This time, it’s all about football.
Well, the coronavirus and football.
A year after the Raiders’ Napa training camp was hijacked by the twin terrors of Antonio Brown and HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” a limited media contingent viewed the practice for the first time Wednesday at their new facility in Henderson, Nevada.
As much as the Raiders tried to channel aside the omnipresent cameras and the intense local and national media focus on Brown’s frost-bitten feet and obsolete helmet, it wasn’t until recently that wide receiver Tyrell Williams noticed the stark contrast.
“Last year going through it, it didn’t feel like a big distraction until now and how smooth and how easy it’s been,” Williams said. “So, last year I think it definitely was a distraction. We tried not to let it be, but I think it did get to some of us and it was just kind of annoying for sure.”
That’s not to suggest the Raiders would rather be dealing with COVID-19 than Brown, but a strictly controlled environment and screened media opportunities have made for a serious focus on getting ready for 2020 without an off-season and no exhibition games.
Williams likes the way the receivers group is coming together.
“It’s been awesome being around those guys and competition and how they like to approach every single day,” Williams said. “Like we all push each other and, like I said earlier, we all are pretty close and all pretty good friends and it just makes it easy.”
While “Hard Knocks” and Brown were undeniable distractions, it’s hard to make the case they had a major impact on the 2019 season. The Raiders after all were 6-4 at one point before winning just one of their last six games.
Brown, as the season wore on, was missed more because they missed the game-breaking talent he was expected to be, especially after Williams had a case of plantar faciitis on both feet that plagued him all season.
Four more observations from Wednesday’s availability:
The @Raiders have identified their biggest opponent this year. And their plans on how best to deal with it. pic.twitter.com/QJnKhrjBpJ
— Vincent Bonsignore (@VinnyBonsignore) August 12, 2020
TAKING THE VIRUS SERIOUSLY
Gruden isn’t happy with the characterization that a “prank” was being pulled on his team by putting special teams coach Rich Bisaccia in charge of a Zoom meeting because he had tested positive.
“There was a comment that I faked the virus which is totally untrue,” Gruden said. “I take this as serious as anyone. I want to do what’s right for our players and coaches and be as safe as possible.”
The argument is strictly semantics. Coaches have a long history of finding creative ways of delivering messages. Where Gruden is concerned, there’s a good percentage of people that will agree with his methods and just as many who will invoke their own set of morals and take him to task.
The same goes for the T-shirt the Raiders gave out to the team, coaches, support staff and the media in attendance which said “Crush the Virus.”
Maliek Collins (96) dives for a loose ball against the 49ers in 2017.THE MALIEK COLLINS FACTOR
As much as edge players are associated with getting to the quarterback, Gruden, having coached Warren Sapp in Tampa, has long believed in disruption from the interior.
For the second time in two media sessions, Gruden went out of his way to make sure people know how much he expects out of Maliek Collins, signed as an unrestricted free agent from Dallas.
When asked about the impact of having Johnathan Abrams healthy, Gruden finished his comment with this: “I’ll go back to Maliek Collins. He’ll be the anchor for us. We’ll go as far as he takes us.”
There’s a bit of “if wishing could make it so” going on here, because while Collins had 48 quarterback pressures by one count a year ago, his one-year contract worth $6 million makes him only the 17th highest-paid player as a 4-3 defensive tackle according to overthecap.com.
It also serves as motivation for Maurice Hurst, who is also most comfortable as a three-technique and had a solid second season.
Josh Jacobs (28) wants to be involved more in the receiving game in 2020.JACOBS READY TO GO
Running back Josh Jacobs, who gained 1,150 yards in 13 games before finally succumbing to a broken shoulder incurred in Week 7, shrugged off being told to take a seat during Wednesday’s practice.
“I don’t feel the shoulder (injury) at all,” Jacobs said. “I’ve been doing heavy reps all summer, multiple reps and I haven’t felt it at all. For the most part, this is the best my body’s felt. I’m lighter than I was last year and everything. So, it’s been pretty smooth.”
Jacobs is also embracing Gruden’s promise to get him more work in the receiving game.
“I kind of established the run aspect of my game,” Jacobs said. “I feel like I want to improve that even more. Also, blocking, I want to put some of that on film. Obviously, catching too. My goal is to catch at least 60 balls this year.”
All laudable goals. But as stated earlier, Gruden’s job is to monitor the situation so Jacobs is available to do what he does best — run from scrimmage.
Nelson Agholor said he’s spent considerable time in Derek Carr’s ‘hip pocket’ in Las Vegas. #Raiders pic.twitter.com/Cp7WBqZvge
— Jerry McDonald (@Jerrymcd) August 12, 2020
AGHOLOR WANTED GRUDEN
Wide receiver Nelson Agholor, a former first-round pick of the Eagles, signed for the veteran minimum and was glad to do it simply to join forces with Gruden.
The two have a prior relationship from when Agholor’s brother worked at a race track in the Tampa area which was frequented by Gruden.
“I’ve know him since high school,” Agholor said. “It’s a blessing to be in this opportunity and having a previous relationship. I chose this relationship because he knows the game and all I want to do is be a better player.”
Agholor, whose 224 career receptions are the most among wide receivers on the roster, has worked since his signing forging a relationship with quarterback Derek Carr.
“This whole offseason I spent with Derek Carr,” Agholor said. “Came out to Vegas early, threw balls with him and I’ve just stayed in his hip pocket trying to learn and grow.”
— The Raiders donned helmets for the first time and went through the paces in front of media members that had been tested negative for coronavirus.
Gruden warned not to make too much of who was out there and who wasn’t, with workouts designed to get looks at specific players with a decreased amount of time to make evaluations.
— Datone Jones, a former first-round draft pick who has played in eight games in the last three seasons, agreed to terms as a free agent, according to NFL Media.
Jones (6-foot-4, 285 pounds), has played end and tackle and was in Dallas with defensive line caoch Rod Marinelli for four games in 2017 and one in 2018 before going on injured reserve.