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Oakland Raiders Tommy Kelly (93), bottom , Lamarr Houston (99) third from the bottom, and Rolando McClain (55) top tackle Denver Broncos Lance Ball (35) in the fourth quarter of their NFL game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010. (Anda Chu/Staff)

ALAMEDA -- Reggie McKenzie sits in an office talking about miscommunication, lack of discipline, poor tackling and, above all, the inability to correct these issues.

It is a few days before training camp and the first-year general manager, when asked his opinion of Oakland's recent squads, shakes his head at the mention of defense.

It becomes immediately evident McKenzie is no-bull guy, only as diplomatic as honesty allows.

"I didn't think we had a lot of great play from any particular unit," he says in a low, conspiratorial tone. "We had some great plays, but there was no consistency. There were no games where you'd say, 'Wow, the linebackers dominated!' There was no "Our corners had a shut 'em down!' There wasn't a lot of dominance.

"I felt some players should have been more dominant than they played."

No one was singled out. Neither was anyone spared. McKenzie's tone was not of scorn or indignation but of disappointment.

But he also has studied the offense, and there he observed tremendous energy and explosion, particularly with running back Darren McFadden and wide receiver corps.

McKenzie's chin rises and his tone brightens.

"D-Mac has the ability to change the game," McKenzie says, as if issuing a warning to opponents. "You saw some improvement with Darrius (Heyward-Bey), and having that speed threat is going to help -- if he can develop some consistency.

"The quarterback, I can't say a lot about because (of the circumstances under which he came to the team). The offensive line, I thought, usually held their own. I kind of like some of the things I saw on offense."

McKenzie is not unimpressed with Oakland's roster. He studied every game the Raiders have played the past two seasons and concluded there is enough overall talent for the team to play into January.

"I think there are enough players here, honestly, to go the playoffs," he says.

The implication is the staff under rookie head coach Dennis Allen is an upgrade over those assembled in recent years by Al Davis. The late former owner not only hired a succession of offensive-oriented head coaches but also chose most of the assistants. Despite constant turnover, the defense remained much the same, all too often inept.

Even when Hue Jackson, hired in 2010 as offensive coordinator and promoted to head coach for 2011, found ways to engineer an offensive breakthrough, the defense continued to sabotage opportunities.

McKenzie in doing his research saw the same characteristics Raiders fans have loved and hated for years. The same tendencies acknowledged and denied by the players, and the same qualities that have encouraged and demoralized previous coaching staffs.

There offense has a serviceable line and is capable of big plays on the ground and through the air.

But the defense is prone to allowing big plays. Poor tackling, sloppy gap control, defensive backs lost in coverage. And too many opposing runners and receivers finding open space.

"Mistakes happen; that's football," McKenzie says.

"But there was TOO MUCH of that! You can't have a lot of miscommunication, poor gap control, or coverage or lane irresponsibility — from week to week to week."

The bad habits and maddening inconsistencies -- some of which, to be fair, were enabled by the late former owner — must change if Allen is to lead Oakland to its first winning season since 2002.

And nearly all of the change has to occur with a defense that perennially has ranked among the worst in the NFL.

That McKenzie hired a head coach with a background in defense is not entirely by coincidence. Yes, McKenzie knows Oakland's offense has been its greatest unitary weakness. Yes, the defense and needed stronger guidance. And, yes, Reggie is a former Los Angeles Raiders linebacker.

But defense-first is McKenzie's basic football philosophy.

"In order to win not only championships but over the long term -- to be a consistent winner -- you have to be strong on defense," he says. "I think you win up front."

In his search for solutions to Oakland's defensive failures, McKenzie broke down every snap and examined every player. While many sports executives new to the job insist that what happened in the past is irrelevant, Reggie believes studying the past is a crucial part of player evaluation.

It's common sense. Is there any way to assess an inherited roster without studying the work of the individuals? What else, after all, is there to judge?

"I don't know (whether to blame) the players, the plays, the coaches or the technique," McKenzie says. "I'm not assuming anything. But when I look at the tape, a lot of times I'm wondering: 'Why did he do that?' There are other times when I wonder: `Why couldn't we make the tackle?'

"There were plays that could have been made, but a 3-yard gain turns into a 12-yard gain that continues the drive. It's mostly little things. They really are just little things."

That the Raiders did not exhibit an elite pass rusher is of little concern to McKenzie, because they often were able to pressure quarterbacks. But they did not cover well, haven't difficulty getting off the field.

"There would be a penalty here, a mental breakdown there," McKenzie says. "It's hard for me to put that totally on the players."

It won't be so hard in 2012 to assign and track accountability. McKenzie believes the chemistry -- player-to-player, coach-to-coach and player-to-coach -- will be positive, and that it will be easier to identify individuals for praise or criticism.

Accountability would be the most striking difference between the Raiders of old and the new Raiders. It's necessary and essential to play winning football.

Most already have adapted. Some who would have had difficulty adapting are gone. The others have about six weeks to prove they can, or otherwise they won't be in uniform when the season opens Sept. 10 against San Diego.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/1montepoole.