Raiders

Derek Carr made quite the first impression on Jon Gruden

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Derek Carr made quite the first impression on Jon Gruden

Jon Gruden loves quarterback Derek Carr. Just ask him.

Well, that might be tough before he’s announced, as expected, as the next Raiders head coach.

So we'll have ask Gruden circa 2016. Or Gruden circa 2014, before Carr entered the NFL Draft. Don’t sweat not having a time machine. Gruden’s been on ESPN nearly a decade now, where most everything’s archived.

One problem: Gruden said nice things about most everybody, especially quarterbacks, as a broadcaster. Will he feel the same after working with him each day? We don't know that yet. 

We do know that Carr made a solid first impression. The second will be far more important, as the Gruden-Carr dynamic will be critical to Raiders fortunes in coming years.

Let’s go back, for a second, to the Gruden QB Camp segment with Carr. Gruden said he’d pick Derek over his older brother David, who was 2002’s No. 1 overall pick.

“I appreciate that,” Derek said. “Let’s go win some championships, now.”

That’ll be the immediate goal when Gruden comes aboard. Maximizing Carr’s potential will go a long way toward that end, and will involve an intense relationship between quarterback and new head coach. Expect some blunt, yet constructive criticism on a regular basis. We'll see how Carr handles that. 

Carr handled his first interaction with Gruden well. YouTube shows the TV segment from Gruden's QB Camp, but there was more to that event than what you saw. 

“I can remember him throwing the ball like it was yesterday,” Gruden said in a conference call advancing a 2016 game between the Raiders and Texans in Mexico City. “We have two cameras set up 20 yards downfield on each hash mark, and we threw some seam passes toward them. Most of the guys hit the screen, a couple would hit the target. Derek Carr hit the bull’s eye both times and broke my cameras. He put on a show for the NFL players.”

Then Gruden said something unprompted in that conference call.

“What hasn’t been said about Carr today is about his intangibles,” Gruden said. “He’s such an upbeat kid. He has so much passion and energy and leadership. He is fun to be around. He’s a superstar.”

That round of praise came in the midst of an excellent 2016 campaign where Carr was a legitimate MVP candidate.

“To put it honestly, this guy has a cannon. He’s got a gun,” Gruden said. “He can throw it tight windows with very little movement. He has a quick release and very little lower body movement. He has an arsenal of receivers. Al Davis would be very proud of Derek Carr.”

Gruden should know. He worked for Al Davis as Raiders head coach from 1998-2001. He’ll soon work for Al’s son Mark, who took control when Al Davis died in 2011. The Raiders could announce Gruden’s second stint with the Raiders within the coming days.

Mark Davis really wanted Gruden back, and will pay handsomely for his services. Carr may well have been another attraction to return to the Raiders, among several factors. It’s hard to imagine Gruden coming to a place with a quarterback he didn’t like when winning right away was a requisite. The Raiders must keep butts in Oakland Coliseum seats and start building toward a big move to Las Vegas in 2020.

Gruden has work ahead getting Carr right after a disappointing 2017 season where he regressed in several key metrics. Carr certainly has arm talent, and the work ethic and drive to absorb Gruden’s offense. Talk of Carr being unable to handle Gruden’s often-terse coaching style seems like a stretch -- Carr doesn’t mind four-letter words, even though he prefers not to say them -- but the signal caller must prove he can handle the intensity and criticism on a daily basis from a coach notoriously hard on quarterbacks. 

Charles Woodson played for Gruden and with Carr for multiple seasons. He believes Gruden can help Carr get back on track.

“I know Jon Gruden loves the quarterback position,” Woodson said last week on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown. “I believe that he would have a strong interest in working with Derek Carr and getting Derek Carr to the next level. I believe he could help him out tremendously and help him become the Hall-of-Fame-type quarterback that young kid can be.”

Raiders receiver quest may continue in NFL Draft

Raiders receiver quest may continue in NFL Draft

Go ahead and put receivers Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson into the Raiders starting lineup. Use a pen. Only injury would be cause to reach for the White Out.

New Raiders head coach Jon Gruden loves both guys. He said Cooper will be the passing game’s main attraction. He imported Nelson for his on-field production and locker-room leadership.

The Raiders are looking to upgrade receiver depth, a point made clear in free agency. They went after Ryan Grant, who eventually signed with Indianapolis. They brought Eric Decker in for a visit, though he left without a deal.

The NFL Draft could provide an upgrade. The Raiders could use some help in the slot, and with a sure-handed speed demon to take the top off a defense.

This draft class doesn’t feature a pass catcher worthy of the No. 10 overall pick, with few considered first-round talents. Help can be found down the draft, with early contributors seemingly available in the early and middle rounds. Here are a few options that could help the Raiders passing game:

Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
-- The former Aggie is a strong, target well suited for the slot. He can handle physical play at the line of scrimmage, has good hands and analysts say he’s adept at finding soft spots in zone coverage. He doesn’t have a huge catch radius, and doesn’t have burner speed to thrive on the outside, but he could be effective taking the smaller chunks offered in Gruden’s offense. He’s also a solid return man, and could help on special teams.
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 2-3

James Washington, Oklahoma State
The former Cowboy doesn’t have D.J. Chark’s raw speed, but has plenty of big-play ability the Raiders need offensively. He uses solid positioning, hands and high-point ability to make important catches down the field. Analysts say he has great build-up speed and avoids physicality at the line. He can work inside and out, but could create space inside for Cooper and Nelson to work in favorable matchups. He isn’t built like a typical NFL receiver, but finds ways to make plays.
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 2-3

Dante Pettis, Washington
-- Gruden likes precise route running, a trait Pettis has in spades. He could be a weapon from the slot, and can create separation quickly. Analysts also say he’s good finding open space during scramble drills, and has reliable hands. Physical corners can be bothersome, and he doesn’t have top-end speed. He could be an impactful member of an offense, and could help return punts as well.
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 3-4

Deontay Burnett, USC
-- Burnett is built like a slot receiver, with plenty of experience playing inside. CBS Sports considers him a solid sleeper prospect among slot receivers, and analysts say he’s good making catches in traffic. He’s good in scramble drills, and can take big hits without losing possession. He isn’t great on deep passes and scouts say he doesn’t have room to add significant muscle mass to his relatively thin frame. He could be an asset in Gruden’s scheme, and available later than aforementioned receivers.
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 4-5

Damion Ratley, Texas A&M
-- NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah tweeted about Kirk's teammate on Saturday morning as an intriguing prospect with size, speed and solid route running. He could be available late, a viable option if the Raiders look toward other positions earlier in the draft. He averaged 23.1 yards per catch, with an ability to make plays after the catch. His draft profile suggests he needs help battling physical corners, and may need better focus each play to compete steadily at the NFL. 
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 6-7

Why Raiders players should pay close attention to NFL Draft this year

Why Raiders players should pay close attention to NFL Draft this year

ALAMEDA – Raiders players should keep a close eye on who gets drafted next week. Pros typically follow the NFL’s amateur selection to see where their team gets help, or whether competition’s coming to their position group.

Some Raiders, however, might see their roster spot given away.

The Raiders have 76 guys on the roster already, a high sum created by a hyperactive free-agent signing stretch. They have 11 draft picks coming. If each one gets used, that leaves three open spots on the 90-man offseason roster.

GM Reggie McKenzie will sign more undrafted free agents than that. The Raiders have a penchant for finding diamonds in the rough, and will target several after the draft concludes.

“What we’re going to do is we will evaluate all of those free agents after the draft and if we feel like we can upgrade, we will,” McKenzie said Friday in his annual, required pre-draft press conference. “So, that’s not going to hinder us from trying to sign some players. We’re just going to have to compare, you know, to what we have. We’re going to bring in the best 90. We only have X amount of spots. We may have to create some.”

That last line means some guys on the Raiders roster won’t stay long. They won’t get a chance to impress Jon Gruden’s coaching staff over an offseason program. They’ll get two weeks of offseason workouts and next week’s voluntary minicamp. That’s about it.

It’s fair to say fringe players signed before Gruden came aboard should be worried, considering the influence Gruden has on the roster. That includes players last year’s practice squad and maybe some recent draft picks who haven’t established themselves yet.

There are plenty on reserve/futures contracts who can be filtered out to create the roster space required to add preferred members of this year’s amateur class.

A well-known name may be among them, considering the Raiders must free some cap space to sign their rookie class. Per the NFLPA, the Raiders have $1.8 million in cap space. Their rookie pool is $9.454 million. The space required to sign the class isn’t found with simple subtraction – we won’t bore you with the details – but the Raiders will have to create a little bit of space to get everybody signed under the cap. Such maneuvering could include cuts or restructures or 2018 space created by a contract extension given to a certain elite edge rusher. The Raiders have options in that regard.

Roster space, however, is a bit more cut and dry. Only 90 spots exist. They’ll have to shuffle folks out to bring others in, and it’s going to happen soon.