On a picturesque Tuesday afternoon in Alameda, Calif., the Oakland Raiders quietly and purposively got back to work, emphasis on quietly.
In a deviation from years past, there was no music during the Silver and Black’s on-field work for the day – not even a nod to the recently-freed Philadelphia Rapper Meek Mill – instead there was just the sound of players running, and a loud, clear, energetic voice yelling out plays from the sideline.
After three months as head coach of the Raiders once again, Jon Gruden finally, finally got his chance to get back on the field with his players, and he did just that during the first day of the team’s three-day veteran minicamp.
“It’s great,” said Gruden following the two-hour-plus session. “I came back to coach. I’m excited to be here. I’ve said that from Day 1, and I consider it a great responsibility, and the practice field has always been a laboratory for a coach. That’s where we earn our pay, I think. We have to develop this team. We have to learn a lot about them quickly. We have a lot of things to teach, a lot of areas to improve, but it was fun to be out there, and I don’t want to be too deep or philosophical, I might start crying.”
All jokes aside, Tuesday’s session was an important one for Gruden, although the players had been in the building for two weeks, the first day of veteran minicamp was his first chance to actually do what he came back to do, and get an early assessment of the roster.
“Off to a good start,” Gruden said. “It was a teaching camp, very, very happy with the results of today. We got a lot of reps, a lot of people got to showcase where they are in terms of learning our system. We obviously have a long way to go, but I’m very pleased with the first day.”
There was no contact during the team’s two-and-half-hour session – in fact, players didn’t even wear shells or helmets – but even so, Gruden’s franchise quarterback sure he made an impression during his first session on the field.
“I got really excited out there today,” Gruden said with a smile when asked about Derek Carr. “You can have a real creative imagination with that guy at the quarterback position. He can make every throw. It comes out of his hand fast and accurate. He’s mobile. He’s sharp. He’s a great leader. He choked this situation today. He was all over it. We tried to give him some audibles, different situations on the very first day, he didn’t blink. He’s a real, real good player. We just have to do our part as coaches, and we have to improve the positions around him.”
“He [Gruden] threw everything at me,” Carr acknowledged. “He threw everything. He tried to get me to see if I was listening to him in the meetings and all those things, so we had a lot of fun doing that. It’s always fun to accept his challenge, and hopefully do good at it, and look at him, and wink at him or something like that. We had fun together because we know we both have the same goal in mind, and that’s putting the ship in the water and hitting this thing running. We’re trying to do that right now.”
Since returning to the Bay Area, Gruden has been outspoken in his admiration for Carr’s ability, and hasn’t minced words, saying that the presence of the former Fresno State Bulldog is a big reason why he descended back to the sidelines from the broadcast booth after a decade away.
That being said, Carr knows Gruden is going to push him, both on and off the field, and that began in earnest Tuesday afternoon.
“He’s hard on me,” Carr explained. “He pushes me. He challenges me, and it’s everything I want, because it’s everything I do for myself. I push myself. I challenge myself, and at the same time, he’ll tell me, ‘I love you, man.’ You know how he feels about you so when he pushes you, you don’t care. You want to do anything for him. You want to go through a wall for him, so I think our whole team feels like that. I think you can feel a little bit of a difference around him, and that’s really cool.”
The Raiders will return to the field Wednesday afternoon, then conclude their three-day minicamp Thursday before breaking for the weekend. They will then start Phase Two of the Offseason Workout Program April 30, and while the process of building a contender is no doubt in its early stages, Gruden is pleased with what he’s seen thus far.
“I like the team,” Gruden said. “I like the work ethic that they’ve put forth in the first two weeks, and I’m not going to make any predictions, or any statements, other than that. I know we have plenty of doubters and critics out there, but I like the way we’ve started this process.”