It’s still very early, but the best fanbase in professional sports is already really excited about next year’s Oakland Raiders.
Part of that is based on the “always next year” mentality, but there are real reasons to be excited about next year’s team. Free agency hasn’t hit, the draft is very far off in the distance, and we’re seven months away from preseason football, but the biggest change has already been made.
What to Expect From the New-Look Oakland Raiders
What was the biggest problem with the 2017 Oakland Raiders? Beyond injuries or game-plans or alleged locker room disputes, the biggest problem the 2017 version of the Raiders had was that they just looked apathetic all year long. With the exception of the first two weeks, this is a team that just came out scared and never demonstrated the attitude or swagger we were promised. That version of the Raiders barely resembled the squad that opted to go for two instead of tying the game against the New Orleans Saints a year earlier.
They were unprepared, unenthusiastic, and Raider Nation was unamused. They came out sloppy every week, didn’t show any urgency, and outside of that Thursday Night Football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, were downright boring. This Raiders team was too young, too talented, and had far too much potential to be as bad as they were last season. Here’s what changes.
Jon Gruden’s return to the team is going to be the story of the off-season for the Oakland Raiders in 2018. The team could sign any free agent, trade for any superstar, and announce a relocation to Mars, but Chucky’s return is going to define this off-season no matter what.
The snarling icon has been away from the sideline for about a decade, so nobody really knows what the Oakland Raiders are getting. Maybe Gruden hasn’t changed at all, maybe he’s lost his edge, maybe he’s even improved, but until September, we just have to speculate.
Here’s what we do know. Gruden has an intense commitment to preparation. He gets up while most sane people are still asleep, and he gets in the office. He’s a mad scientist with a passion for victory that borders on obsession, and he expects the same from his players. Chucky’s sideline antics are legendary, and he accepts nothing but greatness from each of his players. Compare that to the tame, nonchalant “mojo” press conferences and “aw shucks” demeanor that Jack Del Rio brought to the team in 2017.
Like Coach, Like Player
In a way, Del Rio’s lame, boring conferences were a microcosm of the 2017 Raiders. Boring, uninspired, and unsatisfying. We’ve had one press conference from Chucky so far in 2018, and it was just the opposite. It was a spectacle with over 100 people present, including Raider legends and hall of famers. After that conference, players and fans were all sorts of fired up, ready to back on the field and run Spider 2Y Banana to their heart’s content.
Just imagine what Gruden’s Raiders will do after a full off-season together. Imagine a Raiders team made up of stars like Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Khalil Mack, and Karl Joseph, playing smart, tough football with attitude. Gruden won’t tolerate another underwhelming season from Carr, and I wouldn’t want to be a receiver coming over to Gruden’s sideline after some of the drops that happened all too often during Del Rio’s tenure.
For all his faults, Gruden is an offensive specialist, and he’ll never send the Raiders into a game as unprepared as Del Rio and Todd Downing did, and he’ll hold the players accountable. If Gruden is still the same coach he once was, then he’s actually a perfect fit for these Raiders.
At times, it felt like Del Rio was just one of the guys, trying to be a coach and a friend. Gruden will be Oakland’s biggest cheerleader, but he’s also not going to tolerate the mediocrity that the team got away with last year.
What To Expect?
So what should Raider Nation expect? The greatest fanbase in professional sports should expect a crisp, tough, physical football team. Expect a Derek Carr that plays without fear, receivers that would rather drop a shoulder than a pass, and a defense that plays with a mean streak. Expect a more complicated, evolved passing offense, with a MVP caliber quarterback.
Raider Nation should have sky-high expectations coming into next season because a roster with a ton of potential just met their match. Players with miles of upside just got a no-nonsense play-caller with a desire to win and a chip on his shoulder. Nothing is promised, and the team will have to prove me right, but Raider Nation should expect a much better, much more aggressive Raiders team in 2018.