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'Chuckie' makes appearance as Gruden speaks at NFL Combine

By Frank Cooney. The Sports Xchange
'Chuckie' makes appearance as Gruden speaks at NFL Combine
Oakland Raiders new head coach John Gruden talks with media after intruduction at the Raiders Headquarters on January 9 in Alameda, Calif. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

INDIANAPOLIS -- In his first national performance after his return to coaching the Oakland Raiders following a decade honing his entertainment skills on television, Jon Gruden didn't disappoint Wednesday during his turn at the podium as part of this week's Scouting Combine spectacular.

Gruden mentioned the differences since he last coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008, bemoaning rules that now make it difficult to meet with players in the offseason and laughing at the trend toward high-tech analysis.

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"They put little trackers in the uniforms and use GPS to track their every move," he said with the wry grin that earned him the nickname "Chuckie."

"I mean it is great to have more information and now they have data or day-ta or however you pronounce it. But I prefer some old fashioned, some old-fashioned ways."

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And one of those old-fashioned ways would be to have hands-on work with players in the offseason, which is extremely limited by rules set forth in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

"It's a lot different because you're not allowed to have any interaction with the players, and I've always complained about that since the new CBA came into place," he said.

"A lot of players would come to see me in Tampa to get their football fix. So, you're not allowed to have contact with these guys, but what's most discouraging to me is we've got to make some decisions on our roster, on salaries, on players and their futures and you can't even meet them. I don't know these guys."

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Gruden was just getting started.

"I like the way it was; I'm not there to hurt my players," he said. "I'm there to help them. ... We need to have an opportunity to work with your young players, teach them the foundations of your offense. To be there with them to help in the strength department where they don't go hire their own independent coach, their own independent strength coach, their own speed coach, their own psychological coach. It's tough. A lot of these guys want to be in the facility, are dying to get in the doors so you can help them. That's what we're paid to do, so it is frustrating."

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Gruden was asked about controversial running back Marshawn Lynch, of Beast Mod fame while with the Seattle Seahawks, and who came out of retirement last year to show flashes of greatness with the Raiders, his hometown team.

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"Looking at our film and the game that I broadcast on Christmas night, there's no question he's still the Beast, that's hard to bring down," Gruden said. "And one of the reasons that I'm excited to be with the Raiders is to join forces with Lynch, but we'll see what happens. ... I'm counting on him. I'm counting on him being a big part of our football team."

Gruden's main concern remains his inability to interact with players right now. That is especially true of quarterback Derek Carr, whose performance last year was impacted by injuries.

"I thought Derek did some good things, obviously," Gruden said. "He's got tremendous arm talent. We didn't play to the level we played two years ago for a lot of reasons. He got hurt in the Denver game, hurt his back, I think that impacted the way he practiced. I think that impacted the way he played. We had a new feature back, new offensive coordinator, struggled I think on the right side of our offensive line at times. (Wide receiver) Amari Cooper got hurt. Michael Crabtree was suspended. All those things add up. And I'll say this: he's a lot of fun to be around, Derek Carr. I enjoyed meeting him when I had him on my show a couple of years ago and he's got the right stuff."

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Quarterbacks were a hot-button issue for many of the coaches and general managers Wednesday, as usual. This year there will be an unusually large number of quarterbacks finding new homes -- including veteran free agents and draft choices.

Among the teams with the most intriguing quarterback situations are the Minnesota Vikings, Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills.

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman claimed Wednesday: "No decisions have been made with how we move forward," adding, "We have a pretty good idea of what we feel. Obviously, contracts are a factor."

Kyle Sloter is the only quarterback under contract, while 2017 starter Case Keenum and Sam Bradford will be unrestricted unless agreements are reached before March 14.

The NFL is expected to make a ruling prior to March 12 whether Teddy Bridgewater will be unrestricted or if his contract will toll for 2018 because he was on reserve/physically unable to perform for the first six weeks of the 2017 season.

In that case, Bridgewater would be forced to play in 2018 for the same salary he earned in 2017.

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The only franchise quarterback with the Broncos is president John Elway. The Broncos still have Trevor Siemian and there is Brock Osweiler possibly within arms reach as a free agent after touring the NFL the last two seasons.

There is a lot of talk that the Broncos want Kirk Cousins, who probably hits free agency after a curious stay in Washington by somebody not named Donald Trump.

Broncos head coach Vance Johnson was asked about Cousins.

"I haven't coached Kirk Cousins so I can't speak to that to be honest," Johnson said. "He's a Washington Redskin at the moment, so I can't speak to that. But obviously watching the guy over the years, he's a good football player. He's thrown for over 4,000 yards the last three years, and that's tough to do in this league. He's a good one, but I'll leave it at that."

So how about discussing the subject of quarterbacks in free agency, coach?

"It's about fit," he said. "You have to find a guy that fits your football profile. It's not about the numbers or the names. It's about the perfect fit. The best teams win. You have to have a guy that fits your football mindset. In Denver, we want to play great defense all the time and run the football. Who fits that formula for us? I'm not sure yet. It's all about fit."

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The Jacksonville Jaguars recently signed quarterback Blake Bortles to a deal worth $54 million over three years, which surprised some.

Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone was asked about signing Bortles.

"We were excited about that," he said. "I think Blake has shown during the year that he was progressing, getting better. Obviously when you give a player a contract now, we are looking for more, which we always are. No different than any other position. We need to come in and we need to play better than we did before. Happy to get that done before coming out here. I think it is a good situation and one that we are both working to get better.

"I think with the continuity of the staff, having gone through the year, not losing anyone, and then for Blake having the same continuity with coach (Nathaniel) Hackett as his offensive coordinator, Scott Milanovich as his quarterbacks coach. We are looking to see great improvement from him going into this next season."

In Arizona, veteran quarterback Carson Palmer announced his retirement. Cardinals general manager Steve Keim was asked about the depth at quarterback in the draft or free agency.

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"It's so early when people talk about projections," he said. "At the end of the day that position gets pushed higher because of the supply and demand, but a lot of times you'll be evaluating a guy in the fall and you think he's a good third-round pick and one goes, and the value of the position players are, I don't want to say over-drafted, but a team that has needs is certainly going to pull the trigger, and take the player a little higher than anticipated. It's a strong class."

The New York Giants benched Eli Manning for one game last year, getting Ben McAdoo fired as head coach. Pat Shurmur is now the Giants' head coach. He was asked about the quarterback position.

"You're trying to look for all the intangible things that a quarterback does," he said. "You want to try to determine whether he's a good decision-maker, whether he has a sense of timing. The tape tells you whether he's an accurate passer or not. Then you just want to get a feel for hey, is this the guy we want to lead our team? Some of it is subjective, some of it really just comes by getting to know the player. We have a good idea of what a good quarterback is and so we're trying to see those attributes in all these candidates."

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Shurmur was asked if it matters that USC quarterback Sam Darnold decided not to throw at the Combine.

"No, I think times have changed, " Shurmur said. "We've seen him throw on tape. He's gonna have a Pro Day where we can see him throw. It's certainly nicer when they do throw. The more exposures you have, the more times we see the player doing what he does it helps but I think times have changed. Some do, some don't."

Shurmur was reminded that he said Manning has "years left," and how that impacts the team's thinking in the draft, where the Giants have the second pick.

"I agree with really both your assertions there," the coach said. "We're looking forward, moving forward with Eli, but certainly with the second pick in the draft, we want to draft a player worthy of that pick. I think we've talked about it before. The last time the Giants had the second pick in the draft they picked Lawrence Taylor. The last time they had the third pick in the draft they picked Carl Banks, and those were two franchise-changing players. I think we've got to keep an open mind on this and we certainly want to make our team better and I think that's the approach that we're taking."

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