Jon Gruden’s birthday this year is bound to be more special than usual.
The Raiders’ coach turns 57 on Aug, 17th, and that day coincides with a significant date on his team’s preparation calendar. It’s the first day his players can put on full pads and conduct practice in a normal football environment.
Due to COVID-19 and the restrictions the pandemic has put on the development process, real football practices in the NFL have been delayed. Needless to say, Gruden is equally anticipating his birthday and finally being able to see his Raiders get after it.
“So what a great day that will be.” Gruden said during a zoom conference call with the media on Thursday. It will be that in more ways than one.
The Raiders have just 14 days of padded practices before their season opener against the Carolina Panthers. That presents a tightrope act of sorts. Gruden must balance the need to prepare and assess as he normally would during training camp with the rapidly ticking clock counting down to the season opener.
“We’re going to be very measured in what we do and how we do it,” Gruden said.
He will need to balance the players’ health and safety with the need to get them physically ready to play a game, all in a condensed frame of time.
“We’re going to have to be smart because we’re going to have to go on the road to play Carolina a couple of weeks later,” Gruden said, referring to the first day of regular practice. “Obviously, you want your men to be healthy. There are no preseason games. I don’t know how many times Josh Jacobs is going to be tackled on our practice field, but we do need to get everybody some work. We just have to be smart about it.”
That also puts a premium on players digging into the playbook and developing a mental command of their responsibilities. In a normal season, the Raiders would be well on their way to transferring classroom work to the field. But all of that has fallen by the wayside. Up to this point, the primary gauge Gruden uses to assess the Raiders’ mental command is during the daily walk-throughs they are allowed at this stage of camp.
From his vantage point, the Raiders have done a good job of absorbing information and retaining it. “We’re very impressed with that,” Gruden said. “I don’t want to say anything else other than they did their work.”
That validates Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock’s mandate to identify and secure players who have a passion for football and a self-starter mentality. The result of that approach is the acquisition of proven and intelligent veterans like Cory Littleton, Nick Kwiatkoski and Damarious Randall.
Due to COVID-19, the players were essentially operating unsupervised between May and late July, making those characteristics even more important.
So far, Gruden likes what he’s seen from his players. “Even though it’s a walk-through, I’m very impressed with the retention … their ability to take new things out on the grass and execute it immediately. They like it. It’s exciting to come to work here.”