Why Raiders coach John Pagano is more likely to save Ken Norton Jr.’s job than take it

Many Oakland Raiders fans, myself included, were hopeful that the team would part ways with defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. this offseason. After watching one of the worst Raiders defenses in recent memory and one of the league’s worst defenses in 2016, it just made sense that if the Raiders were going to part ways with a coordinator, it would be KNJ.

Instead, the Raiders said goodbye to offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and added a new assistant head coach for defense in John Pagano.

Instantly, many Raiders fans, myself included, saw Pagano as a threat to Ken Norton Jr. An axe hanging over his head, if you will, so that if the defense continues to struggle, the Raiders will have his replacement waiting.

But as the offseason rolls on and I’ve had time to really do some deep reflection on the roster, the newest additions and all of the changes, the more I feel like Ken Norton, Jr. is going to survive 2017. It’s not that I’ve seen anything that makes me think this Raiders defense will be light years better. It’s that I don’t think it has to be light years better in order for KNJ to keep his job.

If the Raiders defense shows improvement and isn’t a liability the way it was for the majority of the 2016 season, I can’t see Jack Del Rio parting ways with Ken Norton Jr. The defense doesn’t even have to be good, per se, it just doesn’t have to be terrible. And with new players on the roster and an experienced defensive coordinator in Pagano to help him through the rough patches, I imagine that Norton is capable of putting a defense on the field that won’t impress many, but will allow him to keep his job.

I mean after all, we already started to see improvement from the defense later in the season when Norton made slight changes to the secondary. If he continues down that path with the aid of Pagano, we could see some big time improvement. With Karl Joseph continuing to improve and two new young studs to add to the secondary, a unit that was one a huge liability for the Raiders actually looks fairly solid. And if the Raiders can improve their pass rush (something John Pagano is known to be good at) then the secondary will play even better.

Linebacker looks like it could still be an issue but if the secondary and pass rush improves, that will be more than enough to take this defense from a bottom five to a top fifteen. If they can do that, it will be more than enough to save Ken Norton, Jr’s job. As it just so happens, in addition to being known as a guy who can get a pass rush going, Pagano also spent much of his professional coaching career working with linebackers.

Because while we saw the defense improve to end the season, we also saw that Jack Del Rio does not want to fire KNJ unless he has to. There were plenty of legitimate reasons to part ways with KNJ and Del Rio opted to create a whole new coaching position rather than part ways with Norton. And with the addition of Pagano to help him game plan and better players to execute, I really think this is a defensive unit that will cause some frustrations but will be good enough to ensure we see KNJ in Silver and Black at least through the 2018 season.

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