Raiders

Darren Waller believes Raiders will get edge from players-led workouts

Darren Waller believes Raiders will get edge from players-led workouts

Derek Carr, Darren Waller and a number of Raiders have been hard at work this offseason in Las Vegas getting ready for the Silver and Black's inaugural season in Sin City.

With workouts at team facilities a no-go due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Carr has been training with a number of players at a local park, and the group now is up around 30 to 35 players. Among those present are Waller, Hunter Renfrow, Zay Jones, Tyrell Williams, Richie Incognito, Kolton Miller, Johnathan Abram and Damarious Randall, according to The Athletic's Vic Tafur.

It's been blistering hot in Las Vegas of late -- as it usually is come summer -- and Waller believes these 90-minute workouts in triple-digit heat will give the Raiders an edge when the season rolls around.

“We can deal with extreme temperatures, we go right at it and we work, no excuses,” Waller told Tafur. “I feel like that can pay dividends for us in the season, knowing that we can go into any kind of environment, hot or cold, and do our thing.”

An added mental edge certainly could help a Raiders team that lost five of their last six games in 2019 to fall out of playoff contention, including losses to the New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars. Last season, the Raiders surprised everyone by starting 6-4 and looking primed for a playoff run despite a defense that was woeful against the pass and an offense that lacked big-play ability outside of Waller.

Both aspects should be a thing of the past in 2020.

The Raiders will enter their first season in Las Vegas with their most complete offensive unit in years. Waller, Renfrow and Williams will be joined by star running back Josh Jacobs and dynamic rookie receivers Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards. They also added a ton of talent on defense, hoping to go from the bottom of the league in defensive DVOA to somewhere in the middle of the pack.

On the offensive side Carr now will have a full arsenal with which to operate Jon Gruden's complex offense after having to gut it out with patchwork receiving corps a season ago.

The addition of Ruggs obviously is the most important. The speedy Alabama receiver will give the Raiders' offense a whole new dimension with his ability to stretch the field vertically. His speed also will pay dividends for the rest of the offense as defenses will have to key in on Ruggs on every snap to try to contain his 4.27 speed.

That should, in theory, give Jacobs, Waller and Renfrow more room to operate now that defenses can load up to stop the run and bracket Waller, something the Raiders saw often toward the end of the season.

Expect Gruden to use Ruggs on a number of short passes, screens and jet sweeps, finding any way he can to get the ball into his hands. Sending Ruggs in motion also should be a popular tool for the Raiders to help Carr determine man or zone coverage pre-snap. The top five teams in pre-snap motion last year all made the playoffs and both Super Bowl competitors -- the 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs -- ranked one and two in that category, showing the benefit of helping your quarterback identify the coverage before the snap.

[RELATED: Jacobs rookie season comparisons show greatness lies ahead]

The Raiders' offseason virtual program will wrap up shortly with training camp expected to begin in late July.

Carr, Waller and the Raiders want to hit the ground running as they start a new era in Las Vegas. Early reports from the Carr-led unofficial OTAs give reason to believe the Raiders will be ready to make another leap in 2020.

Raiders hire former NFL All-Pro Randall Cunningham as team chaplain

Raiders hire former NFL All-Pro Randall Cunningham as team chaplain

Former NFL All-Pro Randall Cunningham has a new role in the league.

The longtime quarterback has been hired as the Raiders' new team chaplain. Cunningham played his college football at UNLV in Las Vegas -- the new home of the franchise -- for many years and even founded his own church in the area, Remnant Ministries, where he is the pastor.

"I'm elated, flabbergasted," Cunningham told ESPN's Paul Gutierrez on Friday. "I've already been in on some [Zoom] meetings with the team. I plan on spending a lot of time with the guys when it's OK. I've talked with Marcus Mariota, Nelson Agholor. What an amazing group of people (Raiders owner) Mark Davis and (head coach) Jon Gruden have put together."

Davis believes Cunningham will be an ideal fit, citing his sterling reputation in the Las Vegas community.

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

"He's going to take care of the guys in Las Vegas," Davis told ESPN.com. "Jon had him address the team in a team Zoom [recently] and he did a really good job of setting the stage for the team in Las Vegas.

"When you talk to anyone in the community, everybody always talks about Randall. It's pretty special."

[RELATED: Jon Gruden describes Allegiant Stadium as 'freaking awesome']

Cunningham was named to four Pro Bowls over his 16 years in the NFL, including a 1998 campaign with the Vikings in which he led Minnesota to a 13-1 regular-season record and earned First-Team All-Pro honors.

The 57-year-old will be replacing Napoleon Kaufman, the head coach of Oakland's Bishop O'Dowd High School football team.

Bill Callahan's 'dumbest team in America' rant sealed his Raiders fate

Bill Callahan's 'dumbest team in America' rant sealed his Raiders fate

Editor’s note: Sports Uncovered, the newest podcast from NBC Sports, shines a fresh light on some of the most unforgettable moments in sports. The fifth episode tells the story of "The Mysterious Disappearance that Changed a Super Bowl," chronicling Barret Robbins' absence from Super Bowl XXXVII.

The Raiders were in the midst of a championship window when Jon Gruden got traded to Tampa Bay during the 2002 offseason. It was a shock to the locker room to be sure.

Gruden was beloved in the locker room, someone who cared about his players and took the Raiders from the AFC depths to the Super Bowl.

Raiders players didn’t care about future draft haul, even if it came in the massive sum of two first-round draft picks and two more in the second round. The $8 million went in owner Al Davis’ pocket, not theirs.

Losing Gruden was a real blow.

“When you lost Gruden, you lost a guy that, as a player, I would stop a bullet for,” former Raiders offensive lineman Mo Collins said in NBC Sports' latest episode of the “Sports Uncovered” documentary podcast. “I mean, that’s how much I want to play for Gruden. You knew that, when things got hot, he had your back.”

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

The Raiders promoted offensive coordinator Bill Callahan to replace Gruden, and it didn’t go well despite reaching Super Bowl XXXVII. Gruden’s Buccaneers walloped the Raiders 48-21.

The Raiders never recovered from that loss. They fell on hard times during the 2003 season under Callahan, finishing with a 4-12 record that was the worst by a team that was in the Super Bowl the year before.

Callahan's fate was sealed after a Nov. 30, 2003 loss after a mistake-riddled loss to Denver when he called the Raiders the “dumbest team in America in terms of playing the game,” in an epic postgame rant.

NBC Sports Bay Area’s Greg Papa, former longtime voice of the Raiders and an Al Davis confidant, said that was the last straw.

“Al was seething,” Papa said of the longtime owner. “You don’t call his team dumb. That was it. He was done.”

Callahan was fired at season’s end, proving the selection didn’t work. It looked good at first, considering how bad the players wanted continuity.

They didn’t want a major setback to follow the Gruden trade, so team leaders Lincoln Kennedy, Tim Brown, Rich Gannon and Charlie Garner went to Davis to find a replacement on the current coaching staff.

“We said, ‘Look, we have to hire from within because we have a good thing going,’ ” Kennedy said. “Knowing this, another coach is going to bring in a different philosophy and we take two steps back. We were right on the cusp of doing something. I think he took our word for it.”

Davis apparently agreed with his players -- whether or not that talk swayed him is unknown -- promoting Callahan to head coach.

While veteran leaders wanted continuity, some didn’t like the ultimate selection. Brown remains vocal in his disappointment in the hire, saying on “Sports Uncovered” that Callahan was the worst thing that happened to the Raiders organization.

“Callahan didn’t care about us,” Brown said. “He could care less about us. It was a job for him. With Gruden there were relationships there.”

That didn’t stop the Raiders from reaching the Super Bowl in Callahan's first season as head coach. Several interviewed for NBC Sports' podcast blamed Callahan for losing the Super Bowl to Gruden’s new team, but there were ultimately several factors at play.

That included the disappearance of center Barret Robbins during Super Bowl week, which led to him not playing in the game and is the primary focus of the latest Sports Uncovered episode.

[RELATED: Party culture led to Robbins' downfall]

What happened in that Super Bowl ultimately impacted what happened with Callahan the following year.

“When we lost to [Tampa Bay in the 2002 season], it was to Jon Gruden and this West Coast offense, which [Al Davis] didn’t like," Papa said. "He loved Bill Walsh but he didn’t like the offense. He lost to Monte Kiffin and the Tampa 2 defense and he didn’t like that.

“So the next year in training camp, we completely changed the offense. And it was more of an Al Davis vertical passing, down-the-field team, but it did not suit Rich Gannon’s skills. It did not suit a 40-year old Jerry Rice and a mid-to-late 30s Tim Brown. It just didn’t fit what we had. There’s no question that Al wanted that done. But where Callahan lost everything is when he had that epic rant after one of those losses where he said, ‘we’re the dumbest team in America.’”