INDIANAPOLIS – Jon Gruden is happy to be back.
Well, maybe not specifically happy to be back at the NFL scouting combine, but he’s happy to be back coaching. He said a Tampa Bay Buccaneers ring of honor induction ceremony pushed him to get back in the game, and now he’s back coaching the Oakland Raiders.
“You only live once,” Gruden said on Wednesday morning. “So here I am.”
Gruden has had the better part of two months to study the Raiders’ roster, and he was honest about where it stands. There’s a lot of work to be done on defense. He singled out linebacker as an issue, especially with NaVorro Bowman’s future up in the air as a free agent. The team needs an interior pass rusher and the entire secondary needs to be better too, he said.
But there are things he likes. After a few weeks of speculation, Gruden made it clear he wants running back Marshawn Lynch on the roster. There have been questions about whether Lynch would be back, but Gruden has a plan for him.
“Looking at the film and a game I broadcast on Christmas night, there’s no question: He’s still a beast that’s hard to bring down,” Gruden said. “One of the reasons I’m excited to be with the Raiders is to join forces with Lynch. But we’ll see what happens.”
It’s no guarantee Lynch will be back. There are issues that could keep Lynch from a return for another season with the Raiders, like his desire to buy into Gruden’s system or his contract with a salary cap hit of almost $6 million. As Gruden said, we’ll see. But Gruden wants it to work out.
“I’m counting on him,” Gruden said. “I’m counting on him being a big part of our football team.”
There are fewer questions about receiver Amari Cooper. Cooper had a dreadful 2017 season, but had two very good seasons to start his career before that. Gruden mentioned the injuries that bothered Cooper last season, but he expects the wideout to be the centerpiece of his offense.
“We think Cooper is going to be a great player,” Gruden said. “He’ll be the focal point of our pass offense. I hope he’s listening here today, I look forward to joining up with Amari Cooper. He has tremendous quickness, I think he’s smart, versatile, he’s a gamer, he likes the bright lights, and he’ll be a headliner in our offense.”
Gruden also said he likes quarterback Derek Carr and thinks he can be a good leader, and he looks forward to working with him. Gruden complained a couple times about not being able to work with his new players yet, due to the CBA restrictions. It’s clearly killing him to not be teaching Carr, Cooper and the rest of his new players his schemes.
In the meantime there are personnel issues to fix, and Gruden knows that. Figuring out at this week’s scouting combine which players can help fill those holes is important. While there’s work to be done, Gruden is happy with his decision to come back and coach the Raiders again.
“It’s been really cool,” Gruden said. “Not many people get to go back and do it a second time.”
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