Why Allen is on the list
When Around the League's gang of scribes huddled to come up with our 40 candidates for "Making the Leap," our choice for the Oakland Raiders took an unusual turn.
I suggested coach Dennis Allen instead of one of his players, but at least one of my co-writers wasn't buying it.
"If they win six games, I'll eat my softball pants," Chris Wesseling declared.
That sealed it, and my ambivalence toward the Raiders has given way to grand visions of Wess at a quaint tabletop, his freshly laundered sporting garments spread before him and accompanied by fork, knife and maybe a healthy dabble of Grey Poupon.
Trouser cuisine aside, Allen's here for a reason: Despite strong backing from general manager Reggie McKenzie, Allen's leadership is under the microscope on a Raiders team that will struggle to improve upon last year's 4-12 mark. It's unrealistic to expect better results from this year's paper-thin roster, but good coaching will go a long way toward fostering buy-in from Allen's young players.
If he isn't up to the task, Allen's second season in Oakland could morph into one of the NFL's biggest train wrecks.
It's easy to pick on the Raiders, but McKenzie walked into a ghastly scenario when he took the job 18 months ago. Short on draft picks and mired in salary-cap hell, the well-respected GM has worked tirelessly to revive this struggling, behind-the-times organization from the inside out. It's a painful process that still continues.
The challenges are everywhere. There's no clear-cut franchise quarterback, and the team's best player on offense, Darren McFadden, is a sometimes-dangerous runner who can't stay healthy. On defense, McKenzie used his first-ever first-round draft pick on D.J. Hayden. The Raiders are thrilled with the cornerback's potential, but few teams in the AFC have more issues in the front seven.
Allen's pedigree is defensive wizardry, but the Raiders might have the AFC's worst unit in 2013. Until more talent arrives, Allen will struggle to put his stamp on this group the way he did with the Denver Broncos' D in 2011. The win-loss record could be ugly, so it's important for Allen to win the public-perception battle, making his vision clear for everyone from owner Mark Davis down to the 8-year-old Raiders fan wondering when Sundays will be fun again.
Our very own Elliot Harrison put Allen on his list of hot-seat coaches heading into the season. Elliot's argument -- that Allen's presumed loose leash doesn't mean much if Oakland crumbles -- is sound. I tend to believe Allen can save his job if he emerges as the primary voice of this organization. Sink or swim, he can't be a wallflower in Year 2.
If Allen sometimes lies awake at night, wishing he never left Denver, who could blame him? This might be the NFL's toughest head-coaching job of all in 2013, but it's also an opportunity for Allen to prove that Oakland -- missing many parts -- has a leader to hold onto.
Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.