NAPA, Calif. — Jon Gruden was antsy at the start of the first training camp practice for the Oakland Raiders as he was mostly a spectator while his assistants worked on fundamentals in position drills.
After a nearly 10-year wait to get back into coaching, Gruden was eager to get things going in the first training camp of his second stint as Raiders coach.
“I had a hard time standing and watching,” Gruden said Friday. “It’s just awesome to be here. It’s a great responsibility. I know I have a lot to prove and I’m eager to do the best I can to do it.”
Gruden is far and away the biggest star and personality on the Raiders in his return to coaching after spending the past nine years as ESPN’s analyst on “Monday Night Football.”
He’s adored by the Raiders fans who cheered his every move, and he provided a vocal soundtrack at practice when he barked out at his players and coaches after mistakes. He even ribbed the practice D.J. at one point.
“He’s kind of like a player on the field,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “He’s very energetic. He’s loud, he’s talking trash. He wants to win. You can see his passion as a player. I can appreciate that. He’s all in. There’s a different kind of sense of urgency that we have going out to practice on the first day. It’s pretty exciting.”
There was one important piece missing, however. Star pass rusher Khalil Mack is holding out while looking for a long-term contract. Mack is entering the final season of his rookie contract that is set to pay him $13.8 million and has not taken part in the offseason program.
Gruden said he leaves the negotiations to general manager Reggie McKenzie
“Hopefully we get him in here soon because he’s an exciting player,” Gruden said. “He’s one of the best in football.”
Getting Mack back will be important for Gruden as he tries to revitalize the Raiders after the team went from 12 wins and a playoff berth in 2016 to a 6-10 record last season that led to the firing of coach Jack Del Rio.
He has worked relentlessly since getting hired in January. He had to hire a coaching staff, install new systems, adjust to changes in the league since he last coached in Tampa Bay in 2008, and overhaul a roster that had several holes.
Getting quarterback Derek Carr back to the level he played at when he was an MVP candidate in 2016 is one of the top tasks. After a breakthrough year in his third NFL season, Carr struggled last year as he dealt with an injured back.
He matched his career high with 13 interceptions and recorded his worst totals in yards, touchdowns and passer rating since his rookie year in 2014.
Carr said he feels revitalized under the tutelage of Gruden, whom he first met at a TV quarterback camp before the 2014 draft.
“I don’t know if anything with him surprises you,” Carr said. “He has not changed one bit since the first time I met him at Gruden’s QB camp to the first day of actual training camp practice. He is the same person. That says a lot. That doesn’t change. He is always fiery, he loves football, he wants to win, he loves his players, he loves his coaches, and he demands from you.”
Gruden is loved in Oakland and feels the same way about the Raiders fans who have pined for his return ever since he was traded to Tampa Bay following the 2001 season.
He even hosted a fan appreciation night last week at a local bar, Ricky’s Sports Theatre and Grill, which serves as a hangout for Raiders fans. More than 500 fans showed up for the event, getting treated by Gruden to a free meal and a pep rally.
“I don’t go out very often and when I do I like to be with people who are like-minded,” Gruden said. “To associate with the real Raiders fans who support you through thick and thin, that’s good stuff.”
NOTES: Gruden said LT Donald Penn is getting close to returning from foot surgery that ended his 2017 season but still needs to prove he can move explosively. ... Rookie P.J. Hall is sidelined for the start of camp with a strained pectoral muscle.