From the moment the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine kicked off in Indianapolis it was lights, camera, action. A flurry of teams, media outlets, and NFL analysts swarmed the convention center in downtown Indy to soak up all of the day’s activities. The biggest star of all was none other than Oakland Raiders Head Coach Jon Gruden, who shook hands with practically everyone who passed by.
When Coach took the podium Wednesday morning, however, it was all business.
Gruden answered questions for roughly 20 minutes, touching on a wide array of topics. What I found most interesting though, were his comments regarding some players drafted recently. We know the Combine is about preparing for the future, but Gruden called for players on the current roster, specifically players drafted over the last few years, to step up. Aside from wide receiver Amari Cooper, the Raiders Head Coach is expecting more production from the young guns on the squad.
“I think most importantly with the Raiders, just looking at our last three drafts, we need some young people to emerge and start playing – a lot – for this football team.”
“He’s [Conley] going to be ready to start the offseason program. I just talked to him briefly. We’re not allowed to have contact with players. I have bumped into a couple of the players that have been in and out of the facility for various reasons. But, he’s our first-round draft choice. Everybody liked Conley at Ohio State. He had an excellent training camp. When I studied the training camp film he was inside playing the nickel position. When the season started he was out at right corner. He’s a young player. We’re counting on him and Obi Melifonwu to play – and we need them to – but we’re really exciting to start with them.”
It’ll be interesting to see how some of the younger players respond next season, given a majority of them suffered from injuries throughout the 2017 season. While it’s Gruden’s job to help these young players improve, it’s on General Manager Reggie McKenzie to find new talent waiting in the wings.
Following Gruden’s press conference, McKenzie was next on the slate, speaking with the team’s local reporters Wednesday afternoon. The NFL is loaded with turnover, new faces, new places, and new players always cycling through, but McKenzie stressed his determination to try and retain many of the Raiders familiar faces this offseason. Gruden pointed out some areas of need on the team’s roster, noting the linebacking corps, interior defensive line, and secondary as areas that of improvement, which McKenzie added to.
"You always know what you're looking for,” he said. “To me, you just want to get the best players. With great coaches like we have, they're going to put them in the right spot."
McKenzie continued, “We need depth in some areas, we need starters in some areas.”
Free agency doesn’t officially start until March 14th, but I suspect McKenzie and Gruden have already done their due diligence on players they’re targeting. Until then, the duo, along with the rest of the coaching staff, will continue to evaluate the college prospects here in Indy.
College prospects will begin their media sessions Thursday, with the running backs listed as first on the docket at 11 a.m. PST. If you missed out on any of the action from Wednesday, feel free to take a look below, and continue to follow along with Raiders.com as the week progresses.
Side Note: Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett shared his thoughts on former Cowboys and now-Raiders Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia.
“He’s just a great football coach, and he’s a great friend. He’s done such a good job wherever he’s been, at the college level, or the NFL level. Not only impacting the players he coaches, but the coaches on the staff, and I know I’m indebted to him forever for the contributions he made to us. I do think it was important for Keith O’Quinn to be under someone like that, someone who’s very experienced, not only as a special teams coach, but as a teacher. He’s a great teacher, connects with the players, I think Keith saw that up close each and every day. It’s not only a scheme standpoint, a technique standpoint when you’re talking special teams, but also how you coach, and how you teach. His contributions have been enormous.”