For the first time in months, Las Vegas Raiders Head Coach Jon Gruden addressed the media via Zoom, and he had a lot to say.
As the Silver and Black prepare for the upcoming season, the first question on everyone's mind seems to be how the league will combat COVID-19, and proceed safely within the NFL's mandated guidelines. So far, Gruden doesn't expect any players to opt-out of this season and is pleased that everyone is on board as of now.
This offseason has been abnormal, to say the least, but Coach Gruden said he and General Manager Mike Mayock have been creatively scheming the best way to fast track the new players on the team.
The rookies are at a disadvantage, considering they weren't able to participate in Rookie Minicamp, OTAs, or Mandatory Minicamp, but Gruden stated the team is doing what it can to simulate a normal offseason training for them.
"We're trying to be creative as possible," he said. "[The media] can't watch practice or be around, but we're trying really hard to be on the cutting edge of technology, coaching and teaching our system, making our philosophies standard for everybody. We're trying to raise the bar around here."
In the brief time they've been at the helm together, Gruden and Mayock have revamped the Raiders' roster from top to bottom, and the younger players are an important piece of the puzzle moving forward. Last year, the 2019 Draft Class was given a lot of responsibility quickly, but they answered the call, and even though this year's batch of rookies is playing from behind, the same will be expected of them.
"I think over the last couple of years a lot of young players have played for us — that was the goal when we got here," Gruden shared. "You could say we excavated the land here in terms of the roster in the first year, but we have built it back with young players, Maxx Crosby, 'Cle' Ferrell, obviously Josh Jacobs and [Hunter] Renfrow. Kolton Miller started as a rookie, Brandon Parker started as a rookie, so we don't have any doubt that if Trayvon Mullen can start, [Damon] Arnette can start. John Abram was an opening day starter as well, so we're not afraid to play the young guys, but they've got to earn it."
While a handful of rookies established big roles on the team last year, Coach Gruden wants to see more out of the third-year guys and emphasized that they'll need to step up if this defense is to get better in 2020.
Back at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, Mayock stressed that new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli is going to demand a lot out of guys like P.J. Hall and Arden Key, and Gruden reiterated those remarks Thursday.
"They have to prove they belong in this league. They have to prove they can be frontline guys," Gruden said pointedly. "P.J. Hall, [Maurice] Hurst, [Arden] Key, those are three guys that we used high draft picks on. Arden has to stay healthy, P.J. Hall, I'm anxious to see where his weight is, he came in overweight last year and at that position that can't happen. Maurice Hurst has had some good moments, but we need these guys to burst on the scene no question. Getting Rod Marinelli is the best thing I can do to allow that to happen."
Several players will be fighting for starting jobs this season and the Raiders' coaching staff will be forced to make some difficult cuts given the NFL's decision to reduce the roster from 90 players to 80 — the silver lining though is that teams will be granted practice squads with up to 16 players. During his media scrum, Gruden explained how the team is dealing with this rule and how he's been in constant communication with Mayock to figure out the best plan of attack.
"They don't want so many people in the building at the same time, so we're wrestling with what to do," he told reporters. "Obviously, you can release players to get down to 80 or you can keep the team practicing and around each other together, you gotta release 10 players that you really haven't had the chance to see in pads. Mike Mayock is discussing it daily and we're going to do what we think is best for our team."
The NFL as a whole will navigate uncharted waters this season, but the Raiders are doing their due diligence to ensure they're prepared and equipped to set the tone in their inaugural campaign in Las Vegas.
The Las Vegas Raiders hit the field for another day of workouts and a walk through at Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center in Henderson, Nev.