The Las Vegas Raiders made major changes at skill positions on offense this offseason and Austin Hooper was at the center of the action.
As they reconstructed the top spots at tight end, the Raiders brought in the veteran to be a key part of the offense. They later drafted standout Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer in the second round as they both away from the Darren Waller-Foster Moreau combination.
In addition to signing Hooper, Las Vegas added fellow veteran free agent O.J. Howard before drafting Mayer. However, Howard was released early in training camp.
Hooper has adjusted well to being in Las Vegas and should have a big role in the offense even if Mayer does become the starter early in the season. Hooper, an eighth-season veteran who made the Pro Bowl in 2018 and 2019 while with the Atlanta Falcons, likes what he is seeing from this offense.
“Yeah, I think the organization has done tremendous job of bringing guys at every position group, not just offense, but defense and core special teamers as well to compete and push everyone for greatness,” Hooper recently said after a training camp practice. “Speaking in my room alone, like we’ve got a lot of guys that have truly made me better, because I know I can’t afford a day off with them pushing, and it’s been a great collaborative environment with Coach Jerry [Schuplinski] and all the guys in the room. It’s made for a fun group where we push each other, but at the same time we also have fun with it after all. Like we’re playing a kid’s game and sometimes we forget that. So, we have fun, but we also push each other to be better daily.”
Raiders’ head coach Josh McDaniels has had success in his career, utilizing the tight end dating back to his days at the New England Patriots offensive coordinator. That attracted Hooper, who had a career-high 75 catches in 2019, to the Raiders this offseason.
“Candidly, he’s the guy who revolutionized the 12 personnel offense. So, I’d be lying to you if that didn’t come across my mind when I was getting the opportunity to join this organization,” Hooper said. “So, just trying to take the coaching, apply it daily, and put my best foot forward and see how it shakes out.
Hooper, who turns 29 in October, signed with the Raiders, of course, to play. But he has no problem being a mentor to Mayer as he begins his rookie season. He didn’t always experience strong mentorship as a young player out of Stanford.
“I feel like that’s just part of being a good teammate,” Hooper said. “It doesn’t matter what year you are, like I’m an open book. Without getting into names, I’ll just say, when I was a young player I wish some things were handled differently with me being a young tight end. So I said to myself, like if I make it that far down the road, like it’s never going to be a closed book. By all means I let Jerry coach, I mean it’s his room ultimately, but if there little tidbits, little things that have helped me that can help him make the jump a little quicker, I definitely don’t hold any secrets if that’s what you’re asking.”
Yes, Waller and Moreau will be missed, but the Hooper-Mayer combination has a chance to be strong as well.