Raiders

Gruden has dramatically changed Raiders receiver corps

Gruden has dramatically changed Raiders receiver corps

The Raiders receiver corps has undergone an overhaul. It started back in mid-March, when the Silver and Black acquired Jordy Nelson and cut Michael Crabtree the same day.

Head coach Jon Gruden didn’t stop there. He sought upgrades throughout the depth chart in a relentless pursuit -- Eric Decker and Ryan Grant made Alameda free-agent visits -- that continued through the NFL draft.

That's when he shipped a third-round pick to Pittsburgh for Martavis Bryant. Then he drafted Oklahoma State’s Marcel Ateman in the seventh. Ryan Switzer came west from Dallas just after that pick, acquired for defensive tackle Jihad Ward.

And, just like that, Gruden shook up the entire position group. It’s possible only Amari Cooper will be the only member of last year’s crew to survive this twister. A few more incumbents could make the cut, but nothing’s given now.

“We’ve got a competitive situation here at wide receiver,” Gruden said. “So I like that.”

Gruden loves the newest front-line addition. Bryant brings a new dimension to the Raiders offense, with raw speed to scare opposing defenses. He’s a big target who can be effective at all depths, and should draw attention that creates space for Cooper and Nelson.

Gruden knew that after covering Bryant in Pittsburgh many times as a broadcaster. Those facts are being reinforced over the last week working directly with him.

“Let me tell you, he brings a different dynamic,’ Gruden said.” He’s 6-foot-4 and he plays it. He’s 4.4- (second 40-yard dash) fast and he plays it. We just have to get him wired into the offense and Jordy Nelson’s experience and versatility has really been impressive that it’s allowed us to do some things in just a few days that is pretty cool. We like our receivers, and we think Martavis will make you think twice about doing some things.”

Barring injury, Cooper, Nelson and Bryant will be primary targets. That pushes Seth Roberts into a different role, and he’ll be challenged there, too. Switzer was an impactful college slot receiver, a major reason why Dallas used a fourth round pick on him last year. He was primarily a returner as a rookie, and never fit into Dallas’ offensive plans.

He’ll get a chance to earn an offensive role while working for a return job.

“I liked Switzer a lot at North Carolina,” Gruden said. “He’s a fourth-round draft choice. He was Mitch Trubisky’s go-to guy. (Washington head coach Jay Gruden) doesn’t like Switzer. He took an 83-yard punt home against him last year. That’s what he can do. We want a lot of competition for the punt returner job. Dwayne Harris is very good at it. Jalen Richard has done it before. Switzer is outstanding and can also return kickoffs. I think he’s got some nasty quickness in the slot.”

Harris should be part of the receiver corps, though primary focus will be on special teams. Ateman will battle for an offensive role with Roberts, Johnny Holton and Isaac Whitney, guys who played some last year. No spots are certain beyond the top three, and guys must be sure-handed, disciplined route runners to earn a remaining spot on this team.

Derek Carr has shown mastery of Jon Gruden’s scheme in short time

Derek Carr has shown mastery of Jon Gruden’s scheme in short time

Jon Gruden heaps responsibility on his quarterback. That’s true of most NFL schemes, but the Raiders head coach challenges his signal callers know all the terminology and concepts and adjustments and variables built into most every play.

He tests them constantly, changing defensive looks in practice, forcing quarterbacks to recall details on call in front of team meetings. It’s hard to handle by design.

Few can handle it well. Rich Gannon was one. Derek Carr is another.

The Raiders current franchise quarterback’s comprehension rate and recall under pressure has been welcome, but his insatiable desire for more might impress Gruden most.

“I think he’s one of the best, in terms of processing information,” Gruden said. “I think he craves new things. He wants more… ‘What do we have today? What are we doing today? What’s new? What do we got?’ He has a photographic memory. It comes so easy to him. He’s got the offense mastered more than I do.”

That last part’s hyperbole, but his exaggeration’s meant to make a point. Carr is pushing hard to get Gruden’s scheme down cold and apply its rules like his coach would.

Carr’s mastery is evident in practice, where he seems in complete control of the first unit. That has combined with his arm strength, quick release and accuracy that gives many confidence Carr will thrive this regular season and beyond working with Gruden. It might not have come quite so easy.

“There’s a lot of hard work for sure, a lot of hours spent trying to master it,” Carr said. “You think like he thinks, which has been fun and interesting for me to learn.

“In order to do that, the time you have to put in is a lot. It’s a lot. And both of us worked really hard on getting on the same page. I think we’re always going to continue to grow together and think about things differently and then figure it out. The main thing is when we hit the field, that’s us, that’s what he and I are putting on the field, the product at the same time. We didn’t want it to look like we’ve only been together for a short period of time. We wanted it to look like these guys have been around each other, it seems, like forever.”

Carr and Gruden have come a long way in a relatively short time. Learning a system like this takes time and includes several stages, starting with root concepts and terminology. The quarterback said the early days were spent cramming for a test, memorizing a ton early on. Gruden is constantly teaching new things, but continues to review and repeat to help quarterbacks learn.

“He does a great job, his teaching, progression for quarterbacks, the system, every single day he’ll hit on the new things but he’ll always remind you of what we did the past couple days,” Carr said. “So, you’re hitting it about seven to eight times before you really move on, to where it really becomes repetition and you become used to it.

“It has been a lot of work to get to the point to where it’s not just, ‘yeah, I memorized something on a paper.’ Well, I have to memorized every detail of it, and then know it inside and out and still know the defense inside and out and how do we beat it, how do we get to certain things? Initially, it was just, ‘what can I remember?’ As you continue to reference it and go back over it, it just becomes who we are.”

Raiders camp report: Jon Gruden's 'white tiger' returns to practice

Raiders camp report: Jon Gruden's 'white tiger' returns to practice

NAPA – The Raiders got Martavis Bryant back to practice Wednesday after two days away dealing with headaches. The explosive receiver primarily worked with the third unit during team drills as he continues to mesh with Jon Gruden’s system.

The Raiders head coach prefers his receivers learn every position and route in the tree, something that comes with steady reps and scheme study. Gruden also likes his players available and grinding with teammates through the dregs of training camp.

Bryant missed practice with illness last week and two straight sessions to start this one while reportedly dealing with migraines. Those headaches can be debilitating for sure.

Gruden wants his players working out as much as possible, and had a funny way of expressing the point.

“We’re calling Martavis the white tiger,” Gruden said. “I used to go to Busch Gardens in Tampa. We call (receiver Joey) Galloway the white tiger in Tampa. You go to Busch Gardens and they’ve got a white tiger. You go 12 times or 13 times, the white tiger was always in his cage. But the white tiger came out today. Bryant came out.

“I don’t know if you get that analogy, but sometimes he comes out to play and sometimes he doesn’t. It’s good to see him because he’s really special, like the white tiger. It’s late in the day here.”

Three things: 1. Gruden can be pretty funny. 2. He wants Bryant participating more. 3. He knows Bryant is a special talent.

While the draft day acquisition hasn’t wowed in training camp, expect him to having a prominent role in the Raiders offense. His speed is invaluable, and big-play ability rare. Bryant hasn’t spoken to the media since he was traded from Pittsburgh for a third-round pick, but said then he wants to be known as a complete receiver. There’s plenty of time to prove he’s capable of that. Quarterback Derek Carr said there’s a sense of urgency to his preparation, and receivers coach Edgar Bennett is well known as a solid teacher, who can help Bryant along the way. ,

Gruden on Penn trying right tackle

Donald Penn is trying a new position, working at right tackle in two practices since coming off the physically unable to perform list. It’s an experiment at this stage, to see if Penn can move across the line. It also keeps first-round rookie Kolton Miller working on the left, but the Raiders are still tinkering with offensive line arrangement as the preseason wears along.

“We haven’t settled on any starting lineups yet,” Gruden said. “We really didn’t want to disrupt Kolton’s status right now without being sure where Donald exactly was physically. This is an opportunity to get Penn back on the field with us. Not only to test the ankle, test his conditioning, but to get his timing down and get back in the channel of our offense. Then we’ll address this later next week.”

Battle in the slot

Receiver Griff Whalen has been working with the first-unit offense since Friday’s exhibition against Detroit, manning the slot of Ryan Switzer. He’s also heavily involved in return duties, which will be key deciding roster spots on the back end of the receiver depth chart.

“Well it’s very competitive situation,” Gruden said. “(Whalen and Switzer are) neck-and-neck. As you said, special teams will have a big part of that, but also shear production. You have to be able to go in there and make plays. You have to be able to go in there and block linebackers sometimes and big safeties. You have to know a lot of assignments because Derek [Carr] is going to change the play at the last second. It’s neck and neck with those guys.”

Seth Roberts returned to action on Wednesday, and Gruden maintains he’s in the mix working inside as well.

Injury update

Cornerback Daryl Worley returned to work after a Monday collision with Rashaan Melvin, but was limited to individual drills. Seth Roberts and Bryant also returned to practice.

Gruden said didn’t have an update on Obi Melifonwu’s continued absence with a lower body injury – he reportedly saw a specialist on Wednesday – but said an update could come next week when the team returns to Alameda.

Marcus Gilchrist, Breno Giacomini remain out of work. Jon Feliciano joined them after leaving Tuesday’s practice early. Jared Cook was given a veteran rest day.

Eddy Pineiro left practice early on Wednesday for an unknown reason and did not return. Mike Nugent kicked during this practice, which included several hurried (by design) field goal attempts.

This ‘n that

The Raiders claimed defensive tackle Gabe Wright off waivers from Miami. He was released after getting into an altercation with a teammate. He came after Kenyon Drake during practice while the Miami running back wasn’t wearing a helmet. Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin was placed on injured reserve in a corresponding move. … WR Keon Hatcher made an excellent catch, reaching up to grab a deep pass from Connor Cook with Shareece Wright draped all over him. …Gareon Conley had excellent coverage to break up a pass intended for Maratvis Bryant, proving a recent hip injury hasn’t impacted the cornerback’s speed. …Quarterback EJ Manuel has struggled mightily with the quarterback-center exchange. He lost a fumbled snap in last week’s game against Detroit, and has done so several times in camp. He had one Wednesday, right after being inserted with the second team over Cook. … The Raiders conducted a lighter practice without pads, one that remained intense in temp and rep count.