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9:42PM

Raiders did what they could; Chiefs did what was needed

By Art Spander
For Maven Sports

OAKLAND — That was the real world, the NFL. That was the team that came within an overtime loss of reaching the Super Bowl, the Kansas City Chiefs. That was the quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, who was the NFL offensive player of the year.

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2019, The Maven 

9:01AM

Gruden takes a stand for missing Antonio Brown

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — Yes, Antonio Brown was listed as a starting wide receiver on the lineup card for the Raiders' opening preseason game Saturday night. No, he didn’t start. He didn’t play. He wasn’t even at the Coliseum.   

But these are the Raiders, for one last bittersweet season the Oakland Raiders, so issues and controversy never are far away — although when the team moves next season to Las Vegas, it will be plenty far away.

Yet that’s the future. Maybe so is Brown, the guy who wanted to be free of the Pittsburgh Steelers and came in trade during the off-season to the Raiders.

He brings a great ability to catch touchdown passes and, with his style (injuring his feet in a cryogenic chamber) and stubbornness (refusing to use the new helmet ordered by the NFL), a special independence.

After the Raiders' 14-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams in a quite normal first game of any season, especially one that doesn’t count except for the players trying to make the team, second-year coach Jon Gruden took a stand for Brown — hardly a surprise because he was very much in favor of the move to acquire him.

“I support this guy,” Gruden said of Brown. “I don’t care what anybody thinks. The foot injury wasn’t his fault.”

The story is Brown went to Europe for cryogenic treatment, in which a part of the body is subjected to temperatures far below zero for a short amount of time. But Brown wore flip-flops on his feet instead of shoes and incurred frostbite.

“It was a total accident,” Gruden explained. “A serious injury. People are smirking at it. He’s hurt. He hasn’t done anything wrong. And the helmet thing is a personal matter.”

Brown, 31, has worn the same type of helmet for 10 years and reportedly wants to continue, even threatening to quit instead of changing to a newer model endorsed by the league.

He had a two-hour conference call with an independent arbitrator Friday to point out why, according to ESPN, he should be allowed to keep the original helmet. Brown said the new helmet restricted his vision, and according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, he has filed a grievance with the league.

“It’s a personal matter,” said Gruden. “He has a strong feeling what he should wear on his head, and we support him. We understand the league’s position as well, so we’re in a tough spot.

“We hope he’ll be back here soon, because he’s exciting to be around. He’s one of the premier competitors I’ve ever been around.”

Before Gruden returned to coach in 2018, he was the analyst on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, studying players from every team.   

“He loves to play so much,” Gruden said, exaggerating a trifle, “he’d play with no helmet. Whatever his decision, we’ll stand by it. We have confidence he’s going to be a huge factor for the Raiders in years to come.”                                                    

The factors for either team Saturday, in what amounted to an exhibition game, were not those that would be apparent in September, when the regular season gets underway. Neither Jared Goff, who led the Rams to the Super Bowl, or the Raiders’ Derek Carr played a single down at quarterback.

Mike Glennon, who started, and Nathan Peterman were the Raiders' quarterbacks, Glennon completing 17 of 25 for 200 yards and Peterman 9 of 12 for 66 yards and a touchdown. Peterman also had Oakland’s longest run when he scrambled for 50 yards.

“I though both quarterbacks in their opening possessions had beautiful touchdown drives,” said Gruden. ‘That’s what we want. We want quarterbacks to take control of the game and get us on schedule. You take the opening drive 80 yards and score.

“Credit to both those guys. Mike had two interceptions. The one in the red zone can’t happen. He got fooled on the other one. I thought Glennon did some good things in the pocket. Nathan showed his athleticism. He can run. As he continues to gain command, he’s going to be interesting to watch.”

So, presumably, will Antonio Brown, if he ever gets on the field.

7:54AM

Picks are in: Raiders, 49ers get defensive

By Art Spander

ALAMEDA, Calif. — I’m off the clock. The pick is in. And no, to answer the question posed on the NFL Network, I don’t know what is going to happen to Josh Rosen.

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2019, The Maven

5:15PM

Gruden has a list of regrets, but not the one you might think

By Art Spander

ALAMEDA, Calif. — His regrets? “I’ve got a list of things,” Jon Gruden told us Tuesday. And, he suggested, so do the rest of us, because none of is perfect.

But the rest of us are not the head coach of an NFL team with a 1-5 record. The rest of do not have a multi-million-dollar contract as that coach has.

With rare exceptions — Bill Walsh leaving, George Seifert being elevated — winning teams do not change coaches. Gruden may have arrived in a swirl of fame and anticipation, but the head coach is only as good as his players.

And it has become obvious that many of the players on the Oakland Raiders are not very good. Especially on defense, where games are won — or, mostly, lost.

If, apropos of nothing but pertinent to everything, you choose to believe one of the reasons for the Raiders’ mess was the absurd trading of Khalil Mack, who not only was their best defensive player but arguably their best player, you are permitted that belief.

Does Gruden regret that transaction? Does Gruden regret returning to the Raiders after a departure some 20 years earlier? If anyone did chance to ask him either question, especially on leaving ESPN to rejoin the Raiders— and none of us has the temerity to do so at this juncture — he wouldn’t respond candidly. And who would blame him?

So instead, the questions deal with injuries (the Raiders have many, but so do other NFL teams). With Derek Carr’s quarterbacking. With opponents (did anyone doubt the Seattle Seahawks still have a solid team?). And with the bye the Raiders have this weekend.

Gruden still has that sly look we’ve come to know over the years, on the sideline, in the TV booth. He hasn’t become disagreeable as, say, Pat Shurmur of the New York Giants has.

In the better old days, the late 1990s and early 2000s, Gruden was known for his work ethic. He came to the office early (really early, as in 3:30 or 4 a.m.) and stayed late. Presumably he still keeps long hours — although at age 55 are they as long as they were at 35? — and he still keeps his enthusiasm.

He wanted this job. At least the job offer, with the huge salary, with the opportunity to follow his muse, was one he couldn’t refuse. What he didn’t want was a roster that seems to be spending days in the training room, a roster of older players being replaced by younger — if inexperienced — new ones.

That trip to and from London for a game at Wembley Stadium is one against jet lag as well as an opponent. Gruden on Sunday in the locker room said he enjoyed the journey. “Unfortunately,” he added, “I’ll always remember it in a bad way.”

There haven’t been too many good memories this return season. That game against the Seahawks wasn’t even entertaining, Oakland down 27-0 until mercifully kicking a field goal midway through the fourth quarter to lose, 27-3.

The London Daily Telegraph headline described the Raiders as “limp,” and the story promised that the next NFL game at Wembley, on Oct. 21 between the Tennessee Titans and San Diego Chargers, “looks likely to be more competitive.”

Hard to say if the Raiders next game, on Oct. 28 against the Indianapolis Colts at Oakland, will be, but it couldn’t be any worse than the most recent.

“We’re trying” said Gruden. “We’re working hard. I’m not going to never throw the ball on first-and-goal again. All my friends in the league do it. I don’t really think it’s living dangerously, either. When it’s intercepted and it’s ugly like it was, it’s going to be magnified.”

That was the previous week against the Chargers, in San Diego. He took a chance, but that’s what coaches are supposed to when they know down deep their team is not as good as the other one.

“You just have to continue to go with your gut feeling,” said Gruden. “Go with your preparation. Be true to your gut. That’s what I’m going to continue to do. There are going to be some mistakes, and I’ll take responsibility for all of them.”

Change is coming. “We’re still looking at the roster,” said Gruden. “We’re looking around the league to find means to get better. Reggie (McKenzie, the general manager) and I had a long meeting Monday. I know that’s a shock to some people. They don’t think we have any meetings. I’m telling you, we’re working hard to solidify this roster every day and improve ourselves and get the right people on the field ... We’re going to stay on the gas pedal and go as hard as we can.”

And hope the road doesn’t run into a mountain.

8:31AM

Niners, Raiders get necessities, not attention or quarterbacks

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — Let’s see, the Raiders took Kolton Miller and the 49ers Mike McGlinchey. Or was it the other way around?

For sure it wasn’t Baker Mayfield, the instigator, or Josh Rosen, Miller’s verbalizing teammate from UCLA, and that’s the disadvantage of having at least a decent team.

You don’t get glamour guys or the attention when you’re competent. What you get are necessities, players who block, who open holes for runners, set up pockets for passers and, even though they are usually the most perceptive and smartest players on any football team, rarely get mentioned until they miss an assignment.

The Niners and Raiders have their quarterbacks. Or so we think, Oakland having Derek Carr and San Francisco, after that seemingly brilliant deal during the 2017 season, Jimmy Garoppolo.

The Cleveland Browns, with one victory in their last 32 games, didn’t.

That lack of success and signal caller enabled them to have the No. 1 pick, and on day one of the draft that’s big stuff.

TV loves a train wreck. The stories were whether Sam Darnold of USC, a quarterback of course, or Josh Allen of Wyoming, a quarterback, or Rosen, a quarterback, would be the first player selected.

It turned out to be Mayfield of Oklahoma, a quarterback. Yes, Saquon Barkley of Penn State, a running back — and is he terrific — went second, but as we were reminded by the guys on ESPN and NFL TV, this was all about quarterbacks. Even the last pick of the first round, Lamar Jackson of Louisville, was a quarterback.

It’s understood that in the NFL — in football at any level — you must have a quarterback. He handles the ball on every offensive play, run or pass. And you also must have a defense, otherwise you’ll be receiving kickoffs from start to finish.

That said, the late Al Davis, who led the Raiders to championships and then in his declining years with draft selections such as JaMarcus Russell, a quarterback who just happened to look like an offensive lineman (the man could eat), led them to mediocrity, always believed the most important part of a team was the offensive line. You do remember Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Jim Otto, Bob Brown and Dave Dalby, right? All but Dalby are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Whether McGlinchey, a 6-foot-8, 315-pound tackle from Notre Dame taken with the ninth pick, or Miller, a 6-9, 309-pound tackle from UCLA taken with the 15th pick, turns out like those guys, we’ll learn over time.

Whatever, they fill a need for each team. And if drafting offensive linemen is not as entertaining as drafting QBs or running backs, that’s the way it has to be.

When you get your quarterback, you’d better keep him healthy and happy. When he was with ESPN, once and current Raiders coach Jon Gruden ran a “quarterback camp,” which was as much a TV show as a football test. He understands a quarterback needs coordination, arm strength, quickness — and an offensive line.

He passed that understanding to Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, not that McKenzie didn’t already feel the same way.

“What Kolton can do,” said McKenzie of his No. 1 pick, “when you talk about pass protection and staying in front of the guy, that’s what he does. He’s got the length. He’s got the great feet. And when you talk about the second level, pulling, this guy has a lot of talent.”

Surely so does McGlinchey, who was taken by San Francisco but was admired by McKenzie and Oakland. “We would have upgraded with either one,” said McKenzie.

O-linemen are somewhat obscure. Except to the coaches, players and front office.

Niners GM John Lynch said McGlinchey “has a special presence to him. He’s real. He’s authentic. And he’s a badass. We like that.”

Similar comments before the round would have made for great theater.

Rosen said a few things when he finally was chosen with the 10th pick — that Oakland had traded to Arizona — and they were explosive. And captivating.

“There were nine mistakes ahead of me,” said Rosen about the players taken earlier than he was. “I thought I should have been picked 1-2-3.”

The draft is all about opinions — and this year was about quarterbacks.