McKenzie on Raiders' Radar

Reggie McKenzie, the Packers' director of football operations, has two strong supporters with the new owner's ear. Plus insight into the Packers' top NFC challengers, San Francisco and New Orleans, and more in a hard-hitting NFL notebook.

There's some truth — but not quite "nothing but the truth" — to the reports that Oakland hasn't begun to consider possible general manager candidates for 2012.

But make no mistake, the position has been discussed internally, and some names have been mentioned among club officials. Of course, the Raiders can't make a move until after the season.

One name to keep in mind is that of Green Bay Packers director of football operations Reggie McKenzie. It's not a slam-dunk that McKenzie would even listen if the Raiders pursued him. But this much we know: McKenzie has a big supporter in retired NFL executive and former Raiders' official Ken Herock, who has the ear of Oakland management and has been counseling new owner Mark Davis on some football-related matters.

While Herock — the father of Packers assistant director of college scouting Shaun Herock — seems to be wielding the most outside influence, it would be a surprise if former Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf doesn't have some clout. Wolf, of course, served two stints in the personnel department with the Raiders totaling more than 20 years.

It was with the Raiders that Wolf drafted McKenzie, a linebacker, in the 10th round of the 1985 draft. And it was Wolf who gave McKenzie his first scouting drive, appointing him a pro personnel assistant in 1994, and promoted him to director of pro personnel in 1997.

NFC contender watch

Drew Brees and the New Orleans passing game have generated so much attention, and deservedly so, that the round game has typically been overlooked. And that's how the Saints seem to like it.

"The (perception) is that we're just a (finesse) team, and that's OK; let people think that," guard Jahri Evans told The Sports Xchange. "We don't mind surprising teams with how well we can run it."

The Saints don't have a rusher with more than 500 yards — in fact, Darren Sproles is the team leader, with 496 yards — but they've got three players with 400 yards or more and four with 200-plus yards in coach Sean Payton's tailback-by-committee design. No other franchise in the league has more than two 400-yard backs (not counting quarterbacks).

Payton always preaches having a physical running game, especially late in the season and in the second halves of games, and that has been the case for a New Orleans ground attack seemingly hitting its stride. The Saints have averaged 136.0 yards during their six-game winning streak; they averaged 117.3 rushing yards in the first eight games of the year. During the six-game streak, New Orleans has averaged 16.2 rushes in the second halves as opposed to 10.6 in the first halves of games.

Payton is a big advocate of using the running attack to close out wins and the Saints, who have led at halftime in all six wins, have done that. Said Evans: "When we need to bring the hammer down, we feel we can do it."

— In one of the amazingly underplayed subplots of 2011, the San Francisco defense still hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown this season, and the 14 straight games without one is a league record. But the unit faces a tough challenge on Saturday against Seattle's Marshawn Lynch. The five-year veteran tailback, whom Seahawks' officials continue to hope will at least consider a contract extension — even though we recently reported in this space that it will take considerably more than the team's projection of $5 million per year — has run for at least one score in nine of his last 10 games. And Lynch has rushed for 100 or more yards in five of his last seven games, which will also be a test for a Niners' defense that hasn't allowed a 100-yard runner in 36 straight games.

— Chicago rookie quarterback Nathan Enderle is said to have a solid backer in offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who fell in love with the kid after just one visit with him and lobbied Chicago scouts hard to draft the former Idaho standout. It will be interesting to see what happens with Enderle — whether he actually challenges for the No. 2 job with the Bears in 2012 or remains a scout-team guy — if Martz leaves the team as expected. It's hard to envision Hanie staying at No. 2 on the depth chart, much less re-signing with the team, after posting an 0-4 record in replacing the injured Jay Cutler and tossing three interceptions in three of his four starts.

— Brees has thrown at least five touchdown passes to five different receivers. The only other team in the league with at least five receivers having five scoring catches is Green Bay. Conversely, 10 franchises don't have a single player with as many as five touchdown receptions.

Extra point

The reduction ballots for cutting the list of 26 Hall of Fame semifinalists to 15 finalists were due in Canton on Wednesday. Wolf and Packers outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene were among the final 26.

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Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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