In his return to the Oakland Raiders, Coach Jon Gruden has stressed his desire to create fierce competition at every position. Early in training camp, he’s keeping his word, and it’s paying off.
Coach Jon Gruden purposefully worked with General Manager Reggie McKenzie to remake the Raiders’ 90-man roster to ensure plenty of competition at almost every position. From his early statements, it’s already paying off.
When I was young, I remember my parents telling me how nothing worth a damn was going to be handed to me. If I wanted to be successful at my chosen career or craft, I had to work hard for it.
Perhaps Gruden learned this lesson along the way, as well.
Today, during his press conference at training camp in Napa, Calif., Gruden surprised many by stating safety Erik Harris was already competing for a starting spot.
“He (Harris) had an outstanding offseason,” Gruden said. “He made a lot of plays – in the box, deep, covering, special teams – right now he’s got a chance to be a full-time starter for the Oakland Raiders. That’s what I think of him. He’s doing an excellent job, he’s got some really good communications skills and he’s playing some very good football for us right now.”
While the media was quick to pick up Gruden’s endorsement of the second-year safety, it also highlighted the outcomes Raider Nation will see from this competition culture in camp. More than under Jack Del Rio, Gruden’s staff is making it clear that if you bring it every day, it doesn’t matter if you’re a star or someone signed off the scrap heap — you have a chance to make the team and even log significant playing time.
Gruden went on to praise former San Francisco 49ers castoff Tank Carradine — another guy brought in to compete for another chance. Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal even asked Gruden about the competition among those competing for the “gunner” position on the punt team.
“We got a lot of competition,” Gruden said. “That’ll be ongoing here as we head into the Lions preparation and preseason games. We got a lot of competition.”
This competitive culture is why I believe the Raiders — while they might experience early growing pains — will jell rather quickly and play above expectations. The work being put in by those fighting not only to make the team, but earn a starting spot, will produce the most from Gruden’s players.
When asked about new-found depth at cornerback, despite the uncertain status of injury-prone first-round pick Gareon Conley, Gruden stressed the battle to start is wide open.
“We got a lot of contenders,” he said. “But as [defensive coordinator Paul] Guenther said yesterday, or two days ago, it’s wide open. Wide open.”
This is the type of attitude and focus on building the best roster possible that has been lacking the past several seasons in Oakland. Gruden’s “old-school” approach might be assailed by critics, but it’s the type of philosophy that will get the best from his players.
If Gruden is going to turn the Raiders into a Super Bowl contender, the early expectation setting and desire to create competition will be a big reason why.