Raiders

Special bond with Michigan coach helped Charles Woodson become a legend

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AP

Special bond with Michigan coach helped Charles Woodson become a legend

Raiders legend Charles Woodson was recruited to the University of Michigan by a coaching staff he never got to play for. A sudden regime change elevated Lloyd Carr to head coach and put Vance Bedford in charge of Woodson’s development.

Woodson met Michigan’s new defensive backs coach before the 1995 season and came away with a distinct impression.

“I thought he was a cocky, arrogant young coach,” Woodson said. “He reminded me a lot of myself. That’s probably why we related to each other.”

Woodson was the best prep football player in the state of Ohio that year, a supreme talent who knew exactly how good he was. He had all the accolades to prove it, but Bedford didn’t care.

He refused to join the chorus of those inflating Woodson’s ego. Bedford didn’t give supreme athletic gifts preferential treatment.

“Charles needed to be coached hard,” Bedford said. “Being a superstar in high school, at first I coached him harder than some others. so I could get him to think the Michigan way.”

Assimilation didn’t come easy. Woodson bucked and then Bedford tightened reins several times, but a lasting respect was formed during this battle of wills.

“We clashed a little bit because we were a lot alike, but that turned out to be a good thing,” Woodson said. “We went head to head a little bit, but turned out to be a great relationship.”

It’s a relationship Woodson holds dear to this day, one he credits for launching a Hall of Fame career. That’s why the legendary Raider, one of the greatest defensive backs in the history of college and professional football is honoring Bedford at the Fifth Annual Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards on Wednesday night.

The mission of Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards is to give professional athletes an opportunity to acknowledge coaches who have been influential to their success while also raising money and awareness for Coaching Corps, a nonprofit that provides youth in underserved areas access to trained coaches in a variety of sports.

[RELATED: Klay Thompson to honor high school coach at Game Changer Awards]

Woodson will be one of several prominent Bay Area athletes honoring coaches who impacted their lives on and off the field at the annual gala, which will be broadcast on Sunday at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area.

“He took raw talent and molded me into a guy who could be the best player on the field at that cornerback position,” Woodson said. “It all started in 1995. He took a young player and imparted wisdom over time. In 1998, he told me, ‘just go out and play football. I’ve given you all I can give you as a coach. Now it’s time to take all of that and be the best player in the country.’

Coach Bedford got me to that level, which is why I’m so very proud to honor him in this way.”

That level was good enough to win the Heisman Trophy and help Michigan win a national championship. That level was the foundation of an excellent NFL career, with the Raiders and Green Bay Packers and then the Raiders again. Woodson won a Super Bowl and a defensive player of the year award. He was a three-time first-team All-Pro and a nine-time Pro Bowler, with numerous NFL records to his credit.

He’s widely considered among the greatest to ever play over 18 professional seasons. He was tutored by several excellent coaches, none more influential than Bedford.

“I tried to instill hard work and work ethic,” Bedford said. “Things came easy to Charles but sometimes everyone hits a bump in the road. It was my responsibility to prepare him for those moments.”

Raiders, Jon Gruden coaching staff: Senior Bowl 'great tool' for team

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USATSI

Raiders, Jon Gruden coaching staff: Senior Bowl 'great tool' for team

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.”

[RELATED: Raiders should be watching safeties at Senior Bowl]

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.”

Raiders playing Bears in London means no return of the (Khalil) Mack

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USATSI

Raiders playing Bears in London means no return of the (Khalil) Mack

MOBILE, Ala. – The Raiders have been shipping home games abroad for years now.

The football people don’t love it. Jon Gruden’s a homebody, and prefers to stay put whenever possible. Jack Del Rio didn’t like it, either. Adding another travel date to the schedule makes a season harder. There’s no arguing that.

It is unofficially part of the team’s relocation efforts, conceding to play an extra game away from the East Bay and wherever the Raiders eventually call home in 2019.

This will mark the fourth straight season the Raiders have hosted an international game, and the fifth time in the last six years.

They’ll be going to London this time. The opponent was no surprise.

The Raiders will play the Chicago Bears in London, the NFL announced Monday morning. The exact date and venue will be announced when the schedule’s released this spring.

Playing the Bears far away from home prevents the return of Khalil Mack. Gruden traded the All-Pro edge rusher to Chicago on Sept. 1 for a compensation package that included two first round picks, an unpopular move that signaled the start of a complete roster rebuild.

Moving this game to London avoids the possibility of him wreaking havoc against his old team, pressuring good friend and former teammate Derek Carr in front of a home crowd that loved him so much.

Mack was immensely popular in Oakland and across the Bay Area, a market the Raiders could well play in despite not having a lease to play anywhere in 2019.

Mack’s return would’ve been a huge storyline, and may well have been a primetime offering. Moving the game to London eliminates that prospect as well, given the time difference between England and the United States.

Even still the focus will be on Mack playing the Raiders and a way-to-early progress report on the No. 24 overall NFL draft pick, who will be the first tangible part of the Raiders return in the Khalil Mack trade.

Changing the venue and keeping this an early game should dampen national focus and local passion for this one.

The Raiders and Bears matchup is part of a four-game series in London that also features Tampa Bay-Carolina, Houston-Jacksonville and L.A. Rams-Cincinnati. The L.A. Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs will play in Mexico City next season.

As it was in 2018, the Raiders, Rams and Chargers, teams playing in temporary venues while their stadia are being built, will all host games abroad.