Jon Gruden set for return for Raiders in opener against Rams
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Jon Gruden has quickly put his stamp on the Oakland Raiders in his second stint as coach.
He’s installed his new systems, overhauled more than half the roster and traded star pass rusher Khalil Mack to Chicago just before the start of the season for draft picks.
Gruden’s quest to get the new-look Raiders back to the level they were at during his first stint that ended in 2001 begins at home Monday night against the Los Angeles Rams. Oakland has had just one winning season in the past 15 years.
“We have not had a lot of success,” Gruden said. “We’ve got to turn this team around. We’ve got to get this team built back to where we can compete for championships. It was that way in 1998 and it’s that way 20 years later. We’ve got to put this train back on the track and we’ve tried to assemble the right guys to get us started. We’ll see where we are on Monday night.”
There is quite a bit of intrigue in what Gruden’s offense will look like in his first game as coach in 10 years. He spent the past nine seasons after being fired in Tampa Bay as the analyst for “Monday Night Football.”
Gruden spent much of the offseason talking about wanting to bring the Raiders back to 1998. He showed almost none of his offense in the preseason, but his former protege and current Rams coach Sean McVay knows to expect the unexpected.
“He’s always done such a good job of mixing it up,” McVay said. “I’m sure he’s got a bunch of new wrinkles that he’s added to his arsenal. It’s going to be exciting, but it is a great challenge, really kind of that element of uncertainty and that does make it very difficult.”
Despite the trade of Mack, Gruden has many of the ingredients he needs for a successful season on offense with Derek Carr at quarterback, a strong interior offensive line, a running game led by Marshawn Lynch and a pair of receivers in Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson who have shown big-play ability in the past.
Now he gets a chance to show some new wrinkles that he learned by visiting and watching all the other teams as an announcer.
“I feel like he’s more advanced,” said tackle Donald Penn, who played for Gruden in Tampa Bay in 2007-08. “He’s gotten even smarter. That’s crazy to say because he knows so much already, but I feel like he’s learned even more during that time off.”
Here are some other things to watch:
TEACHER VS. MENTOR: Gruden hired McVay as a 22-year-old assistant wide receivers coach in 2008 but the ties between the families go back further. McVay’s grandfather, John, hired Gruden’s father, Jim, at Dayton in 1970, and helped Jon get his first NFL job as an assistant in San Francisco in 1990. The younger McVay has taken so much from Gruden that he has many of the same mannerisms and sounds so much like his mentor that Jon Gruden joked he does a better impersonation of him than comedian Frank Caliendo.
“I hear it all the time,” McVay said. “”But I think probably subconsciously you pick up on some of those things just from being around somebody. I got so much respect for him so I take it as a compliment.”
DOMINANT DONALD: While the Raiders cut ties with 2016 AP Defensive Player of the Year Mack after his contract holdout, the Rams gave last year’s top defensive player Aaron Donald a six-year, $135 million deal, with $87 million guaranteed to end his holdout. Donald, perhaps the game’s top interior pass rusher, joins a defense that added three former All-Pros in the offseason in defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib.
GOFF’S GROWTH: Rams QB Jared Goff took a big step last year after the former No. 1 overall pick struggled in his rookie season in 2016. Goff increased his yards per attempt from 5.3 to 8.0 and his passer rating from 63.6 to 100.5. Goff still sees more room to grow, but didn’t get to show that in the preseason when he didn’t get any snaps because of injuries to the offensive line.
“There’s a bunch of stuff we’ve been working on this offseason that we’re ready to display on Monday night,” Goff said. “A lot of the stuff is from last season that we’re going to continue to do, and then a lot of new stuff that we’re doing.”
DRIVE THE CARR: Carr is looking to bounce back from a down season as he struggled with a back injury and an unimaginative offense by former coordinator Todd Downing. He matched his career high with 13 interceptions and recorded his worst totals in yards, touchdowns and passer rating since his rookie year in 2014. The Raiders hope for a revival under Gruden.
HIDDEN SCHEMES: These teams played just over three weeks ago in an exhibition, although not much can be gleaned from that game. Both teams sat almost all of their starters and showed almost none of the schemes knowing they’d play a game that counts so soon.
“You would think we’d know about them, they would know about us, but all of our starters on both teams were wearing sweatsuits,” Gruden said.