A weekly roundup of the latest news and happenings involving the Oakland Raiders — end of May edition.
The Oakland Raiders got into OTAs last week, and they’ve continued on this week. There’s a whole new coaching staff and a slew of new players. This field time is essential to implement offensive and defensive philosophies and teach new systems from the ground up.
A few clear themes have been emerging during the first week, mostly good. There’s no need to delay, there’s lots to discuss so let’s check out…
News From OTAs
One of the main themes in OTAs is Gruden. His presence, intensity, and passion for football have him standing out to his players in the best of ways. As veterans and coaches have said during recent open media sessions:
“What you see is what you get,” Bruce Irvin said after the first OTA practice. “Rah-rah guy. I’ve never seen a person’s face stay red for seven periods at practice.”
Jared Cook loves Gruden, because he knows what he’s talking about. You’d think all NFL coaches know what they’re talking about — but the subtext of Cook’s quote is too loud to ignore:
Jared Cook: “Gruden knows what he is talking about. You can tell the difference between a coach that does and a coach that doesn’t.”
— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) May 29, 2018
Whatever do you mean, Jared? Somewhere Jack Del Rio’s ears are on fire.
Cook also theorized on how Gruden brings it all the time:
“Man, I don’t know how many cups of coffee he drinks every morning, but he’s up there on it, man. That’s for sure,” Jared Cook said with a laugh. “He definitely brings the intensity.”
Derek Carr fully agreed:
“He brings it every day,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “I think we have a lot of guys in our building that take pride in being the same guy every day, being able to bring the energy, bring the juice every day. That man has like 20 cups of coffee I guess because he has another level that he takes it to, and he hasn’t stopped yet.”
I don’t know if it’s coffee, Red Bull, ADHD or straight-up crank but Gruden has enough energy for me, you and the rest of Raider Nation. He also has — and wants the team to have — a short memory.
“He said to hit the reset button,” Carr said, “and then we have hopefully 10-plus years to, ‘Let’s just ride and figure this thing out, grow every year and do this thing.’ When a coach comes in and does that for everybody, not just me but for everybody, that weight is lifted off. It’s like, ‘OK, that’s done. Whatever that was [in 2017], let’s just move forward. Let’s just have fun together and work hard.'”
Some question whether Gruden has lost a step by being away so long. At least as it pertains to modern concepts like analytics and Arena-league style passing offenses. Perhaps, though early returns would indicated not so much.
However, nobody can question whether he’s lost any heart or heat for the game. His energy and passion are juicing the players up to no end.
While this is all nice to read and hear, what’s happening on the field? Well, some good things.
At this time of year optimism abounds and all teams are feel-good Super Bowl contenders. Yet sometimes that narrative seems forced and disingenuous. Tired sports cliches that are expected and trotted out with little thought.
That narrative does not seem forced in Oakland this year. Gruden is too honest for that — to a fault at times. As a result though, like any coach, the team takes on that persona. Honesty and accountability go a long way toward trust. Trust is key in football, as you must trust the man beside you to have your back and do their job, or else everyone loses.
OTAs are the first chance for a team to integrate their rookies and veterans and start building trust.
So, how is everyone doing? Well…
Khalil Mack Is Still Absent
No surprise there, but worth noting. Moving on…
Doug Martin Is Impressing Everyone
After a gangbusters start to his NFL career — including a 251 yd, 4 TD performance against the Raiders — Martin fell off a cliff the past two seasons. As he will admit, much was of his own doing in Tampa Bay.
With a fresh start in his native Oakland area, Martin is rejuvenated and ready to rock. He’s turning a lot of heads in practice thus far with his speed, burst and strength.
While Marshawn Lynch is also looking good, Vic Tafur says don’t sleep on Martin:
Doug Martin showing that quick burst again today. Don’t be surprised if we have a starting RB competition on our hands at training camp. #Raiders
— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) May 29, 2018
Martin is in a prove-it year and seems to have found his love for the game again. That, actually, is a recurring theme amongst players who say Gruden makes things intense, passionate, but fun. Martin is having fun again:
“My approach is just basically I’m a rookie again,” Martin explained. “I have to prove to the team and the players, coaches that I can be useful on this team. Like I said, I just act like a rookie and go out and play. Play the game that I love.”
That rejuvenation is showing on the field, and being back home is a blessing for Martin:
“I just want to play for the Raiders and I want the Raiders to be successful,” he said. “Playing for my hometown and playing for my family that’s out here. Just show everybody that I can bounce back.”
Raiders OC Greg Olson says RB Doug Martin has “really jumped out” in OTAs so far. “He’s really got a fresh set of legs. That’s probably most encouraging. … We’re real excited about it.” pic.twitter.com/6dSkMYuOcw
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) May 29, 2018
Jalen Richard is doing his part by showing well in OTAs thus far, but not much has been heard/seen from DeAndre Washington from what I can gather. With Chris Warren there is a ton of competition in the backfield, and it looks like Martin is acquitting himself very well early on.
Gareon Conley Is Healthy, Looks God
This is great news. One concern coming into this season is Conley’s health. The first-rounder missed basically the entire 2017 season with a shin fracture that never seemed to heal properly.
Conley has been working fully in OTAs and establishing the talent and ability that made him a first-rounder in 2017. He’s certainly impressing his new coach:
“We are excited about the return of Gareon Conley, our first round draft choice,” Gruden said. “He’s been excellent so far… He’s at full speed, he’s at full strength, and you talk about a huge addition to our team. It starts with Gareon Conley who missed almost all of it last year. This is a shutdown corner. He’s a guy that we’re gonna build our secondary around.”
That’s the hope. Rashaan Melvin has also played well in camp, and new addition Marcus Gilchrist has been running at the ones at times with Karl Joseph. Veteran Reggie Nelson — the NFL’s equivalent of a super-villain who won’t die and keeps coming back glued together with tape and malevolence — continues to see the field a ton despite all the new blood around him. Reggie is the new Khalif Barnes. The Raiders keep bringing in pieces to replace him, and he keeps sticking around.
With Conley’s health, Melvin’s presence and Gilchrist and Nelson supporting Joseph — as Obi Melifonwu works back to full health — the secondary has been playing well and making it difficult on the offense:
Nice day out there today for the DBs. Nothing easy.
— Eddie Paskal (@EddiePaskal) May 29, 2018
That is something that needs to continue into the season for a change. Erik Harris has made some big plays and keeps getting rave reviews. Between Harris, the unaging Nelson and a healthy Melifonwu, Karl Joseph has some competition on his hands. He’ll have to fully earn his starting job and playing time this season.
What are some other positive things coming out of OTAs? Well, a lot of people wondered how the devoutly religious and politically correct Derek Carr would jibe with Gruden. Thus far returns are good, as…
Carr Looks Great Early On
From offensive coordinator Greg Olson to Gruden to teammates, Carr is receiving heavy praise thus far.
It is mostly surrounding his mental approach, on-field command and football intelligence. As Olson, who coached Carr in his rookie season of 2014, has noted:
“His knowledge of the game, he’s taken that to a new level in my opinion. His knowledge of defensive schemes. Understanding how to attack different schemes that he’s seeing in the passing game and also understanding protection phases. I just think his overall mental maturity has really jumped out.”
Physically, Carr is fully healthy, making all the throws and showing excellent mobility and command on the field. This is good news as a concern after missing parts of the last two seasons with significant injury is Carr’s overall health and his willingness to continue to play aggressively and not be gun-shy after suffering those injuries.
Gruden loves Carr’s mental makeup and really envisions giving him a lot of control on the field.
Gruden and GM Reggie McKenzie had a conference call with current Raiders season ticket holders and Vegas PSL holders. One thing that came up was Carr and how Gruden is planning to utilize him in the offense this year.
As Gruden told a group of Raiders season ticket holders and Vegas PSL holders last week — he has big plans for No. 4:
“We’ve been working extremely hard at empowering him to play a little bit like Peyton Manning played,” Gruden said. “Get us into the best run possible, get us into the best pass play possible. When Derek was at Fresno State, he called his own plays a lot of the time at the line of scrimmage in a no-huddle offense.”
So does that mean — please, oh Football Gods — that the Raiders will change tempos and mix things up a bit in 2018? Yes!
“I believe in changing speeds,” Gruden said in the season ticket holder conference call. “And don’t be surprised if you see us in the no-huddle offense a little bit more than you’ve seen in the past.”
Hallelujah! Carr’s success in the no-huddle in 2016 under Bill Musgrave was completely mothballed last year in favor of Todd Downing’s methodical, predictable offense. This is honestly some of the best news out of OTAs thus far.
Carr looks great. Mack is waiting but will be fine. Coop has a tweaked hammy, and Jordy Nelson has a minor injury. Due to their history and importance to the team, this is a mild concern but not yet an actual concern.
The o-line is learning under Tom Cable, who has been surprisingly spry and active during practices. Let’s hope that continues and Cable doesn’t regress to his own mean and, well, not do a good job.
So the vets are good. But there are of course some new faces in OTAs as well. So let’s check in and see…
How The Rookies Are Doing
Well, Maurice Hurst has talent. We all knew that. But he’s already running with the first-team defense — while second-round pick PJ Hall stunts on the second team. So yes, Hurst is who we thought he was. And it’s incredibly sweet.
Early returns for all the draft choices are pretty unbelievable actually.
Kolton Miller and Brandon Jackson are intelligent sponges who are soaking up everything they can learn. Coach Cable putting in work too:
Cable stopping drills to make sure rookie Miller has every detail down; Penn (foot) continues quick comeback, doing most drills that I can see
— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) May 29, 2018
The athleticism of Miller is well known and recorded for all to see from the combine. Brandon Jackson’s athleticism is rarely discussed as he’s considered less athletic but more technically sound.
But don’t tell Olson that:
“Extremely athletic. Both of those tackles that we drafted, extremely athletic. They bend very, very well for men their size. They move extremely well for men their size. More than anything, it’s been their athleticism.”
This, again, is great news. Hearing praise for Jackson’s athletic ability and Miller’s technique and football IQ — the main concerns about them when drafted — is just what you want to hear. Of course, drafting two OTs means something has to give, and…
Donald Penn didn’t handle things well. At first. He had a very rough rough couple of weeks, and it looked like between that, his foot issues and large salary, he may be gone.
Well, after initially being upset with drafting Miller particularly, Penn has shown up and worked like the professional he has always been:
— Raiders Report (@raiders_fanly) May 30, 2018
Penn is also progressing very quickly from his Lisfranc injury and may start again at LT if Miller isn’t quite ready. Thus far, that looks to be the plan.
And then there’s Aldon…I mean Arden…Smith….I mean Key. Yes, Arden Key.
The kid is drawing heavy comparisons to the former pass rushing specialist whom we all hope straightens out his life.
Arden Smith, er Key, with some pressure on Carr in team drills; Richard getting some more run today
— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) May 29, 2018
Arden Key flashed during today’s OTA https://t.co/NTDHk6QqAP
— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) May 29, 2018
Yes, the kids are alright — at least thus far. Marcell Ateman has also impressed with his aggressiveness in attacking the ball in the air and is putting himself in a nice position in the receiver battle. His size and strength, coupled with his ability to use his size, has been reportedly impressive thus far.
While not a rookie, second-year defensive end Fadol Brown has been making some noise as well. As Eddie Paskal reported on Raiders.com, Brown is a big man (6’4″, 280) and flashed ability in OTAs to rush the passer. Mario Edwards Jr. is suddenly finding himself with some robust and talented competition.
In fact, Gruden and Reggie have added a ton of new faces and it’s sparking some serious potential competition, which is always good:
Yeah the @RAIDERS have signed plenty of older vets but they’ve added some younger ones too. With some of the existing talent and a large dose of Jon Gruden, Oakland could be more than just an intriguing storyline in 2018 pic.twitter.com/QC5X7H2ZQu
— Steve Wyche (@wyche89) May 30, 2018
Move past Siciliano’s ears already and listen to Wyche. He knows his stuff, and has a great point.
If you skipped all the way to the end to find the point, here it is:
OTAs are underway. Chucky is back and bringing the heat and passion like always. Players are loving it and embracing it. Carr looks like his old self and will get more freedom in the offense. Marshawn Lynch looks great and Doug Martin looks like Doug Martin circa 2014.
The rookies, in particular Hurst, Key, Ateman, Miller and Jackson are looking quite good early on. Hurst and Key have done nothing but enhance the narrative that they were draft-day steals by playing very well thus far.
The rookies are also smart. This coaching staff is throwing a ton of things at them, changing plays, tempos, schemes and personnel frequently yet coaches are routinely praising the youngsters for their ability to adapt and get on board quickly.
So, like most OTAs — all feel good stories. But these actually seem legitimate and real rather than cliches and glad-handing.
One more thing…
How About Those Golden Knights?
“Just win, baby,” the Raiders told their soon to be sports brethren, the Vegas Golden Knights. In fact they took out a full-page newspaper ad to wish them luck. The good vibes begin.
The Knights are doing something impressive and unprecedented — they’re playing for the Stanley Cup in their first year of existence. That is amazing — but ultimately will this hurt or help the Raiders when they move to Vegas in 2020?
Owner Mark Davis is already establishing roots in Vegas. He’s there frequently, and was in the stands for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup. He’s clearly trying to preemptively establish a relationship with the Knights, and with good reason.
Vegas has a huge following for an infant franchise in a city with a large transient population, which shows Vegas can sustain a professional sports franchise. Hockey in the desert? If that flies, then I think football should be okay.
But the Knights have also had immediate, unprecedented success which is a fun storyline to be a part of for the fans. Can the Raiders possibly hope to have as much intrigue? Time will tell — but for now, Davis, the Raiders and many Raider fans are throwing their support behind their soon to be sports brothers as they try to make history.
Well that’s about it for the first part of OTAs and other news regarding the Raiders. Summer is coming, competition is heating up and we’re very close to some real, actual football.