Raiders

Raiders reminded not to overlook Bengals by Kentucky, Saints upsets

carrgrudenusa.jpg
USATSI

Raiders reminded not to overlook Bengals by Kentucky, Saints upsets

ALAMEDA -- After back-to-back wins over the Lions and the Chargers, everything is in front of the Raiders. 

The hard part of their schedule is behind them, and they sit just a half-game back of the Chiefs in the AFC West with just the 0-9 Bengals and the hapless Jets standing between them and a marquee Dec. 1 showdown with Kansas City. 

The Bengals, who appear to be in full tank mode, look to provide little resistance against a Raiders team that has been securing wins through grit, resiliency and toughness. 

But many believed the same thing about the Saints before the Falcons rolled them in Week 10. And no one gave the Evansville Purple Aces a shot at beating No. 1 Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Tuesday night. So, the Raiders are giving the Bengals their full attention. 

“No, we’ve had a tough season," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said Wednesday when asked if he had to remind the team not to overlook Cincinnati. "We’ve had tough moments around here, so we’re familiar with tough moments. We’ve got a lot of respect for the Bengals. You ever heard of the Evansville basketball team? They just went into Lexington and beat the No. 1 team last night now.

"So, this is pro sports. This is the National Football League. I don’t really care about anybody’s record. We’ve got a lot to prove. We’ve got to keep getting better and keep working hard, and hopefully, we can find a way to win another game.”

This is a young Raiders team, relying on heavy contributions from a number of rookies. After two straight wins over Matthew Stafford and Philip Rivers, it would be normal for young guys to start strutting, looking ahead to bigger games than what awaits the Raiders on Sunday. 

Gruden is all over it, though.

"You’ve just got to remind some of the young people that you can’t believe everything you read and you can’t believe everything you hear these days," Gruden said. "If you don’t respect Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, if you don’t think Will Jackson and Joe Mixon are great players, then you better get some film and look at it.”

Derek Carr knows what it's like to be in the Bengals' position. As a rookie, he was part of a Raiders team that started 0-10 in 2014 before picking up their first win of the season in Week 12.

Carr is aware that anything can happen in professional sports. He doesn't want to hear about numbers or perceived plans to tank. The Bengals are a real threat as far as he and the Raiders are concerned. 

"Oh, yeah. You know, I never look at stats or records. I just turn the film on and see what I have to see," the quarterback said. "This team that we are playing is talented everywhere. They got a great football team, they got great coaches that have come from great places. They are in the middle of installing their system. They are in the middle of trying to figure out what offense and defense with their personnel that they are trying to do and all those kinds of things, they are in the middle of that.

"So, who says it wouldn’t click this week, right? And so, I don’t care about records, man. I prepare every game as if this is the game, and so there is no, ‘They haven’t won a game.'  I don’t care how many games they have or haven’t won. They got Pro Bowlers all over their football team, and they are going to bring it, that’s for sure."

The Raiders are banged up. While they exited their miniature bye relatively healthy, they likely will be without slot cornerback Lamarcus Joyner on Sunday. Safety Karl Joseph was placed on injured reserve after the win over the Chargers. D.J. Swearinger was brought in to provide aid to the secondary, and Dion Jordan was signed to bolster an ailing pass rush. 

Carr is accustomed to being picked to lose, so he's not taking any stock in the public's perceptions of the Bengals. After all, "on any given Sunday" -- you know the rest of the saying. 

"We look at just last night, young Kentucky, No. 1 team in the nation lost to someone no one thought they’d lose to, right?" Carr said, echoing Gruden's early example. "You watched the Saints, who were 7-1, they lose to the Falcons, who everyone has written off. This is the NFL. This is not high school football, it’s not even college football. It doesn’t matter what the spread is or who’s picked to win. I think we’ve been picked to lose every game since I’ve been here.

"Like, it doesn’t matter at all. You just got to show up and you got to play. And I don’t expect Cincinnati to come out here and just roll over. Those guys are professional athletes, and they are really good professional athletes. They don’t get enough credit. I think people sometimes look at an 0-9 team and they play Madden and see that their ratings are going down, but when they turn the film on, people that play football know how good the Bengals are.”

[RELATED: Jordan ready to work to realize full potential with Raiders]

So, did Carr and Gruden rehearse their "take no team lightly" spiel? 

“No," Carr said when asked if Gruden had been using those examples to keep the Raiders focused. "Those are the same ones? I promise it wasn’t. I tell you, he’s rubbing off on me.”

Raiders injury report: Josh Jacobs 'looked great' in limited practice

jacobsusatsi.jpg
USATSI

Raiders injury report: Josh Jacobs 'looked great' in limited practice

ALAMEDA -- Raiders running back Josh Jacobs was cleared to practice Wednesday, but coach Jon Gruden couldn’t guarantee the rookie would play in Sunday’s Oakland Coliseum finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Jacobs had things to prove to both trainers and coaches during the practice week to gain final clearance. It seems it could be coming soon.

Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said Jacobs looked great in his return to work after missing last week’s loss to the Tennessee Titans with a fractured shoulder suffered in Week 7.

“He looked great,” Olson said. “He’s been a pro, and obviously he’s shown that he can play with injuries. He’s had different nagging injuries throughout the season, but he’s a tough player, and again, that’s a part of the reason why we drafted him. ...

"We just feel good about him right now.”

The Raiders got another valued rookie back on the practice field, with wide receiver Hunter Renfrow working for the first time since injuring his ribs and lung in an away loss to the New York Jets.

That doesn’t mean he’ll be ready to go right away. A Week 16 meeting with the L.A. Chargers previously was designated as a return target and still might be the case after limited work Thursday.

“He was able to go through individuals today and routes,” Olson said. “Just no contact, but he looked great, so it’s good to have him out on the field. Brought a little juice to the offense. They’re excited to see him out there.”

[RELATED: How Guden's bond with Coliseum runs deep]

Right guard Gabe Jackson was a non-participant in Thursday’s work as he continues to battle through a knee injury that has negatively impacted consistently solid play. Right tackle Trent Brown remains out with a pectoral injury, without much to suggest he’ll be ready to play Sunday.

Brandon Parker will play for Brown, and Denzelle Good will step in if Jackson can’t go.

Raiders practice report

THURSDAY
Did not practice
OT Trent Brown (pectoral)
LB Kyle Wilber (ankle)
RG Gabe Jackson (knee)
CB Daryl Worley (neck)
LB Marquel Lee (toe)

Limited practice
WR Hunter Renfrow (rib)
RB Josh Jacobs (shoulder)
C Rodney Hudson (ankle)
CB Lamarcus Joyner (hamstring)
WR Marcell Ateman (ribs)
S Erik Harris (hamstring)

How Jon Gruden's unique bond with Oakland Raiders fans runs deep

How Jon Gruden's unique bond with Oakland Raiders fans runs deep

OAKLAND -- Jon Gruden walked toward midfield with a tense Raiders victory finally secure, exchanging pleasantries with L.A. Chargers coaches he spent all week trying to beat. He worked that crowd with smiles, handshakes and bro hugs, spending most of his time looking for open space.

The Raiders head coach found some and quickly made a break for it.

Gruden doubled his pace, removed his jacket and headed straight for the Black Hole. The notorious fan section was ready and waiting for another moment with their man, one of their greatest champions.

Gruden got the Elvis treatment over 54 seconds walking Oakland Coliseum’s southern rail, borderline mobbed while trying to make personal connections with this devoted following. He accomplished that mission several times over, reveling in a Week 10 victory with people dressed like gorillas and fighter pilots and other creepy outfits only fit for the Coliseum and Halloween.

Gruden stood before the press a short while later, face paint smudging his cheek and spilled beer on his shoulder, his jacket and visor given away in the crowd.

He was asked, clearly by a reporter unfamiliar with his disposition, if those Black Hole trips were getting a little too rough to repeat.

“No, I never think that,” Gruden said. “Every win, I’m going down there. I get face paint all over me. I get to see some costumes I have not seen before at any football games. It’s awesome.”

Gruden’s bond with the fan base runs deep. That’s especially true in Oakland, still the capital of Raider Nation.

“There’s something about these people,” Gruden said. “They’re nuts. They’re the closest thing to me that I’ve ever seen. We have that in common.”

There is grit and determination, a ferocious bark and bite in Gruden and his followers. And, of course, they share an unwavering devotion to all things Raiders. They are like family in that they can be at times mad with Gruden’s performance while still wishing him well.

That kinship always will stay with Gruden, even as the Raiders transition to Las Vegas in 2020. Relocation’s right around the bend, with but one game left at Oakland Coliseum. That comes Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, which he hopes to punctuate with one more celebration in the Black Hole.

“That’s what I coach for,” Gruden said. “I love people. I love football and they love it more than anybody. People can make fun of me and say whatever they want, but when we win, I’m going down there. And when we lose, usually I stick around the parking lot, hang out with the guys and try to get them ready for the next home game. I like to share my joy with some joyous Raiders fans as much as possible.”

That’s Gruden’s way of saying thank you for ardent support during his days as a 30-something head coach. It’s a thank you for keeping him in high esteem after he got traded to Tampa Bay – the 2002 Super Bowl and a 2004 return to the Coliseum are rare exceptions – and eventually moved into broadcasting. It’s a thank you for patience while he rebuilds the Raiders roster during his return to the Silver and Black.

Gruden earned loyalty from a fanbase starving for a return to greatness. The Raiders moved back to Oakland in 1995, after 13 seasons and a Super Bowl win in Los Angeles. The second East Bay stint started with three subpar seasons under two head coaches before Al Davis hired Philadelphia’s 35-year old offensive coordinator in 1998.

Gruden entered with a plan and started to execute it well, following two 8-8 seasons with an AFC West title and a trip to the conference championship game.

“Success makes you exciting,” said former Raiders running back Napoleon Kaufman, who worked under Gruden from 1998-2000 before retiring to become a pastor. “Him coming in with a new attitude and passion and all those facial expressions made him a popular figure. During that short period of time, there was a lot of winning and overall excitement surrounding the team. Raiders fans were so hungry to win, and he was the face of that new movement.”

Kaufman’s right. Gruden’s personality was an important part of that package. All the dramatic facial expressions and raised eyebrows, all the yelling and the four-letter words let fans know he was giving ‘em hell on their behalf. His commitment to the craft became legend, with the entire East Bay aware he was getting up at 3:17 a.m. to help the Raiders win.

“He brought what I would I refer to as a zest and a zeal that had been missing,” former Raiders CEO Amy Trask said. “He was also just so expressive that fans likened him to Chucky and he embraced that, and it really took off. …The popularity of Jon Gruden grew and grew among Raiders fans.”

That was especially true in 2001, when Gruden won another division crown and was controversially felled by the NFL’s tuck rule in New England. Fans stayed true even after he was traded from Oakland to Tampa Bay for two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million. They obviously were upset after he beat the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, but time healed that wound.

That was clear when he came back to Oakland Coliseum to broadcast an NFL preseason game between the Raiders and Cowboys. Gruden rarely, if ever, left the press level when covering games, but took a lap before that 2012 exhibition that went just like recent his trips to the Black Hole. Fans lined the rails waiting for a moment of his time or an autograph, proof that their adoration never died.

Neither has Gruden’s connection to this region. He certainly hoped to give it another shot at glory this season but couldn’t keep a midseason hot streak going long enough to remain in the playoff hunt. That sets up an Oakland Coliseum finale that carries few football ramifications but plenty of emotion for Gruden, his family and everyone in the stands.

[RELATED: Carr shares special connection with Coliseum, where QB came of age]

Gruden hasn’t been nostalgic heading into this game, choosing to focus on the preparation required to give these Raiders fans one more win to end this Oakland era. It’s one more chance to salute an area that means so much to him.

“In a lot of ways I was raised here, you know what I mean?” Gruden said. “It was the beginning of my NFL coaching career, at least my head coaching career. I just love it here. I had my first son here and I have a lot of history here. And some of my friends, a lot of my friends are in the Black Hole. A lot of my only friends are here. (laughter) I don’t have a lot of friends except the guys in the Black Hole. I only get to see them six or seven times, and I get emotional talking about it.

“Look, we’re excited about the future in Las Vegas. I don’t want to underestimate that either, but we’re also very respectful of where we come from.”