Which Raiders have surprised Jon Gruden most this offseason?


Which Raiders have surprised Jon Gruden most this offseason?

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders are in the offseason program’s home stretch. Their mandatory minicamp started Tuesday, beginning a three-day stretch that caps spring work.

While these sessions are conducted without pads, there’s plenty coaches can glean from proceedings. Head coach Jon Gruden spread praise around in his post-practice press conference, and offered insight on players standing out and working through the spring.

Khalil Mack’s absence from Tuesday’s practice was the day’s top story detailed here, in a previous post you should check out.

This one is devoted what was seen and heard from Tuesday’s practice and press conferences. Here’s what we learned:

-- Rookie edge rusher Arden Key flashed quickness and bend getting around the edge on several occasions, including one simulated sack working against first-round pick Kolton Miller.

Miller stifled Key a few times and generally performed well as the first-team left tackle while Donald Penn returns from foot surgery.

-- The first practice scuffle of this Gruden era broke out Tueaday between defensive lineman Fadol Brown and third-round offensive tackle Brandon Parker. Brown was the aggressor, and was thrown out of practice for fighting.

Gruden, to say the least, was not thrilled.

“I didn’t like what happened today, particularly in the situation,” Gruden said. “You hear all this situational football talk around the league. We’re in the 2-minute drill to win the game, and we got a guy ejected for fighting. That’s a 1-yard penalty and Eddy Pineiro ended their day with a game-ending field goal. I’d hate to fly back from London or wherever the hell we have to play, Miami or all these road trips we’ve got, losing a game like that. Sorry for getting unglued.”

-- Gruden admitted being surprised by two players during this offseason program. Tight end Jared Cook was one.

“I didn’t know he could move like that,” Gruden said.

Cook’s athleticism has allowed the veteran to play several different positions in the passing game, and given Gruden a roving chess piece he didn’t know he had.

Safety Erik Harris was the other. The unheralded third-year pro, known primarily as a special teams player, has impressed on defense this spring. He took some first-team reps on Tuesday, and drew praise from the head coach.

“The guy that’s really been stunning for us is Erik Harris,” Gruden said. “I’m doing my research on this guy. Who is this cat? This guy has played really good football for us. I don’t care what round they are coming from. This kid is really rising to the top right now.”

The Harris praise came during a question about Obi Melifonwu, a second-year pro who has ramped up activity after Gruden mentioned he wasn’t close to a contribution while rehabbing from hip surgery.

-- The kicking competition between Eddy Pineiro and Giorgio Tavecchio will carry through the summer. While Pineiro has taken every practice rep in sessions open to the press, Gruden said the kickers are trading off days, making it coincidental. The coaching staff loves Pinerio, so much so they nearly drafted the Florida product in the seventh round. He seems to have the inside track to the regular-season gig.

-- Safety Marcus Gilchrist missed practice with a calf strain. Gruden said holding him out was precautionary, and (while knocking on wood) said that major injuries had, to this point, avoided the Raiders this offseason. Gruden then praised Gilchrist as the best safety during the offseason program, and someone who can play multiple spots.

Breno Giacomini wasn’t present for Tuesday’s practice, and Gareon Conley missed most of the session, but Gruden wasn’t worried about it.

-- The Raiders cut quarterback Christian Hackenberg less than a month after acquiring him in trade from the New York Jets. There weren’t enough reps to go around, and the No. 4 guy didn’t do much with them.

Gruden said the battle to back up Derek Carr is wide open at this stage. Connor Cook is “moving up…but there are some rough edges he can improve.” Likes EJ Manuel’s athleticism thus far (and the guy has a cannon arm). The competition will carry on, but Manuel has pole position to retain a job he earned last season.

-- Karl Joseph intercepted Connor Cook early in Tuesday’s practice, continuing an interception trend that has carried through the offseason. Coaches record when a player is around the ball in practice, and Gruden said Joseph had an exceptionally high number. That’s a good sign for someone looking to be a playmaker next season.

Five new Raiders with something to prove in 2018 season


Five new Raiders with something to prove in 2018 season

The Raiders are taking some time off during the dead period of the NFL offseason. Even early bird Jon Gruden is slapping the snooze button these days, spending some quality time with family before training camp cranks up later this month.

Coaches and players are still finding time for work, sometimes while they’re on vacation. The Raiders want to hit the ground running this preseason, with many motivated to show well in silver and black. That’s especially true for a large class of new Raiders, many of whom hope to silence detractors.

Here are five newcomers with plenty to prove in 2018:

5. CB Rashaan Melvin

Lists like this are normally reserved for guys coming off injuries or down years. Melvin doesn’t fit that mold. The 28-year old had his best year in 2017, often shutting down top receivers as Indy’s top cornerback. He allowed a paltry 60.3 passer rating when targeted, with three picks, 10 passes defensed and just two touchdowns allowed.

Those stats didn’t produce a robust free-agent market. Melvin ended up signing a one-year, $5.5 million deal with Oakland, and is now working to show he’s not a one-year wonder and can stay healthy for 16 games. An ovation-worthy encore would surely earn a long-term, bigger-money deal.

Melvin made his motivation clear on Twitter a few weeks back.

4. WR Jordy Nelson

Nelson had a down year in 2017. It started well, with six touchdowns in the first four games he played. Then all-world Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down, and things hit the skids. He averaged just 9.1 yards per reception, and didn’t score after that early flurry.

That led some to say Nelson lost a step at age 32 he would not recover. The Packers asked him to take a massive pay cut, and ended up releasing him in March. The Raiders swooped in quickly with a two-year deal and plenty of guaranteed money.

Nelson has been praised for his attention to detail and position-group leadership, and will fit into the starting lineup with Amari Cooper and Martavis Bryant. He had four straight 1,000-yard seasons prior to last year. His worth won’t be defined by a monster statistical year. Reliability, leadership and red-zone performance will show if Nelson’s still got it.

3. RB Doug Martin

The veteran rusher has had an uneven career. Excellent production has come in spurts, with dominance in 2012 and 2015. The last 1,400-plus yard season was followed by two seasons of 2.9 yards per carry, which led Tampa Bay to cut his this winter.

He met Gruden for lunch at a Florida golf course, and the exchange convinced Gruden the 29-year old was ready to work and prove he had plenty left in the tank. His work was praised during the offseason program, though practice in pads and preseason play will offer stronger evidence of 2018 effectiveness. Showing well in camp could lead to an increased role behind starter Marshawn Lynch. Gruden likes using multiple backs in his offense, and could make steady contributions in the run game.

2. MLB Derrick Johnson

The longtime Kansas City Chief was let go by the team that drafted him in 2005, but it was not the end of his NFL journey. Some thought he’d call it a career at age 35, especially after suffering an Achilles’ tendon tear in Dec. 2016, but he found a new home in Oakland and a strong bond with Gruden. The Raiders need stability in the middle, and Johnson will provide on-field leadership. There’s no doubt about that.

Johnson must prove capable of being a three-down linebacker effective against the run and pass. Marquel Lee is available should the Raiders require a platoon, but Johnson doesn’t want that. The Raiders need his expertise inside at all times.

1. Head coach Jon Gruden

Gruden isn’t a newcomer, but it’s been nearly two decades since he roamed the silver and black sidelines. He hasn’t coached since 2008, but returned to the Raiders in January after nine years in the broadcast booth.

Gruden has said several times he has something to prove to his critics. That might be a self-motivational tool. There aren’t many in the East Bay, where the fan base as rallied behind him and players have loved the intensity and passion he brings to practice and meetings.

Some assume his old school tendencies and his “bringing it back to 1998” comment this offseason implies he is resistant to change or offensive innovation. That’s not the case, not by a long shot. We’ll see lots modern offense Gruden studied as an ESPN broadcaster and in his downtime at his Tampa offices, with new wrinkles unveiled as game plans dictate.

Gruden has made a solid impression in his return to coaching but, as it always is in his line of work, effectiveness will be determined by wins and losses. He won’t be graded off one-year alone, especially without solid roster depth, but Gruden wants to start fast and re-establish Raiders winning ways.

Raiders CB Gareon Conley files countersuit against woman who accused him of rape


Raiders CB Gareon Conley files countersuit against woman who accused him of rape

Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley has filed a lawsuit against the woman who accused him of rape in April 2017.

A Cuyahoga County grand jury declined to indict him on criminal charges stemming from an incident in Cleveland less than a month before the 2017 NFL Draft.

Conley deemed the allegations false at the time, and maintained his innocence throughout the process.

His accuser filed a civil suit against Conley on April 6, 2017, seeking $25,000 in damages.

Conley has chosen to file a counter lawsuit, seeking compensation for damage to his reputation, draft stock and endorsement opportunities.

According to court documents obtained by TMZ, he lost an endorsement deal with Nike because of the accusation. He reiterated his innocence in court filings, saying he turned down his accusers advances.

The Ohio State product was considered a top 15 talent heading into the draft, but was ultimately selected No. 24 overall by the Raiders despite the rape accusation.

He missed most of his rookie season with a shin injury that required surgery. He was cleared for full football activity this spring.