Raiders’ Jon Gruden fires back at critics: ‘We aren’t tanking anything’

NFL


Things have gone far from swimmingly for Jon Gruden in his return to the Oakland Raiders after spending the previous nine seasons in ESPN’s Monday Night Football booth.

And Gruden addressed numerous topics in his weekly media conference Tuesday at the team facility, a day after the squad returned from a disastrous 27-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in London to fall to 1-5 on the season.

Gruden announced that Oakland had released veteran middle linebacker Derrick Johnson and promoted linebacker Jason Cabinda from the practice squad. The coach said that running back Marshawn Lynch suffered a groin injury at Wembley Stadium that had Gruden “concerned,” while acknowledging that receivers Amari Cooper and Seth Roberts remained in concussion protocol. He noted that quarterback Derek Carr remained sore after getting his left (non-throwing) shoulder slammed into the ground on his sixth and final sack Sunday, but, Gruden said, “We think he is going to be OK.”

And as the team embarks upon its bye week, Gruden addressed talk of the Raiders checking out already.

“I’ll say this — we aren’t tanking anything,” Gruden said. “I hear the hatred out there, some of the rumors that we are tanking it to get a first-round pick or a higher pick. We are not getting up at 4 o’clock in the morning to tank it. Ain’t nobody tanking it. I don’t know who wrote that or who said that or who thinks that, but that isn’t the case here. We are going to continue to work hard, continue to build our team and that was part of the message.”

The Raiders trading edge rusher Khalil Mack, who had been holding out since last season ended, to the Chicago Bears on Sept. 1 for future draft picks was seen as a sign that Oakland was less interested in the present than the future. And it has led to speculation that Cooper and strong safety Karl Joseph are on the trading block, though Gruden denied the report of Cooper as trade bait in London. (It should be noted that Mack, Cooper and Joseph, as well as defensive end Bruce Irvin, all have the same agent in Joel Segal)

It has been a frustrating return for Gruden and the Raiders after they blew first-half leads in each of their first three games to lose to the Los Angeles Rams, Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins, before coming back to beat the Cleveland Browns, 45-42, in overtime.

The last two weeks, though, Oakland has been drilled by a combined 53-13 by the Los Angeles Chargers and Seahawks.

After the bye, three of the Raiders’ next four opponents also currently have records of 1-5 in the Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals.

But first, the Raiders have to field a healthy and competitive team, and that is the goal over the bye week.

Pro Bowl left guard Kelechi Osemele missed the last two games with a knee injury while rookie left tackle Kolton Miller has also been dealing with a knee sprain and has surrendered six sacks the past two weeks, according to Pro Football Focus, backup left guard Jon Feliciano left the Seahawks game with a rib injury and right tackle Donald Penn is on Injured Reserve with a groin injury.

No wonder Carr was so beat up after Sunday’s game, in which he was hit 10 times and sacked six times. In fact, he has already been sacked 17 times this season (he took 16 sacks in all of the 2016 season). Only one of Carr’s passes against Seattle traveled more than 10 yards downfield and 140 of his 142 passing yards came after the catch.

“It was obvious that it affected the ability to drop back and look around and throw the ball,”‘ Gruden said of Carr’s lack of time in the pocket. “We got to block better than that. We got to play better than that. That certainly had an impact. No doubt.'”

Plus, only seven of the 50 players drafted by general manager Reggie McKenzie from 2012 through 2017 remain on the team’s 53-man roster, with 2017 first-rounder Gareon Conley losing his starting gig last weekend. Yes, Gruden is in rebuild mode.

“Well, we’re diagnosing everything,” Gruden said. “Not only the plays we’ve called, the players we’ve used. The situations that we have had. We’re still looking at the roster. We’re looking around the league to find means to get better. Reggie and I had a long meeting yesterday. 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. Those are decisions that we’re looking at. We’re going to continue to try to develop our young players. We’re going to stay on the gas pedal and go as hard as we can.”

Which includes having a talk with cornerback Rashaan Melvin, who vented about going back to his old playing technique instead of adapting to the style of new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther after being demoted as a starter in London.

“I haven’t talked to him yet, no,” Gruden said of Melvin. “I’m sure I will. I know Paul Guenther did. I heard there was a Twitter report out there. Melvin is on his seventh team, I think. He’s had different techniques. Maybe he’s confused, I don’t know. I’ll talk to him. But he has to play better. He’s in a competitive situation. Perhaps he’s frustrated, and I can’t blame him.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.



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