come to light. Another defensive coach who has ties with Dennis Allen is the Saints defensive line coach Bill Johnson. He now becomes the top candidate for the position. Though being “in the mix” is not confirmed, the connection between the two is undeniable.

Bill Johnson and Dennis Allen have spent nearly their entire coaching careers together. They coached together at Texas A&M in the late nineties, then Johnson came to the Falcons in 2001 and Allen joined him the following season. They also coached together in New Orleans during Johnson’s first two seasons as the Saints defensive line coach.

Johnson has a long history of developing defensive line talent in his 11 years as an NFL coach.

In Johnson’s fourth year as an NFL coach with the Falcons, Atlanta reached the NFC Championship Game with the defensive line leading the NFL in sacks (48) for the first time in franchise history. The Falcons also ranked eighth in the NFL in run defense, Patrick Kerney had a career-high 13 sacks and Rod Coleman led all defensive tackles with 11.5.

Coleman was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2005, and his 28 sacks from 2004-06 were the most by a defensive tackle in the NFL over that span. Kerney was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2004, and the defensive end had 53 sacks under Johnson’s tutelage from 2001-06, notching at least 10 sacks in three seasons.

During his tenure as defensive line coach with Atlanta from 2001-06, the team twice ranked in the top 10 in fewest yards allowed and fewest yards per carry (2004, 2006).

During his two seasons with the Broncos, he coached a unit that in 2007 tied for second in the NFL with nine takeaways, combining for seven fumble recoveries and two interceptions. That season, DE Elvis Dumervil tied for sixth in the league with 12.5 sacks.

The line thrived under Johnson in 2009. Defensive end Will Smith finished fifth in the NFL with a career-high 13 sacks. The defense finished second in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage (39.3). In 2010, the Saints defense improved from 25th in the NFL to 4th in yardage allowed.

Reports say that the Raiders would not officially announce Dennis Allen as the team’s head coach until he has a staff put together. The team has scheduled the press conference to announce him for next Monday, January 30 at noon. So it is possible we could know by then which candidates will indeed be on staff.

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