Rookie minicamps are a valuable opportunity for incoming NFL hopefuls to get their feet wet and experience the pro game for the first time. With tight practice restrictions per the current collective bargaining agreement, rookies have a limited amount of time to get up to speed before the veterans show up for OTA’s later this month.
Coach Gruden however isn’t so focused on the top draft picks participating during team drills. The top picks Kolton Miller, PJ Hill, Brandon Parker, Arden Key, and Maruice Hurst worked only in individual drills on the field. Fourth round pick, Nick Nelson, is rehabbing an injury, so was unable to do field work.
“With the top five picks, this was a minicamp very unlike 1998,” said Gruden on day one of rookie minicamp. “They weren’t involved today in the team part of practice. They were on a different program. This was more of an orientation for them with strength coach, with the position coach, learning the nuances of our offense.”
Off the field, there Gruden has another different agenda in mind for them.
“There is a lot they have to learn and I don’t really want to just spend time teaching them a couple of plays,” said Gruden after day one of rookie minicamp. “I think they have to learn how to be Oakland Raiders and how to be part of our future. That was a big part of today and it’ll continue in tonight and into tomorrow.”
Gruden’s “different program” meant each of the Raiders top 5 picks got their own orientation with important members of the Raiders organization along with a history lesson about the Raider franchise and the players who donned Silver & Black before them.
This type of history lesson wasn’t lost on the defensive linemen, each of whom brought up how they were impressed by the Raiders history during interviews with reporters. Second round pick, PJ Hall mentioned his takeaways from this Raider orientation.
“We learned a lot of history,” said Hall. “A lot of great guys that have come through this program, especially D-linemen. We’re just trying to make sure we represent it well, represent the name that we’re putting on our helmet, on our shirts because there’s just so much history here.”
Raiders defensive linemen such as Howie Long, Greg Townsend, Warren Sapp, and Chester McGlockton to name a few, are a part of this legacy that Hall now shares. And it sounds like the top picks have some homework to do.
“They gave us booklets on the history of the organization and things of that sort,” said third round defensive end Arden Key. “So it’s on you to study. Jon Gruden, he wants us to study it and get to know the history behind the Raiders.”
It feels like this is an important aspect of Gruden’s program. In order for these players to be a part of the future they have to first recognize the history of the Raiders organization. The lesson no doubt has had its intended effect on players and Maurice Hurst echoed that sentiment when he was asked about putting on the Raiders uniform.
“Just to think about the players that played before you and get to represent them, represent the greats that have made this place what it is,” Hurst said of the value of the program.
Each of these players has a big role to fill and question marks they will need to answer before they can even take the field much less be mentioned alongside Raiders greats. But keeping in mind those who played before them and the responsibility they have to carry on a tradition is a wise strategy from Jon Gruden and hopefully will get these players Committed to Excellence.
Editor’s note: Levi Damien contributed to this article.