There has been a lot of backlash against Jon Gruden and Reggie McKenzie for loading the Raiders roster with veterans this off-season. The game had supposedly passed Gruden by, he was living in the past and counting on players too old to make a difference anymore. There does some to be rhyme to Gruden’s reason though.
New additions like Jordy Nelson who is a mentor for the other receivers. Or Donald Penn who is stepping up to mentor rookie tackles Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker. Or Bruce Irvin setting an example as a mentor and leading the defense, or Derrick Johnson working to prove he still has more left in the tank.
While we don’t know yet how these veterans are going to work out in games, their presence is being felt in practice. They are already setting the standard for the younger Raiders to follow.
“It’s so peaceful because everyone in that room holds a certain standard.” Derek Carr said Tuesday after the team’s OTA practice. “We have people at every position where it’s like, ‘This is the standard, this is how we do things.’ It’s not just on one or two guys to make sure it happens. Everyone is responsible for their position. Everyone is responsible for themselves.”
Talk about a difference from one year to the next. Instead of feeling lost and chaotic, the young players have veteran teammates (and coaching staff) to look up to and lead them. The closeness is so important in football at all levels, but especially at the NFL.
That’s why it was so important to Gruden and Company to add this level of experience in free agency and stabilize the roster right from the very beginning. The comfort level sounds like it’s back, and that is huge for the future of Derek Carr and the Raiders.
“I think that adding older veteran players brings into mind how quick this thing goes and they don’t want to take anything for granted, whether it’s a practice, a play, a rep, because they know how much each and every play matters, each and every relationship,” Carr continued.
It really does put things in perspective when you watch how people act towards the end of their careers, the dedication and perseverance it takes to still perform at a high level when the body doesn’t have the same energy it did before. When you look over as a young man and see someone over a decade older than you putting in the work, it makes you want to work like that too.
These young Raiders needed the example the veterans are bringing to the roster. This whole team needed to start over after such a tough season last year, and the veterans are providing the stability to do so.
Having veterans like Jordy Nelson helps the whole team with his knowledge and eagerness to ask questions and help out his teammates.
“The way we can do things through communication that way and in meetings I’ve really seen with Jordy help out those young guys,” Carr said of Nelson. . . “But you just see when you add a guy like that, it just trickles down throughout the whole room of guys just their study habits. You see Jordy off to the side when another group is in, if you just look over there, he is probably just telling somebody something about a route or a technique or a coverage. He’s very smart. He can read coverage like a quarterback. I can keep going.”
The level of communication Nelson displays permeates the entire team. And it isn’t just among those on one side of the ball, it extends to the other side of the ball as well.
“It helps both sides of the ball because I ask them the same thing,” said Jared Cook. “‘When you line up here or when you line up there, what were you trying to do, how were you trying to reroute me on this play? Were you trying to get your hands on me or were you just trying to ride me out,’ you know? So, that’s probably the biggest difference in having more vets on this team.”
If a long time vet like Jared Cook can ask the defense these questions then the younger players feel like they can too. It all contributes to what Carr said was ‘hitting the reset button.”
“There’s a different feel, but it’s a good feel,” Carr added. “We have a close-knit group of guys holding each other accountable, and I really think that stems from the veterans that showed up.”
The stability is back. With that are the lines of communications. Much of that comes from those veterans who were considered to be too old to make a difference.