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Jon Gruden: Raiders’ mentality key in 5-3 start with no fans to cheer them on

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There are a lot of ways to describe the Raiders’ fan base, but quiet is not one of them. And while Jon Gruden knows they’re out there, and excited about hitting the halfway point of the season with a 5-3 record, it’s not as if his ears are ringing with the COVID-19 pandemic acting as a silencer.

You can’t sense it,” Gruden said Monday at his weekly video conference the day after a 31-26 road win over the Los Angeles Chargers. “We’ve played in front of an empty stadium, and we don’t go anywhere. You do look forward to those times, but it’s really a strange experience going right now, that’s for sure.”

Gruden does have a read on his own team, however, and he likes what he sees, both in the way they practice and prepare and the way they’ve adhered to COVID-19 protocols despite more than a million dollars in organizational and individual fines related to NFL coronavirus discipline.

“Adversity is sometimes a perception,” Gruden said. “There’s a lot of perception out there. The reality is we really like each other and we respect the job we’ve done against COVID. We have fun coming to work. We have fun competing together. It’s a tight group of players and coaches. It’s a great environment.

“We’ve got a good, young team. I think it’s a combination of good, young emerging players, competition, and attention to detail.”

The first half of the season included five road games, myriad injuries — particularly on the offensive line — and a defense that is giving up points and yardage at a much higher rate than anyone is comfortable with. In losses to Buffalo, New England, and Tampa Bay, the Raiders were reasonably competitive until the games got away in the second half.

“I think we’ve been a competitive week in and week out,” Gruden said. “We’ve adapted to a lot of different circumstances — missing players, missing practice, different types of weather. And obviously, the COVID experience has 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. We still have a long way to go.”

Not so fast on Isaiah Johnson

Isaiah Johnson had a day to remember against the Chargers, Breaking up the final two plays of the game at the same spot in the end zone against Mike Williams and 6-foot-8 Donald Parham. He played a career-high 50 snaps after Trayvon Mullen left with hamstring tightness but isn’t necessarily going to have an expanded role assuming Mullen and Damon Arnette return.

“We want Mullen to be healthy, and we think Arnette is going to be back on the practice field today,” Gruden said. “It was good to see Isaiah make some plays. He’s still a work in progress, but he is making progress. We’d like to get Amik Robertson some more snaps as well. Although Isaiah made a couple of plays at the end of the game there are still some things we need to clean up.”

At the least, at 6-foot-2, 209 pounds, Johnson made a pitch for being in on goal-line defenses to defend against fade routes against taller receivers.

Incremental improvement in the pass rush

The Raiders are nothing approaching a good pass-rushing team but probably had their most consistent pressure since the second half of their upset win at Kansas City in Week 4. Carl Nassib and Maxx Crosby had sacks of Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, who showed a knack for escaping the rush and then finding open receivers.

Defensive end/tackle Clelin Ferrell didn’t get a sack but did apply pressure, which he has done against the Chargers all three times he’s faced them.

“I thought Nassib played well in spurts, and Maxx continues to give great second and third effort,” Gruden said. “We got them in some passing situations, which helped.”

A pass rusher became available Monday when the Atlanta Falcons released former first-round draft pick, Takk McKinley. McKinley basically forced the issue by being critical of the team on social media.

With 17 1/2 career sacks, McKinley (6-foot-2, 250) would cost just under $875,000 in salary as a waiver claim for the rest of the season and bring a compensatory draft pick should he leave in free agency in 2021. However, with a winning record, the Raiders would be well down the order of claim order and there’s no guarantee they’d take on salary for half a season.

The Raiders backed away from expensive players such as Jadaveon Clowney and Yannick Ngakoue as well as more inexpensive ones such as Everson Griffen and Carlos Dunlap for financial reasons.


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