Fixing Carr’s confidence, defensive overhaul await Jon Gruden in Oakland

If new head coach Jon Gruden is going to restore success to an Oakland Raiders franchise that claims just one playoff appearance since 2003, it will start with restoring his quarterback’s confidence and a defensive overhaul.

Those are the two areas J.T. the Brick, the longtime sports talk personality and host of the official Raiders podcast, says Gruden will start as he begins his second tenure as Raiders head coach.

“They need a total makeover on defense,” J.T. said. “They’ve got one player, Khalil Mack, who we believe is the ‘Von Miller‘ of the league — and that’s the ultimate compliment, because I think Mack has the ability to be a Ray Lewis long-scale type player. But their first two round draft picks last year were hurt; they never really got on the field and that hurt. When you take a defensive in the first and second round and they barely play, that really puts you back.”

J.T joined Nate Lundy and TJ Carpenter on Mile High Sports AM 1340 | FM 104.7 the day after Gruden’s introductory press conference in Oakland. Getting younger on defense will be a primary focus for Gruden, J.T. says.

“They’ve got older players. They’ve got a couple of players I think Gruden will bring back, but other than Mack, who’s the cornerstone, they need to rebuild on defense. I think they’ll be really aggressive in free agency. I think they’re going to cut players really quick. And I think that they’re going to go out in the draft and concentrate on defense, because they are pretty set on offense.”

Just two years ago, Oakland had the No. 6 overall offense in the league, and the No. 7 scoring offense. Injuries to Derek Carr at the end of 2016 (leg) and in 2017 (back) caused those numbers to slide drastically to 17th and 23rd, respectively. J.T. is confident that Gruden and a healthy Carr can get the offense back on track.

“Yeah, I asked him that and I think it was the injury. I really do. I think when you break bones in your back, it was a six- to eight-week injury — I mean, look what happened to Tony Romo and other guys that have similar injuries — and he rushed back in two weeks. I think that was a mistake. They should have shut Carr down last year for a good six, seven weeks. Probably would have knocked them out off a playoff conversation earlier, but they would have got him right. Carr was never the same. He lost confidence,” J.T. said.

He also attributed a change at offensive coordinator to some of Carr’s struggles in 2017.

“He had zero chemistry with Todd Downing, the offensive coordinator. As you know, Bill Musgrave — who won 12 games with the Raiders the year before — he goes to Denver because the Raiders didn’t want to lose Todd Downing and they felt like they were going to lose Todd Downing to another team. They would have elevated him at another team to an offensive coordinator position. That turned out not to be true. And that’s what kind of soured everything with Mark Davis, was watching Todd Downing struggle with Derek Carr. So, Carr lost confidence. He developed into a quarterback who checked down and threw down underneath.”

Downing was elevated to Raiders offensive coordinator after climbing the ranks in Minnesota, St. Louis, Detroit, Buffalo and Oakland, but was fired with Gruden’s firing. New Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson, formerly the Rams’ quarterbacks coach, will need to focus on getting Carr right, first and foremost — and he may have some help on that front.

“The offensive line didn’t live up to hype. Amari Cooper was banged up a bit, and [Carr] just couldn’t get in a rhythm. So, Jon Gruden — even if he hires Rich Gannon as his quarterbacks coach; that’s the rumor — they gotta fix Carr if they’re going to be competitive again.”

But even if the offense turns back around, Gruden’s biggest task will be fixing a defense that finished 23rd in total defense and 27th in points allowed in 2017. Repairing the interior defensive line should be the primary focus, J.T. believes.

“That’s really the root of the Raiders’ problems. At the safety position, they’ve had Reggie Nelson and they drafted Karl Joseph in the first round who’s supposed to be the guy for the future there. They brought in Navarro Bowman, who played at a really high level for them with literally no time to get ready, so I think he’ll come back. He’s just a really good player. The defensive line, that’s been the problem. They haven’t been able to get a star. They brought in free agents and they drafted players that haven’t panned out. The question is, do you go after Bruce Irvin, who played at a very high level? I think he’s not going to be back in Oakland. You have to draft young players at the linebacker position who stick. I think the big problem for the Raiders is they haven’t had a middle linebacker — a star player — in 10 years. I think that will be the priority for [general manager] Reggie McKenzie and Jon Gruden in the draft.”

If Raiders fans are expecting an immediate turnaround, J.T. suggests they might want to pump the brakes just a bit.

“There’s a chance that the Raiders — that Gruden — could blow this thing up. Everybody thinks, ‘Gruden’s coming in; the Raiders gotta get to the Super Bowl.’ He’s got a 10-year contract. He wants to do it right, so he’s got a lot of work to do to fill the roster that he’s going to like with his type of players.”

Gruden last coached in 2008 with Tampa Bay. He has been the color analyst for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” since 2009. The Raiders traded Gruden to Tampa Bay ahead of the 2002 season; he proceeded to lead the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory over Oakland that same year. Gruden led the Raiders to the playoffs in each of his final two seasons in Oakland before being traded. He was fired in Tampa Bay after compiling a 57-55 record over seven seasons.

Click here to listen to the full interview with J.T. the Brick, including why he believes Gruden ultimately decided to walk out of the broadcasting booth and back onto the field, or listen in the podcast below…

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