ALAMEDA — Todd Downing is walking into a pretty enviable position for his first career job as offensive coordinator.
The Oakland Raiders have one of the NFL’s top young quarterbacks in Derek Carr, two 1,000-yard receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, three Pro Bowl offensive linemen and a capable running game.
Downing is familiar with all those ingredients as well as the coaching staff after having spent the past two years as quarterbacks coach in Oakland before being promoted last month to coordinator.
“It’s an incredible blessing to have my first opportunity this way,” Downing said this week. “I know everybody on the staff very well. I know how to communicate with them. I know what makes them tick. I know what is the wrong way to approach things with them, which kind of gives me a great head start in that vein.”
Despite having an offense that ranked sixth in total yards, seventh in scoring and 10th in yards per play last season, and one that was the biggest reason the Raiders (12-5) made the playoffs for the first time since 2002, coach Jack Del Rio made a change at coordinator.
With other teams interested in hiring Downing away, Del Rio decided instead to promote his quarterbacks coach and let coordinator Bill Musgrave leave.
While the man calling the plays will change in 2017, the offense doesn’t figure to be very different.
“It will be very subtle,” Downing said. “We’re going to keep the same system terminologies. There’s no reason to change any of that stuff. All we’re doing right now is finding the ways that we can all individually do our jobs better, prepare our positions better, and how we can just quarter-turn a couple things to make the offense as efficient as possible.”
After helping Carr develop after an up-and-down rookie season in 2014, before Downing arrived, into a quarterback who emerged as a star last season with seven fourth-quarter comebacks before breaking his leg in the second-to-last game of the regular season, Downing wants him to take even more ownership of the offense in 2017.
Carr threw for 3,937 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, while throwing just six interceptions and taking only 16 sacks before the injury.
“Where I see him needing a little bit more command is being able to share his thoughts of game plans, being a student of the game as he already is, but being able to vocalize what he likes and doesn’t like,” Downing said. “I think my relationship with him is something that’s going to give him the opportunity to voice his opinions and I look forward to him really taking charge of expressing his thoughts on the offense.”
Downing has spent 15 years on NFL staffs, working his way up from a system analyst in Minnesota to quarterbacks coach in Detroit and Buffalo to his current role with the Raiders.
Downing said he has learned from several coaches but called Dallas offensive coordinator Scott Linehan the biggest influence on his career after spending time together in Minnesota and Detroit.
“He’s really my mentor in this profession,” Downing said. “He raised me, taught me how to coach quarterbacks, taught me how to put together a game plan. I certainly will use a lot of what he taught me. What’s unique about the situation here is I’m not installing an offense from the ground up. There’s already a system in place and there’s a lot about this system that’s not broke.”