Coach Jon Gruden is pleased with where his Las Vegas Raiders are at the halfway point of the season despite dealing with COVID-19 and injuries, but he’s certainly not getting carried away.
Gruden realizes there is much more to do as the Raiders (5-3) prepare to host the Denver Broncos (3-5), another AFC West rival, on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, where the Silver and Black have a 1-2 record.
“We feel good about winning four games on the road,” Gruden told reporters. “Five of our first eight were on the road. I think we’ve been a competitive week in and week out. We’ve adapted to a lot of different circumstances, missing players, missing practice, different types of weather.
“Obviously the Covid experience has really made things bizarre and different, but I compliment our team, our players, our coaches for being able to concentrate, prepare hard, and compete hard. That’s what I’m most proud of, but we still have a long way to go.”
Gruden even downplayed somewhat the injuries that have hit the Raiders, especially the offensive line and the defensive backfield.
The Raiders have gone with the “next man up” mentality instead of dwelling on the starters who can’t play and it’s paid off enough to have them poised to make a run at the playoffs.
“Well, adversity sometimes is a perception,” Gruden said. “There is a lot of perception out there and the reality is here we really like each other, we respect the job that we have done against Covid. We have fun coming to work, we have fun competing together. It’s a tight group of players and coaches, and it’s a great environment. I wish you guys could see it, but we have a lot of confidence in the next man up.
“We have a good young team and it was a competitive training camp. We had a hard time cutting down to 53. The guys that made this team deserved to make this team and they are going to be asked to play. Like I said, it’s a combination I think of good, young emerging players, competition, and attention to detail.”
The Raiders have played much of the season with a makeshift offensive line, and in last Sunday’s victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, starting tackles Trent Brown and Kolton Miller were out, and guard Richie Incognito has been out for several weeks.
However, the Raiders have protected quarterback Derek Carr more than adequately and the line has sprung loose running backs Josh Jacobs and Devontae Booker in every game except for a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Gruden gives the credit to line coach Tom Cable, who has been coaching in the NFL for 154 seasons after coaching in college for 20 years, beginning as a graduate assistant at Idaho in 1987.
“Yeah, really proud of (Cable) and the job he’s done,” Gruden said. “Proud of all of our coaches, honestly. Tom has done it a long time.
“ … It’s good to see a healthy (guard) Gabe Jackson, and Denzelle Good has really stepped up (replacing Incognito). Our interior three has played excellent football and we’re hoping that our tackles can return healthy together someday soon, but in the meantime, you have to tip your hat, Brandon Parker. He’s played right tackle and left tackle in consecutive weeks and Sam Young has given us some critical snaps.
“(Center Rodney Hudson) is the leader of the group, no doubt. He makes the guys next to him better. He holds the guys to a high standard the way we meet, the way we practice, and the way we compete. It all starts with Rodney, he’s having another great season.”
In the secondary, rookie starting cornerback Damon Arnette has been out because of an injury for several weeks, and against the Chargers cornerback, Trayvon Mullen left the game when he was hurt.
So backup cornerback Isaiah Johnson came in and saved the 31-26 victory with two exceptional plays in the end zone in the final seconds.
“It was good to see Isaiah make some plays,” Gruden said. “He’s still a work in progress, but he is making progress.”
Enough of it so that when he was the next man up, Johnson got the job done, exactly like the others.
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