MOBILE, Ala. – The Senior Bowl has NFL coaching staffs run the annual college All-Star Game and NFL draft showcase. They’re typically offered to the worst team from each conference with a returning coach, and the Raiders fit that bill.
The invite wasn’t accepting begrudgingly, out of obligation. Head coach Jon Gruden jumped at the opportunity. The Raiders wanted to do it.
The Silver and Black coaching staff will lead the North squad during the practice week and in Saturday’s game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
“We are really excited,” Gruden said. “It will be the fourth time that I have done it. We have to do a good job in this draft and the best way to do it is to be as close as possible to the players."
The experience allows Raiders coaches to get their hands on invited prospects and see how they meet, absorb information and perform in practice against top competition looking to boost draft stock.
It will be a valuable evaluation tool heading into a pivotal NFL draft, one that could energize Gruden’s return to the Raiders.
While there isn’t a player here expected to be a Raiders target at No. 4 overall – Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen would’ve been the only one and he backed out of a commitment to play – there’s quality at several positions of need that could be options when the Raiders select early at Nos. 24, 27 and 35 overall and further down the NFL draft.
The Raiders will get to know these Senior Bowl players as well or better than any prospects in the NFL draft. Most teams get to meet with these guys and watch them practice. The Raiders will get to work with the North squad, with the 49ers running the South.
“When you get to the Senior Bowl and you get the access to these kids and the opportunity to see both teams practice, how they practice, how they retain information, how they process information, both on an install basis and mechanics on the field,” general manager Mike Mayock said. “I think it’s just a huge advantage.”
A unique week’s interaction will draw the Raiders to certain players. It will also push them away from others.
“If we can eliminate two or three players by coaching the Senior Bowl,” Gruden said, “sometimes that is just as important as finding two or three guys that you really want.”
The importance of the Raiders’ three 2019 first-round picks can’t be oversold. They will be vital in this roster rebuild, and nailing two or all three could expedite an often painful reconstruction process.
Gruden hopes it helps find prospects and sell the coaching staff to college free agents and anyone watching this week’s work.
“We have three picks in the first round,” We also pick in every other round and we also have the potential to add players after the draft. It will give our coaches, I think, a chance to go to Mobile in front of the entire NFL and show what kind of coaching staff we have - show the energy and enthusiasm that we have as a staff. We are going to sell ourselves to the players.”
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The Raiders are happy to interrupt the offseason for this experience, which Gruden has done three times before. He led a Senior Bowl squad twice while with Tampa Bay and once in his previous stint in Oakland, back in 1999.
“The last time I coached the Senior Bowl as the head coach of the Raiders, we drafted Eric Barton and Rod Coleman,” Gruden said. “It was a great tool for us, in Tampa and in Oakland.”