Greg Olson

Jon Gruden believes playing better in cold will help Raiders evolution

Jon Gruden believes playing better in cold will help Raiders evolution

The Raiders surged to 6-4 with a three-game winning streak just after midseason but had a tough time sustaining that success. They lost control of their playoff destiny in an ensuing four-game slide, finishing the season with five losses in their last six games.

There were plenty of reasons why the Raiders ran out of gas. They always were better than the sum of their parts, clearly talent deficient in certain areas when compared to better competition. They also suffered a series of setbacks, from Antonio Brown's meltdown to Vontaze Burfict’s suspension to a series of injury setbacks the Raiders weren’t deep enough to survive in the midst of roster reconstruction.

Head coach Jon Gruden threw another issue into the mix that cropped up during the Raiders’ poor finish.

“I think the cold weather is one thing,” Gruden said at his season-ending press conference. “We got to prove we can exorcise that demon. We got to play better in the bad weather.

“I remember when I went to Tampa Bay, they hadn’t won a game in the history of the franchise in temperatures that were below 40 degrees and every single game we played that’s all we heard. And we are going to continue to hear it, hear it and hear it until we prove as a West Coast team we can go out on a cold day and win.”

The Raiders have lost seven straight games kicked off at below 40 degrees, including three late in the 2019 season. They have lost 11 straight under 50, a brutal stretch that does have to be remedied if the Silver and Black wants to orchestrate a successful run into and through the postseason. Had the Raiders been in the AFC playoffs this year, two of the four conference playoff games had been waged below 50 degrees.

“I think it’s a combination of a lot of things -- talent, better coaching, experience, toughness,” Gruden said. “I don’t know. Travel plans, pregame meals, something. We’ve got to play better. We got to get wins on the road and we got to look forward to playing when it’s hot, when it’s cold, when it’s nasty, when it’s awful. You got to learn to love the misery and maybe we got to leave on a Wednesday next year and get acclimated to it. I’m not making excuses, but that’s one theme is pretty obvious and noticeable. We got to play better in lousy weather and we got to play better period in all three phases.”

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Gruden also mentioned this point a day after the season finale, where they lost to Denver in the cold.

While fans typically blame Derek Carr for this issue due to his 2-11 record playing at less than 50 degrees, this is a team-wide problem.

“I know that the cold weather doesn’t affect Derek Carr," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "We practice in cold weather, he practices without sleeves, he throws the ball very well. He makes appropriate checks when in practice.

“I know the quarterbacks, generally, they’re always evaluated on wins and losses. No matter what kind of weather it is, they’re always going to be judged on records. We don’t read too much into it.”

Darren Waller already has checklist to build off Raiders breakout season

Darren Waller already has checklist to build off Raiders breakout season

Darren Waller deserved to make the Pro Bowl. Stats from a breakout year and the profound impact on this Raiders team demanded it, but he was left off the original All-Star roster.

The elite tight end didn’t even raise his shoulders to shrug. He no longer longs for outside approval. Doesn’t do him any good. While he’d enjoy experiencing the All-Star treatment, he didn’t waste time worrying about being named an alternate behind AFC Pro Bowlers Travis Kelce (a lock) and Mark Andrews (a more suspect selection).

“What other people think doesn’t fall under my control, so I don’t take it personally,” Waller said in an interview with NBC Sports California. “I can’t control what’s valued more, whether it’s catches or yards or touchdowns or whether you’re a higher seed. I don’t stress over things like that. I never thought I would be a Pro Bowler, so to even be considered is a blessing to me.

“I feel like I cared about what people thought for too long. That’s not healthy for me. I just focus on what I’m doing and what I can do better.”

Waller has made great progress this season and was rewarded with a big-money contract extension. Let’s ignore for a second the personal strides he continues to make in sobriety that paved the way for professional growth, those that make him the NFL’s greatest breakout story and someone easy to cheer for.

The secret’s out on Waller and has been for months, meaning the Raiders’ best receiving option is often blanketed and bracketed in coverage. He has worked hard to fight through that and perform well, with 84 catches for 1,038 yards and three touchdowns heading into Sunday’s regular-season finale at Denver. He has exceeded 100 yards in two of his last four games, proof that he’s getting better at being the primary defensive focus.

“I’ve faced a bunch of new on-field challenges during this season, from extra coverages to an expanded role,” Waller said. “I’ve really had to create separation in tough circumstances and have found patience in an effort that can be frustrating. I feel like there has been growth in all aspects of my game, but I also know there’s progress left to be made. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

He already ranks among the league’s top tight ends in every metric, from receiving totals to run-blocking work. That true despite a lack of NFL playing experience, with so much of his early career, lost to suspensions for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

Those issues have been well documented mostly because of Waller’s willingness to discuss them. He’s an open book about his troubled past with alcohol and drugs, hoping that his redemption story can inspire someone going through a difficult time. He spends part of every week doing charitable work with the team, staying active and open in the community.

“I think it’s the greatest story in the game this year,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “I haven’t seen anything like it. I’ve been coaching a long time and I’ve seen the game played at every level.

“This guy had hit rock bottom, was a wide receiver at Georgia Tech just starting to play the position of tight end. You know, he came to us about this time last year, and it’s an unbelievable accomplishment -- what he’s done to get his life together off the field. It’s really a rare, almost unprecedented thing that I’ve seen happen. Where a guy comes in here really as a rookie tight end and catch 80 passes and, I think, prove that he can do just about anything you ask him to do. I’m so proud of him.”

Waller’s ego hasn’t inflated now that he’s arrived. He follows a narrow, trusted path that has worked well over the past few years and has no plans to change it now. This season’s not over yet but Waller’s already working on how to improve in the next one and build off a Pro-Bowl worthy season.

“I’ll take it easy for a little while after the season to rest of up physically, but [position coach Frank Smith] and I are already compiling a list of things that need to be improved,” Waller said. “The season will be over soon, but the next steps in my progress and my development are already underway.”

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Christmas seems as good time as any to acknowledge a player plucked off the Ravens practice squad last year after Greg Olson was wowed by his pre-game warmups before a 2018 game in Baltimore and developed into a top-tier player with an improbable, inspiring backstory.

“From the very first day we saw him, I said he’s the most impressive athlete on this team, and now after one year I could say he might be the most impressive athlete that I’ve seen in this league,” Gruden said. “That’s the kind of special talent that he is, and when you get to know him, and you realize what he’s gone through to get to this point, he’s also a special person. So, if you’re out there get a Waller jersey young people. He’s worth it.”

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


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.”

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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

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)