OAKLAND Trey Flowers Jersey , Calif. (AP) — Jon Gruden
has quickly put his stamp on the Oakland Raiders in his second stint as coach.
He’s installed his new systems, overhauled more than half the roster and traded star pass rusher Khalil Mack to Chicago just before the start of the season for draft picks.
Gruden’s quest to get the new-look Raiders back to the level they were at during his first stint that ended in 2001 begins at home Monday night against the Los Angeles Rams. Oakland has had just one winning season in the past 15 years.
“We have not had a lot of success,” Gruden said. “We’ve got to turn this team around. We’ve got to get this team built back to where we can compete for championships. It was that way in 1998 and it’s that way 20 years later. We’ve got to put this train back on the track and we’ve tried to assemble the right guys to get us started. We’ll see where we are on Monday night.”
There is quite a bit of intrigue in what Gruden’s offense will look like in his first game as coach in 10 years. He spent the past nine seasons after being fired in Tampa Bay as the analyst for “Monday Night Football.”
Gruden spent much of the offseason talking about wanting to bring the Raiders back to 1998. He showed almost none of his offense in the preseason, but his former protege and current Rams coach Sean McVay knows to expect the unexpected.
“He’s always done such a good job of mixing it up,” McVay said. “I’m sure he’s got a bunch of new wrinkles that he’s added to his arsenal. It’s going to be exciting, but it is a great challenge, really kind of that element of uncertainty and that does make it very difficult.”
Despite the trade of Mack, Gruden has many of the ingredients he needs for a successful season on offense with Derek Carr at quarterback, a strong interior offensive line, a running game led by Marshawn Lynch and a pair of receivers in Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson who have shown big-play ability in the past.
Now he gets a chance to show some new wrinkles that he learned by visiting and watching all the other teams as an announcer.
“I feel like he’s more advanced,” said tackle Donald Penn, who played for Gruden in Tampa Bay in 2007-08. “He’s gotten even smarter. That’s crazy to say because he knows so much already, but I feel like he’s learned even more during that time off.”
Here are some other things to watch:
TEACHER VS. MENTOR: Gruden hired McVay as a 22-year-old assistant wide receivers coach in 2008 but the ties between the families go back further. McVay’s grandfather, John, hired Gruden’s father, Jim, at Dayton in 1970 Chris Hogan Jersey , and helped Jon get his first NFL job as an assistant in San Francisco in 1990. The younger McVay has taken so much from Gruden that he has many of the same mannerisms and sounds so much like his mentor that Jon Gruden joked he does a better impersonation of him than comedian Frank Caliendo.
“I hear it all the time,” McVay said. “”But I think probably subconsciously you pick up on some of those things just from being around somebody. I got so much respect for him so I take it as a compliment.”
DOMINANT DONALD: While the Raiders cut ties with 2016 AP Defensive Player of the Year Mack after his contract holdout, the Rams gave last year’s top defensive player Aaron Donald a six-year, $135 million deal, with $87 million guaranteed to end his holdout. Donald, perhaps the game’s top interior pass rusher, joins a defense that added three former All-Pros in the offseason in defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib.
GOFF’S GROWTH: Rams QB Jared Goff took a big step last year after the former No. 1 overall pick struggled in his rookie season in 2016. Goff increased his yards per attempt from 5.3 to 8.0 and his passer rating from 63.6 to 100.5. Goff still sees more room to grow, but didn’t get to show that in the preseason when he didn’t get any snaps because of injuries to the offensive line.
“There’s a bunch of stuff we’ve been working on this offseason that we’re ready to display on Monday night,” Goff said. “A lot of the stuff is from last season that we’re going to continue to do, and then a lot of new stuff that we’re doing.”
DRIVE THE CARR: Carr is looking to bounce back from a down season as he struggled with a back injury and an unimaginative offense by former coordinator Todd Downing. He matched his career high with 13 interceptions and recorded his worst totals in yards, touchdowns and passer rating since his rookie year in 2014. The Raiders hope for a revival under Gruden.
HIDDEN SCHEMES: These teams played just over three weeks ago in an exhibition, although not much can be gleaned from that game. Both teams sat almost all of their starters and showed almost none of the schemes knowing they’d play a game that counts so soon.
“You would think we’d know about them, they would know about us, but all of our starters on both teams were wearing sweatsuits,” Gruden said.
Their doubters are dropping off as quickly as the competition.
Only one team has advanced to the conference finals in these NBA playoffs, and it’s the same squad that looked vulnerable during a chaotic regular season, beatable in the postseason and was one loss from a possible franchise collapse.
The ending’s been postponed. The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t nearly finished.
On Monday night Laurent Duvernay-Tardif Jersey , the Cavs completed their second straight four-game sweep of the Toronto Raptors, the East’s top team and the one that was supposedly built to dethrone them, with a 128-93 win in Game 4 that has perhaps changed Cleveland’s outlook.
LeBron James, whose future hangs over this city like a looming thunderstorm, scored 29 points with 11 assists and eight rebounds on 12 of 19 shooting – an ordinary performance by his standards – as the Cavs won their 10th straight over the Raptors with one of their most complete games in months.
After all the injuries, the failed Isaiah Thomas experiment, the roster overhaul at the trading deadline and other distractions, the Cavs, who can get some rest while waiting for the Philadelphia-Boston winner, are peaking at the right time.
Their path to the East finals wasn’t straight. But they arrived.
”We’ve had four or five seasons wrapped in one, we know what the narrative has been about our team,” said James, who averaged 34 points, 8.3 rebounds and 11.3 assists in the series. ”But I can only speak in the moment. To be able to put ourselves in position where we can represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals, that’s all you can ask for. So we’re excited about being part of the Eastern Conference finals once again and having the opportunity to compete for a championship.
”That is what our goal is.”
James has been reluctant to discuss the Cavs’ chances to win a title or get back to the Finals for the fourth straight year, but his confidence has grown with each victory.
Kevin Love, who struggled in a seven-game scrap with Indiana in the first round Ja'Wuan James Jersey , had another solid game with 23 points. Kyle Korver added 16, J.R. Smith scored 15 on 6-for-6 shooting and point guard George Hill, who was sidelined for three games in the Pacers series, added 12.
The Cavs were balanced and were finally able to take some of the pressure off James, who had seemingly been abandoned by his teammates through much of the postseason.
In fact, things had gotten so bad that ”Saturday Night Live” did a skit last weekend that went viral on social media called ”The Other Cavaliers,” a parody that poked fun at Cleveland’s supporting cast.
James, though, said his faith never wavered.
”I believe in my teammates so as everyone was burying my teammates alive throughout that first-round series, I just continued to tell them, `Listen, we can’t win without each and every one doing their jobs and being as great as they can be,” James said. ”I continued to preach that so it’s impossible for me to lose confidence in our ballclub no matter what the stakes are or where we’re down because if I do that – then where are we going to go from a team aspect?”
After winning 59 games in the regular season, the Raptors had the East’s top seed and figured that this was their year. James had other plans.
Toronto came into the series feeling great. By the end, the Raptors were defeated and deflated. Exactly one year since they were last swept by James, he did it to them again.
”Everyone had counted Cleveland out,” said coach Dwane Casey Garrett Grayson Jersey , whose job could be in jeopardy. ”They struggled a little bit. They had the big trade and all that. Everyone thought they were vulnerable but as long as they have him, they have a chance and that’s what we were looking at. But 10 days ago we had all the confidence in the world.”
As the Cavs look ahead to a matchup with either the Sixers or Celtics, who lead that series 3-1 and host Game 5 on Wednesday, Love’s renaissance gives Cleveland the most comfort.
The All-Star was rendered ineffective in Round 1 by the Pacers, whose big men battered him and took Love out of his game.
But despite cries to bench Love or move him back from center to power forward, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue stuck with him, and in doing so may have prolonged Cleveland’s season.
Love said there was nothing magical about his turnaround.
”It just came from me being me,” he said. ”I didn’t forget how to play basketball, I was just ultra-aggressive. I found myself in spots, I found myself just missing little chippies, missing shots that were uncharacteristic of me to miss. But I continued to be aggressive, continued to put in the work every single day. So for me it was just more than anything it was just me being myself.”
And now the Cavs appear to be themselves.
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