Raiders

Jon Gruden: Doug Martin should be mentor to Raiders rookie Josh Jacobs

Jon Gruden: Doug Martin should be mentor to Raiders rookie Josh Jacobs

ALAMEDA – The Raiders running back group went through a disturbance this week when Isaiah Crowell tore his Achilles tendon in a Tuesday offseason program workout. He’s done for the year and likely as a Raider after signing a one-year contract in March.

That created a veteran void hole at the position quickly filled by Doug Martin, last year’s leading rusher. The Oakland native returns after a long stay on the open market, expected to support Josh Jacobs, the No. 24 overall pick expected to be the Raiders’ lead back.

“Doug will be able to come in here and be a great mentor to Jacobs,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “He knows the system. He has produced in the system. Doug has had some real highs and some real lows in this league. He’ll be a great resource to our young back, and he can still play. We’re happy to have Doug back and disappointed for Isaiah.”

Gruden said Crowell suffered a “freak injury” the way it happened and feels for a player hoping to re-launch his career after a lackluster 2018 season with the New York Jets.

Crowell’s injury and Martin’s signing doesn’t change the top of the depth chart. Jacobs is sitting there comfortably already, though Gruden didn’t want to anoint him feature back just yet and said competition will be coming.

“Doug Martin was our three-down back last year and he finished quite well,” Gruden said. “We’re comfortable with Doug. I think Jalen Richard is a really good back, and he wants to be a three-down back. We just paid him a lot of money because of his skill. I think DeAndre Washington, who was hurt most of last year, is also going to be a contributor. We’ll see what happens with Jacobs. He has a lot to learn in our system, and he has to beat out some good backs.”

Gruden didn’t originally mention Chris Warren III but he’s also in the mix after spending the 2018 regular season on injured reserve with a knee injury

"I like Chris Warren. He's 260 pounds. He can run,” Gruden said. He had a good (2018) preseason for us and has learned a lot about our offense and this profession. ... We'll see where he is. We're anxious to put him back in circulation."

[RELATED: NFL execs have harsh words about Raiders' first-round picks]

Jacobs will have to earn his carries, but the full expectation is he’ll be the workhorse runner in this offense. Jacobs has the skills required to thrive in Gruden’s scheme and welcomes the chance at significant carries.

“Definitely eager to prove, not only to myself, but to everybody that I can be a three-down back,” Jacobs said. “Yeah, I think it was a blessing how it played out. I feel everything plays out how it’s supposed to. With me not having so much tread on the tires or whatever, being so fresh, I think it’s going to be huge, especially for my position. It’s going to be interesting.”

Why Raiders shouldn't worry about Derek Carr-Marcus Mariota controversy

Why Raiders shouldn't worry about Derek Carr-Marcus Mariota controversy

For the first time in what feels like forever, the Raiders finally have a viable backup quarterback. If Derek Carr goes down, coach Jon Gruden should have a QB behind him who can step in and get the job done. 

Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock clearly made this a priority in the offseason by signing Marcus Mariota. The former No. 2 overall draft pick's contract had some fans wondering if a quarterback controversy is inevitable. Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski had the same thought, which made him label Mariota as the Raiders' worst signing this offseason. 

"The Raiders organization won't admit it publicly, but Gruden and Co. created a combustible situation with an almost inevitable upcoming competition between the two quarterbacks," Sobleski wrote. "Carr and Mariota are consummate professionals, but both will want to start."

Of course both will want to start. That doesn't mean there will be a "combustible situation" in Sin City, though. Mariota is to thank for that. He's the perfect backup to not create an ugly scene while still pushing his counterpart. 

To no surprise if you have read anything about Mariota as a teammate or heard him speak after losing his starting job with the Tennessee Titans last season, he already is saying all the right things regarding he and Carr. 

“First and foremost, this is Derek’s team. I understand that going in,” Mariota told Rob DeMello of KHON2, a television station in his native Hawai’i. “I think my priority was to be part of a team that would bring out the best in me. Whatever happens, whatever comes of that, I’m ready for.

“I do know that, to play starting quarterback in the NFL, to be at that spot, is not an easy job to do. I think, when it comes down to it, a strong, stable, supportive quarterback room makes that job a whole lot easier. That’s what we have to do. I’m going to do my best to support Derek in every possible way that I can.

"Along with that, I’m going to try to become the best player I can be and see where that takes me.”

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Mariota made these comments late last month. He wants to compete, he wants to become a better player, but the last thing he will do is create a toxic locker room.

Don't just take his word, take what the QB who replaced him had to say. While watching his team succeed with Ryan Tannehill taking his job midway through last season, Mariota was there to support his teammate and fellow quarterback every step of the way. 

"Marcus is an incredible human being, and I have so much respect and love for him," Tannehill said to Titans Online at the Pro Bowl. "... The way things went down, I don't think many guys in the world would handle it the way he did. He handled it like a true professional. He was supportive of me from Day One. I know he was hurting, and I tried to be empathetic with that throughout the season and give support to him as well.

"But he handled it so well -- he was supportive of me, helped me out on game days, in preparation during the week. He was just a consistent guy throughout the year.

"We are great friends and we will continue to be great friends."

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Mariota's two-year, $17.6 million contract is an expensive one for a backup. It also is filled with incentives where he could earn roughly $20 million more if he assumes the starting gig through most of 2020 and has serious success in 2021.

Carr has been questioned from the outside for years now, and this certainly doesn't help. More questions from the media will come, however, Mariota never will amplify those questions or concerns. That's not his style. 

At one point or another, Mariota might step in for Carr as the Raiders' quarterback. Before that, though, he will continue saying the right things. "Controversy" is the last word you can associate with him.

Raiders mailbag: How will Jon Gruden, Mike Mayock handle cornerback need?

Raiders mailbag: How will Jon Gruden, Mike Mayock handle cornerback need?

The Raiders invested heavily in unrestricted free agency, so much so that they had to restructure Rodney Hudson to get right within the salary cap. It might not be the only adjustment required after all the Raiders did importing veteran talent, considering they need $9.4 million to sign their draft picks as currently slotted.

Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock should shift eyes from the open market to the NFL draft feeling confident in the additions made, with little doubt the Raiders are discernably better than they were last month.

That was made clear in last week’s Raiders Insider Podcasts, which focused on the state of the roster that is improved but still needs some help. They have to stick the landing in the draft to complete a productive offseason, a fact we’ll address in forthcoming installments, with pressing needs at receiver and cornerback remaining.

This offseason pivot point creates an ideal time for a Raiders mailbag, one looking back at what they’ve done and ahead at what they could do in the draft to fortify a roster that is significantly better than it was a few weeks ago.

Let’s get to your questions, which come via Facebook and Twitter, and have been lightly edited for context and grammar:

Question: Raiders had high hopes for Isaiah Johnson last year. What are his chances of starting opposite Mullen Island this year or do they draft a cornerback with one of two first-round picks? – Ryan Roscioli on Facebook

You’re right. The Raiders are high on Johnson, a converted receiver with the length and speed required to function well in the defensive system. I think odds are good he could be a factor moving forward, but his presence doesn’t eliminate a pressing need at cornerback.

If they were sure Johnson was going to be the guy, they wouldn’t have gone hard after Byron Jones and Chris Harris Jr. or kicked the tires on a Darius Slay trade. They wouldn’t have courted Eli Apple.

They did all those things, and there’s a strong belief cornerback is a high priority in the NFL draft. Johnson has an opportunity to grab a prominent defensive position, but he’s going to have to beat out some competition to get it. He has the talent required to do so, but a starting spot is far from given at this stage.

It seems likely the Raiders add a cornerback at No. 12 or 19 overall and let that person work for the starting gig, though Johnson won't take that lying down. He has been working hard this offseason and should contend to a prominent role on the 2020 Raiders defense. 

Q: We’ve had a lot of talk about the top 10 WRs. Who is your sleeper WR not being mentioned much? – Bryce Abbas on Facebook

When it comes to picks outside the upper echelon, I defer to Josh Schrock, Raiders reporter and NBC Sports Bay Area’s resident draftnik. He gave me these names to watch: USC’s Michael Pittman, Ohio State’s K.J. Hill, Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool and Texas’ Devin Duvernay. Those guys should be available later and could fortify the receiver corps.

Don’t forget that Nelson Agholor’s working on a one-year deal and Tyrell Williams’ deal is pay-as-you-go. They need some long-term solutions at receiver. Getting a few isn’t a bad idea.

Q: If 2 of the top 3 receivers are available at 12 and 19 could the Raiders draft two prime time receivers? – Mike Perez on Facebook

Anything’s possible but I wouldn’t consider that probable. The Raiders have too many other needs to take two first-round receivers. If they want more than one receiver in the draft, the second could come in the later rounds as Mayock tries to mine talent from a deep receiver draft class.

Q: Jon Gruden's Offense demands a receiver to be able to play all three positions. Which one do you think fits that mold? – Joseph McNeal on Facebook

That’s a great question. Gruden does prefer his receivers know all three spots, though they generally focus on one during games. Hunter Renfrow normally mans the slot. Tyrell Williams is more of an X receiver. Jerry Jeudy can move around and perform well from anywhere, so I think he could be a solid fit for what the Raiders do.

I’m still more of a CeeDee Lamb guy for his YAC ability and the fact the Raiders need someone threatening working on the outside.

Listen and subscribe to the Raiders Talk Podcast:

Q: Do you think the Raiders will draft a big back like Gruden had with Tyrone Wheatley or Zack Crockett in the later rounds this year? – James George on Facebook

I do think they add a running back in the draft, with the third round an opportunity to land a physical complementary back. AJ Dillon, anyone?

They need someone to take some of the load off Josh Jacobs, especially with Jalen Richard working primarily as a third-down back and DeAndre Washington still on the free-agent market.

Q: Do you think the Raiders will make the playoffs this year? Or do you believe it'll take 2 or 3 more years? – Jerry Arrendondo Sr. on Facebook

More the former than they latter. The Raiders are now on the back end of a major roster rebuild and are significantly better than the team that finished 7-9 last year. If Derek Carr performs and they avoid catastrophic injury issues, the Raiders should be in the hunt for the three wild-card spots available with the expanded postseason.

If Mayock and Gruden hit another home run in the NFL draft, there’s no reason to think they can’t be one of the seven best teams in the AFC.

Q: What is the reason that you think the Eli Apple deal fell through? – Steve Guzman on Facebook

As I understand it, Apple’s inability to get a physical was the primary issue. I’m not sure if he missed a deadline to get one or the process was dragging unnecessarily, but the team wanted to finalize the deal and that wasn’t possible without a physical. It was not a financial decision.

While Apple didn’t completely quench the Raiders’ thirst for a cornerback, he was going to be the frontrunner to start opposition Trayvon Mullen. They should add one in the NFL draft and let him compete with Johnson for the starting gig.

I do think the Raiders came out better for Thursday’s events, when the Apple deal dissolved and Damarious Randall came aboard.

[RELATED: Raiders have upgraded defense, but still need to improve]

Q: Has Marcus Mariota met with Jon Gruden yet? – Brian Taylor on Facebook

The two have met -- there was a whole Gruden QB camp episode centered around one interaction -- but not since the signing. That isn’t allowed during a dead period where the travel is restricted, and NFL facilities officially down shut down due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

I included this question to discuss a broader point about where we in relation to a standard NFL offseason. This spring and summer will be anything but normal, with offseason programs and OTAs postponed indefinitely. There’s a real possibility they don’t get conducted at all, a real setback for incoming players and Mariota especially as he tries to learn a new offensive scheme.

There’s a possibility that video conference meetings can be conducted, but that’s nothing like a typical offseason program. It’s a setback from a football perspective, but also rational considering the state of the pandemic.

Players have been told to work out on their own and sit tight waiting for further instructions, though it’s hard to imagine getting back to normal anytime soon.

Q: Do you think Damarious Randall or Erik Harris starts at free safety? – R8RNICK87 on Twitter

While Randall has versatility to play anywhere in the defensive backfield, he was a damn good free safety in Cleveland and I believe the plan is to play him at free safety in the Raiders’ scheme.

Harris will be a qualified backup, someone who will also have to battle Jeff Heath for a favorable spot on the depth chart with Randall in the mix and Johnathan Abram back healthy.