Opinion: Gruden’s gambles show his intent

That’s the jewel Marshawn Lynch dropped during media sessions before Super Bowl XLVIII. Turns out that quote is apropos for Jon Gruden. The Oakland Raiders head coach isn’t merely dipping his toes into the kiddie pool in his return to the NFL, he’s diving into the deep end.

Scratch that.

He purposely cut his toe, drew some blood, and jumped into shark-infested waters.

Gruden isn’t going to take it easy this go-around, he’s not going to twiddle his thumbs. In his first draft back in the league, Gruden combined with general manager Reggie McKenzie to maneuver in the draft and land boom-or-bust prospects with extremely high upside.

From UCLA offensive tackle Kolton Miller in the first round, all the way down to Oklahoma State wide receiver Marcell Ateman in the seventh, Oakland’s haul is dependent upon development — both mentally and physically.

Miller, Ateman, P.J. Hall (second round defensive tackle), Brandon Parker (third round offensive tackle), Nick Nelson (fourth round cornerback), Maurice Hurst (fifth-round defensive tackle), and Johnny Townsend (fifth round punter) require NFL refinement.

The other selections, Arden Key (third round edge rusher) and Azeem Victor (sixth round inside linebacker) — along with trade acquisition wideout Martavis Bryant — require both refinement and proper character development. The trio is eager to prove they are not the headaches many label them as.

“As far as character, we’re not going to condemn these kids for mistakes. And we’re not going to lower our standards — ever,” an almost defiant McKenzie said at a post-draft presser. “We feel we have a system in place for guys that have fallen. If they stand up and own it and get better within themselves, we’ll give them a shot, we’ll hold them accountable. And this staff is going to do a great job of holding them accountable and helping them.”

Gruden’s draft picks will thoroughly put the entire Raiders staff through rigorous paces this season. Lots of “ifs” here.

If Hall takes his small-school terrorizing ways to the NFL landscape, the word “reach” is quickly forgotten. If Key is on the straight and narrow and keeps grinding, Oakland could have a bookend rusher to Khalil Mack. If Hurst’s heart ailment doesn’t impede his progression, he could be the steal of the draft. A first-round talent interior disruptor nabbed in the fifth thanks to a medical red flag.

Pressure and heat make the finest diamonds and Gruden ensured the Silver & Black gets all the stress it can handle.

A coach can’t truly measure himself unless the deck is stacked against him. Take a gander at the immediate reactions to the Raiders draft. The consensus is Gruden’s backed himself into a corner with a questionable draft.

Excellent, I say.  

Gruden isn’t blind. He knows the road ahead is a treacherous one. He’s maintained there’s a lot of proving that needs to happen.

The Raiders coach acknowledges the critics will always be there and only grow louder with every misstep.

No one knows if Gruden’s crew can develop the players they took in the draft.

The flip side to that is no one can unequivocally say the Raiders staff can’t.

And that is definitely worth watching — for better or for worse.

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