The Oakland Raiders have officially touched down in Mobile, Ala., and the Senior Bowl festivities are fully underway.
Tuesday afternoon, the media coverage was in full swing with players from both the North and South rosters taking the podium to speak with reporters from all across the country. In addition to the plethora of talented college prospects, Raiders Head Coach Jon Gruden took the podium to share his expectations for him and his coaching staff this week.
Gruden and Co., will be tasked with coaching the North roster, which is filled with a handful of first-round prospects, and the familiarity that Gruden and General Manager Mike Mayock will establish with many of the players on the roster will pay dividends when the 2019 NFL Draft rolls around in April.
"This is the fourth time that I've coached it, and it is an advantage I think because the pool of players every year is what it is," Gruden said during his press conference Tuesday. "Sometimes it's a deeper pool, sometimes it's not quite as deep, but you're going to get to learn 100 players, and gets some hands on information that you couldn't get if you weren't coaching the game. So, we've drafted players from this game before, and I'm sure we'll be willing to do it again."
The primary focus for many NFL scouts this week will be on quarterbacks Drew Lock and Daniel Jones, who are both projected to go in the first round of the Draft. Each have accomplished a lot during their college careers, and even though I'm sure Gruden will be excited to impart his quarterback knowledge on the pair of young signal-callers, he knows the team needs to address its need in the pass rush.
Last season, the Silver and Black finished last in the league with 13 sacks, and there's an emphasis on remedying this problem. Fortunately for the Raiders, this Senior Bowl class has plenty of skilled edge rushers, and Gruden is wasting no time analyzing some of their tape.
"I like it," Gruden said when asked what he thinks of this defensive line class. "I like [Montez] Sweat obviously out of Mississippi State, Ferguson from [Louisiana] Tech, he's been very impressive. We have a lot of guys on our team, [L.J.] Collier out of TCU, and there's a lot of guys that are going to get an opportunity to help themselves in this camp. We got a kid from Boston College, Zach Allen, that I like a lot. He wears No. 2, he's easy to find on the Boston College film, so those guys always get a chance to move up the board in Mobile."
Sweat has frequently been linked to the Raiders in several mock drafts from NFL analysts around the league — take a look at our Mock Draft Tracker, here — and has a wealth of talent that will translate at the next level. Whether it's Sweat, Ferguson, Collier, or Allen, keep an eye on them during the Senior Bowl.
The fact the Raiders have three first-round picks gives Gruden and Mayock plenty of flexibility to do as they please, and Gruden shared Tuesday that the team isn't excluding anything from happening in the upcoming Draft.
Take a look at the 2019 Senior Bowl North roster before the teams meet in Mobile, Ala. on January 26, 2019.
"What we did last year, we made a lot of trades during the draft last year," he said. "We realized that we've got a lot of free agent players right now, we've got a lot of needs, and we've got a lot of picks. With that said there's a lot of possibilities, so we'll see how it all unfolds."
On offense and defense, the team needs to get better at a variety of different positions, and this week will allow the Raiders coaching staff the opportunity to hopefully find some young prospects to fill those needs.
The expectation and overall message from Gruden this week is to help this next crop of players mature, and continue their development. He has a vision in mind, and sorting through all the players in attendance to help bring that vision to fruition is the goal.
"It's just been great to spend time with players on both teams," he said when asked about his objective for the week. "You might eliminate four, five players from your thought process, sometimes that's just as valuable as moving four or five guys up on your board. You get a chance to see them behind the scenes. Who really loves it, who really learns it, and who can really execute a lot of football that you're putting in, in a short amount of time."
It's only Day 1, but I'm excited to see how Gruden and the rest of the coaching staff interact with the players going forward.
During his press conference, Gruden also revealed that former Raiders quarterback coach Brian Callahan had accepted a job as the Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator, and wouldn't be returning to the Raiders in 2019.
"Brian Callahan is no longer with us, he's going to the Cincinnati Bengals. I believe he's going to be the offensive coordinator of the Bengals, and I'm really proud of him, happy for him, and happy for this opportunity. We're shorthanded right now, we've lost a lot of quarterback guys over the year, and a lot of them have gone on to do great things, and I'm sure Callahan will be one of them."