The mocking of Jon Gruden’s old-ass Raiders knows no bounds. Sure, it’s all quiet on the front now, but as July 23 approaches — the day rookies report to training camp in Napa — the hackneyed “If you’re old, Gruden wants you” will accelerate at an exponential rate.
The underlying theme under the ridicule is the concern that Oakland’s aged roster won’t serve the team well — at all. They’ll wear down, they’ll be out of breath, they’re just not as fast and exuberant as younger cats.
That’s a warranted worry. The Dirty (Over) 30 could stumble — badly.
But it’s those same veteran players who offer wisdom that is invaluable to the Baby Face club of players the Raiders have on their roster.
“When you have an Arden Key, Maurice Hurst and PJ Hall (all rookies), it helps when you have a veteran presence in every room,” said Gruden. “And (Frostee) Rucker will help us do that. I really like this guy.”
You want troublesome? Gruden plucked these vet dudes because some of his young foundation-piece type players aren’t available.
“Rubin is another mammoth nose tackle and we need depth there. (Eddie) Vanderdoes hasn’t practiced. Don’t know when he will practice. Mario Edwards Jr. has some injuries and hasn’t practiced a lot. Rubin gives us another big guy to work inside and keep our linebackers clean and be a contender to help our team.”
If Gruden and his coaching staff can have the players clicking on the field — regardless of age — Oakland will be in a much better place than last season’s debacle. Early indications say avoiding that unmitigated disaster is going to be a course Gruden can captain the ship through. Having a solid supporting cast of coaches surely helps. Namely, the addition of Paul Guenther as defensive coordinator.
“I’m excited, man. It’s a fun defense to play in,” said safety Karl Joseph. “The thing I love about it is he knows it like the back of his hand. He coaches it well. It’s aggressive, lot of moving parts and allows us to make plays and play fast.”
And lo and behold, the ability for the defense to pin its ears back and go is the veteran presence — surprise!
“I’m learning everyday. Having guys like Reggie (Nelson) and more veteran guys in previous years has helped me also,” Joseph said. “Guys like Emmanuel (Lamur) to hear those guys, to hear veteran linebackers that know the defense helps a lot.”
Joseph isn’t the only defensive back eager to prove their mettle. Gareon Conley, a promising prospect whose rookie year was scuttled by a lower-leg injury, is excited.
“(The defense) suits me well. We play press a lot, just like we did in college,” Conley said. “I mean, that’s basically the defense for corners, play press man and lock down your man.”
That style is predicated on the Raiders’ front seven in sync and playing together extremely well. And you can’t do that if you don’t have cats that know what they’re doing.
Yet, the Raiders will be missing a critical component to their defense until he inks a new deal with the team. There’s no question No. 52 knows what the hell he’s doing.
“You can’t replace Khalil,” Joseph said. “We know what he’s doing and we respect it. The other guys have done a good job stepping up and learning the system like everyone has been. When he’s ready to come back, we’ll be ready for him. But you can’t replace a guy like that.”
Ditto for Gruden.
“I feel pretty good everywhere,” he said. “I’d feel a lot better if No. 52 was walking around here right now. He’s the man. He’s the guy we have to figure out how to get back in here. Progress has been made. I think when we get everybody together a couple weeks into training camp then we can better answer these questions because it is just shorts.”