OAKLAND -- Jon Gruden has experienced several milestone since returning as Raiders head coach. Getting re-fitted in Silver and Black. That first offseason practice back. His return to Napa and training camp. The preseason stroll of the sidelines at Oakland Coliseum.
They all meant something to Gruden, who at times can be a nostalgic. He’ll have all the feels on Monday night against the Los Angeles Rams. These games, the ones that truly count, are why Gruden returned to coaching in the first place.
Raider Nation loves Gruden, especially in the East Bay. They should welcome him with open arms on Monday night, even after he traded a certain All-Pro edge rusher.
“This is really special for me,” Gruden said. “I know there’s been a lot of news this week with what has happened, but I want to do everything I can to help bring the Raiders back. I really like the effort that our team has put forth, our coaching staff. It will be special going out there Monday Night that’s for sure.”
Gruden spent his last nine years as Monday Night Football color analyst, and it’s no coincidence he’ll be featured in the show’s opening week. The Raiders and Rams play the second half of a doubleheader, with the full crew of analysts broadcasting live from Jack London Square.
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This has all the big game feel you’d expect from a celebrity head coach as popular as any player on the roster. Gruden will match wits with Rams head coach Sean McVay, a longtime family friend and protégé. The game’s on in primetime out west.
Storylines heading into this game are plentiful.
None are bigger than the news Gruden referred to above. He referenced a controversial decision to trade Khalil Mack for a compensation package that includes two first round picks and plenty of scrutiny. The Raiders shipped their best player and got nothing that can help the 2018 squad, suggesting Gruden is building for a better future at a short-term cost. Doing so just days before the regular season has left a sour taste with many astonished Mack is wearing Bears blue and burnt orange.
Mack didn’t take away the sting on Sunday night. He added to its intensity, adding a sack, a forced fumble and an interception returned for a touchdown in his first game with the Bears.
Monday night’s result will be questioned, including how the Raiders could’ve done with Mack in the trenches. A loss will fuel that speculation. A win will push it farther in the rearview and kick the season off with a bang.
The Raiders could well come out and control this game. They could get smoked. There’s a lot we don’t know about these Raiders and how Gruden will coach them. He was as vanilla as possible during a preseason where regulars barely played. We have an idea of the team’s depth chart and who fills what role, but several spots will remain up in the air until the game starts.
The Rams have also played things close to the chest, meaning teams will have to adjust as the game moves along.
“It will be a challenge,” Gruden said. “We are going to have to make some adjustments to what they are doing. I’m sure they have a lot of secrets up their sleeve that they haven’t shown. That’s why we have the Microsoft tablets on the sidelines, so we can make the adjustments as soon as possible.”
The biggest mystery, however, centers around Gruden himself. His scheme is well known from previous stints in Oakland and Tampa Bay but it has evolved after spending the last nine years studying offenses and working with coaches around the NFL as a member of the media. Gruden will have some tricks up his sleeve that will be unveiled as the season progresses. That will be a huge asset for the Raiders, if they can capitalize on the element of surprise.
“That’s the advantage the Raiders have going into this Week 1 matchup,” former NFL quarterback and current NBC analyst Chris Simms said on NBC Sports Bay Area’s “Raiders Central.” “Nobody knows what to expect from Jon Gruden’s offense. I think he’s going to unleash the kitchen sink, all the things he has stolen from the Sean Paytons, Kyle Shannahans and Sean McVays of the world that he has accumulated during his 10-year vacation he had with ESPN. I think we’re going to see all of them unveiled here over the first few weeks of the season. I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but it’s not going to look like (Gruden’s offense) in Tampa, and it’s definitely not going to look like what he ran last time in Oakland or what we saw in the preseason.”