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Jon Gruden downplays Antonio Brown absence from Raiders camp as distraction or even uncommon

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NFL: Preseason-Oakland Raiders at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Anyone who watched any of Gruden’s press conferences during camp could tell the Antonio Brown situation was irritating him a great deal. And Mike Mayock’s ultimatum to Brown about being “all in or all out” put a bow on that. Gruden also several times said he had no idea what was going on with Brown’s injury and would update everyone when he did know something. But if you heard him talk today, you’d think none of that happened and everything went as planned.

“It’s not been a distraction to me at all,” Gruden said of Brown’s absence while dealing with the injury to his feet and his helmet grievance. “I hate to break it to anybody, but we’ve known what the status is regarding his feet. He just showed up with frostbite. I’ve never had a guy show up with frostbite, and fortunately we got that thing under control, and this grievance is no laughing matter. It’s something that’s really important to him, and there’s nothing wrong with supporting your players, on things that they believe in. We also understand the league’s position, but I’m confident that he’s going to be a heck of a player for us and be ready to roll.”

Gruden had shown support for Antonio Brown. More support and more patience than he is known for with players less talented. In that regard AB got considerably more latitude than others. That ended abruptly when Brown didn’t show up for the final practice of training camp on Sunday. But with Brown back at practice today — his first full practice since the spring — all looks to be forgiven.

“He’s all in and ready to go,” Gruden said of Brown. “That’s my understanding and really happy to have him out here. He’s a great player.”

Despite the considerably unique nature of the injuries to Brown’s feet and the fact that he is the only player in the NFL not conforming to the NFL’s rules barring helmets that are no longer deemed safe, otherwise he says Brown’s absence isn’t unique. That plenty of teams have issues with star players not being in camp and the play of the team in their first two preseason contests is proof it hasn’t been a distraction.

“There has been no distractions,” said Gruden. “We’ve had 89 guys working hard. Our film is out there for you to watch. Our first two games, if you see a distracted football team then I disagree with you. So, I’m not going to make any more of it than that.

“There is a lot of teams that are missing star players. My brother [Washington head coach Jay Gruden] is missing one. The Cowboys are missing one. The Texans are missing one. That’s part of this league. Every year there are exceptions that you got to deal with, and I like our team, man. I like the way we are competing, and I like the way we are working.”

That’s a fair point. The players he’s referring to are all great players holding out for better contract. Washington left tackle Trent Williams, Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott, and Texans edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney. You could throw Chargers running back Melvin Gordon in there too.

Yeah, it’s common. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a distraction or that it doesn’t have a negative affect on the team. This is the second season in a row the Raiders have been without their best player in camp. Last year it was Khalil Mack holding out for a new contract. The result of that was the Raiders trading him away and the Raiders fielding one of the worst pass rushes in the history of the NFL.

Mack was not one of Gruden’s players. He inherited him. Mack was also a defensive player. Gruden is an offensive coach and he acquired Brown to take his offense where he wants it to go.

So, Brown gets the support of Gruden and the leeway to essentially skip all of training camp in part because of a helmet issue no one else had (and probably just because he just didn’t want to go through camp). Then have it all be water under the bridge now that he’s back in time for the start of the season.

Meanwhile Brown still has a second appeal being heard by the league. That appeal is reportedly to be ruled upon by Friday. If he accepts the ruling and returns to the practice field, the Raiders could be in the clear and everyone can move past this. If not, the water under that bridge will crumble quickly.