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In defense of Jon Gruden’s defense of Raiders struggling players

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NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

With a team that has been downright unwatchable all season with little prospect of getting to even two wins this season, there is plenty of room for criticism of the job Jon Gruden has done in his return to the Raiders sideline. Every move will be criticized, and every word dissected. His early supporters turn critics and his early critics get louder.

This is expected. He hasn’t earned the benefit of any doubts. He’s earned nothing but doubts. Mostly surrounding trading Khalil Mack, which is largely seen as the catalyst for the collapse of this once promising team.

The thing is, that’s past. It’s done. This team is what it is now — 1-7 and is going nowhere fast. As Reggie McKenzie said, no one is safe. Gruden, on the other hand, can’t really say that or risk undermining those players who remain. Most notably, about his quarterback.

Sure, Gruden still says a lot of things that are easily mocked. Sure, his every move is criticized. But at some point we all must ask what the alternative is.

Amari Cooper was once seen as a top weapon on this team. But he wasn’t the number one target they needed and they got a first round pick for him. Hard not to take that deal.

Bruce Irvin was once a team captain, motivator, and sack leader. But this team isn’t getting any pass rush lately and it sure isn’t motivated. He just turned 31 and was destined to be cut in the offseason, so it isn’t that big of a deal to let him go 8 games early in a lost season.

Defending his defensive coordinator despite the historically bad defense is the only option. It’s that or throw him under the bus and try to take the blame off himself for putting him behind the 8-ball from the beginning by removing the best defender in the league from his roster right before the season.

Yeah, it was ridiculous for Gruden to bring up Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski’s supposed early issues in defense of rookie punter Johnny Townsend. But sticking with Townsend at this juncture and showing support and faith in him as the head coach is not at all ridiculous. Let him have the rest of the season, then bring in a punter in the offseason to compete with him and may the best man win.

Yeah, it sounds like a stretch to call Tahir Whiteheadone heck of a linebacker” with the season he’s had, but now is not the time to be beating down his linebacker. Gruden openly criticized several of his players in the offseason and training camp. But we’re halfway through a lost season. What good does it do to publicly chastise Whitehead now? If it doesn’t work to support him, he can be cut in the offseason with no dead money left behind.

We can’t sit here and call for the team to start putting in their young players to evaluate them while also slamming Gruden for supporting those players, even if his words cause you a little bit of a side eye.

This team is going nowhere this season. Cutting Johnny Townsend isn’t going to change that. Benching Tahir Whitehead isn’t going to change that. But putting them out there and seeing if they can eventually show they can turn things around might change things in the future.

Take the new kicker for instance. Daniel Carlson is a fifth round rookie, just like Townsend. Carlson cut by the Vikings after missing three field goals in a 29-29 tie with division rival Packers in week two. That makes sense to the Vikings. That game was huge and the Vikings can’t afford to not get that win and worry about the nerves of their kicker when they’re thinking playoffs.

It’s not huge for the Raiders.

Carlson missed off the right upright from 45 yards out last week, putting his season total at 2 for 6. So what. The Raiders can afford to see if Carlson can shake off his rookie jitters and turn it around. And if he does, he could be pretty valuable in the future.

Gruden doesn’t deserve kid gloves. Don’t expect us or anyone else to treat him as such now. But in so doing we have to recognize the current state of the team and that there’s only so much a head coach can say at this point. Trashing his own players is not an option. Building up his young players and rolling with them is the only play here.