Raiders

Darren Waller, on proper life and career path, poised for breakout year

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USATSI

Darren Waller, on proper life and career path, poised for breakout year

Darren Waller’s name came up a ton during this Raiders offseason program, always in a positive light.

The young receiving tight end flashed consistently during OTAs and minicamp, a mismatch that has dared fans to dream about another dominant skill player impacting this upcoming season.

Waller made a few big plays after joining the Raiders late last year the fan base certainly remembers, especially the 21-yard end around and the 44-yard catch-and-run in Cincinnati. The converted receiver from Georgia Tech has all the skills required to be a productive NFL player.

“We’ll we said, I think the last time we talked, since he’s been here he’s been one of our most impressive players,” head coach Jon Gruden said. “He played a key role last year when he got here. He’s got some big shoes to fill, I know he respects that, but he’s versatile, he’s smart, he’s fast. He wants to do good, he’s a great kid.”

Re-read last part: He wants to do good. That’s meaningful and a dead accurate for someone who squandered early portions of his NFL career. He was suspended twice for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, the second time for a full season. All those setbacks before age 26, all of them self inflicted

Waller isn’t wasting any more time. He’s dead set on maximizing a Raiders opportunity. This chance was set in motion late last year when the Raiders signed him off Baltimore’s practice squad. Then Gruden decided to let Jared Cook leave in free agency and didn’t draft a receiving tight end high, setting Waller up to be a featured player.

Waller absorbed all that but still didn’t dream big. This supreme athlete is the one-day-at-a-time type, an outlook that has blazed a trail for steady progress. That’s his recipe for potential maximization.

“I just tried to prepare myself to come back and contribute again,” Waller said. “I didn’t really look as far as how big my role would be. But if my work was there and I was staying clean and being consistent in what I was doing, that my role would increase at some point.”

Staying clean was a necessary element to Waller’s progress, the bedrock of all the good that’s coming from him these days. That allows him to avoid previous pratfalls and be on the right track to prepare for his 2019 role, one that could truly launch his career.

“That gives me a place to feel good about myself and respect myself when I look in the mirror because, before, I couldn’t really do that,” Waller said. “Those kinds of things translate to the field where you know you’re kind of hesitant out there. You may think, oh I don’t know, you’re not too sure of yourself.

“But now I wake up and I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing in my life and representing my family in a positive way. I feel like that goes a long way into me taking on a heavier load and having confidence in myself to carry it out.”

Confidence is warranted after an excellent offseason. He’s physically stronger and was as impressive as anyone not named Antonio Brown in OTAs and minicamp work. He’s proving a reliable receiver capable of moving around the formation like Cook did last year, searching for a mismatch. He’s too big for cornerbacks at 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, and too fast for linebackers and even some safeties.

Adding him to a receiving arsenal that includes Brown and Tyrell Williams could prove tough to defend. Raiders defensive backs have learned that the hard way this spring, proving optimism that Waller will thrive in 2019. He showed flashes after joining the Raiders last year, with a few big plays to his credit.

[RELATED: Raiders' Jacobs not sure he wants life story going Hollywood]

Gruden isn’t ready to anoint Waller just yet, but he sees great potential in someone stolen from a practice squad.

“When you put the pads on three, four, five days in a row up in Napa I think that will be a better indication,” Gruden said. “He’s got a lot to prove. He’s a young player who is a converted wide receiver; don’t forget that. He’s not been brought up as a tight end, but he has made a lot of progress.”

Gruden has given Waller great support bringing him to the Raiders and providing a golden opportunity to finally thrive as an NFL player. He has received such support before and wasted it. He doesn’t plan on repeating that pattern this time around.

“The thing with me is…I feel like people have always had faith in me, but it was like I didn’t really have faith in myself,” Waller said. “So it’s part of doing my part, doing my half because a lot of coaches have stuck their neck out for me and what I’ve given them in return isn’t what they deserve or what the team deserved. For Coach Gruden to say that, I feel like I’m at a place in my life where I can build off of that and make the most of my abilities and what God gave me. That’s just what I plan on doing.”

How Oakland Coliseum has been 'legendary' even for newest Raiders

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AP

How Oakland Coliseum has been 'legendary' even for newest Raiders

ALAMEDA -- You don't have to be Derek Carr, Jon Gruden or a Raiders legend to appreciate what the Coliseum has meant to the franchise. 

It was a state-of-the-art facility and helped legitimize the Raiders when they moved into the building in 1966. It has been the home of a number of memorable Raider moments and has served as a second home for the legion of fans who pack it on fall Sundays to make life hell on the opposition. 

It no longer is state-of-the-art. It has a myriad of issues and the Raiders are waving goodbye after Sunday's game against the Jaguars as the franchise relocates to Las Vegas in 2020. 

Most of the current Raiders haven't had many moments at all in the Coliseum. Only six current Raiders have been with the franchise for more than three seasons, with Carr and guard Gabe Jackson being the longest-tenured Raiders having been drafted in 2014. 

But even those who have only donned the Silver and Black for a short period of time know how important Sunday's farewell is. 

"It'll be exciting, I'm really looking forward to it," guard Richie Incognito, who only has played four games in the Coliseum, said after the Raiders' Week 14 loss to the Titans. "I got a bunch of family coming in to experience it. We're new to Oakland but the fans are awesome. They were rocking today, they were loud. I think next week will be a special moment for everybody involved." 

Last year was Daryl Worley's first season in Oakland. The Coliseum goodbye that wasn't a season ago didn't really impact him. 

But things have changed after spending another season with the Silver and Black. 

"Hopefully, it's going to be for real this time," Worley said of saying farewell a second time to the Coliseum. "It's definitely going to be emotional. Last year when I was here on a one-year thing, you just don't get the full feel. But coming back Year 2, just seeing what it means to Raider Nation, it's definitely a lot more emotional. 

"You really get to see -- around the town, around the entire Bay Area -- I mean there are two teams out here but it kinda seems that Raider Nation, they always have that fan base that is strong and passionate about everything that's going on with the players. It's going to be tough to leave a place like this even though going on to Vegas, I don't think this fan base will waver at all. 

"It's an amazing place," Worley continued. "For it to be an outdoor stadium, you would think that it's indoors the way that it rocks. Between the Black Hole to the costumes, it's definitely a legendary experience."

[RELATED: Raiders describe what it's like to jump into Black Hole]

The Raiders come in riding a three-game losing streak. While snapping that run of Ls is important, especially if the team has any hope of a miracle playoff push, it means more for the Raiders to give the Nation one more W in the house of loud. 

"It's definitely a big motivation and we feel like we owe it to everyone here," Worley said.

Doug Marrone, Jaguars preparing for Raiders in emotional Oakland finale

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USATSI

Doug Marrone, Jaguars preparing for Raiders in emotional Oakland finale

ALAMEDA -- Sunday won't be an ordinary Week 15 game between two teams that have dropped out of playoff contention. 

The Oakland Coliseum will be rocking, as those who bleed silver and black say their final farewell to the Raiders when they take on the 4-9 Jacksonville Jaguars. Most of the young Jaguars haven't played in the Coliseum, but head coach Doug Marrone is well aware of what his scuffling team will face Sunday afternoon. 

"Absolutely. I think that, we kind of polled today, we don’t have a lot of players that have played at Oakland and we tried to give them a sense of ... and when I say crazy atmosphere, I mean that in a very positive sense," Marrone said on a conference call with Bay Area media Wednesday. "We talked about the locker room and we’ve talked about it. I think it will be an emotional day for a lot of people there and I had a good relationship with Mr. [Al] Davis. When I was the head coach at Syracuse, we’d meet every year and there will be a lot of emotion knowing that finally, I know last year they went through it a little bit, but the finality of it being the last game for sure." 

Marrone was drafted by the Los Angeles Raiders out of Davis' alma mater Syracuse in 1986. He didn't make the 53-man roster and never donned the silver and black inside the Coliseum. Despite never being a Raider, Marrone had a good relationship with late owner Al Davis and came to the Coliseum as an offensive line coach for the New York Jets in the early 2000s. 

Even for Marrone, it will be weird for the Raiders to no longer call the Coliseum home. 

"When I was with the Jets and we would go out there, we’d always warm-up and I had the offensive line with me and I had a bunch of veteran guys who we’d warm up in the one corner of the end zone and for some reason, there was one guy, he was all over me," Marrone said recalling his time as a visitor in the Coliseum. "Like he was killing me, not the players, me. And the players would come up to me and go, ‘Coach, you going to take that (expletive) from that guy? Like, if he did that (expletive) to me, I would go up in the stands. You need to go up in the stands, you need to confront that.’ And I’d be like, ‘Shut the hell up, would you? We’re just going to go ahead and play.’

"But I just remember those times and the playoff game up there when I was in New York and just how crazy it can be and it’s a special place. I remember going up there back in the day and you look over at pregame warmup and Mr. Davis would be down on the sideline. A lot of the old Raiders would be there and so I think for me there will be a point I think, ‘Wow! I can’t believe the Oakland Raiders are moving.’”

[RELATED: Raiders describe what it's like to jump into Black Hole]

After three consecutive losses, the Raiders no longer find themselves in the playoff hunt. There will be no playoff goodbye for the hallowed grounds that hold so many Raider memories. 

Jon Gruden, Derek Carr and these Raiders have but one more chance to give those who love the Raiders so dearly a final memory of a building and franchise that means so much to them. 

That's bad news for Marrone and the Jags.