ALAMEDA — If there was anyone more excited than Jon Gruden about being on the Raiders practice field Wednesday, it was Rich Gannon.
“I was curious,” Gannon told the Bay Area News Group following the second session of a three-day mandatory minicamp. “I didn’t think there would be a lot of change and there hasn’t been. His energy level is like it was when I was here. It brings back so many memories.”
Gannon has spent two days in the meeting rooms and on the practice fields at Gruden’s behest, immersing himself in a culture that saw him go from erstwhile journeyman to three straight division titles and and a Most Valuable Player award.
When the Raiders wrap things up Thursday in their final practice before reporting to Napa on July 26, Gannon, whose partnership with Gruden took an also-ran and made it relevant again, will address a team hoping for the same thing nearly 20 years later.
Gannon arrived in Oakland as a free agent in 1999, in Gruden’s second season. He was Gruden’s hand-picked quarterback, with the coach selling Al Davis on the idea of parting ways with strong-armed Jeff George to bring in someone who could carry out his vision.
Only this time, Gruden is programming Derek Carr to be his on-field extension. Gannon has watched both men closely and believes a bond has already been formed.
“I think they’ve really jelled,” Gannon said. “I get the sense that it’s a really good fit. Derek has completely bought in. It’s impressive to sit in the meetings, being around Derek and seeing his aptitude and how quickly he’s gotten a real good feel for things.
“You look at his huddle command, and when Jon asks questions he’s spitting out the information so quickly. Derek’s really going to benefit from that relationship.”
Gannon rejects the notion that Carr would have difficulty adjusting to Gruden’s coaching style.
“Jon’s intense and you have to be able to match his intensity,” Gannon said. “I think Derek is really a smart guy, he’s bought in, he loves it, he loves football, he can’t get enough. That’s Jon’s thing. You feed off Jon’s enthusiasm.”
As a CBS analyst, Gannon has watched teams practice throughout the league as well as attended training camp, and he considers the Gruden experience unique. Any thoughts that Gruden would mellow after nine years as a Monday Night Football analyst were quickly put to rest.
“He says some of the same things, but he’s got a couple new lines, I’ll say that,” Gannon said. “But the thing I love about it, and I’m kind of rejuvenated being out here, is his energy. I’m in different practices every week during the season and there’s no one like him.
“You think, maybe he’s a little older now. Maybe he’s slowed down a little bit. None of that. He’s got so much energy. He’s yelling at coaches, he’s completing a pass, he’s going back and forth with Bruce Irvin who’s not even on the field, and they’re having fun with each other.”
Occasionally lost amid the glowering Gruden is the playful side, and Gannon said both approaches are part of his ability to maximize talent.
“When it’s time to be tough on you, he’s going to be tough on you, when it’s time to tease you he’s going to tease you,” Gannon said. “He’s pretty good that way.”
While Gruden the coach hasn’t changed, Gannon discovered his system has changed with the times. The day he was hired, Gruden made a joke about turning back the clock to 1998 that was widely misinterpreted, and Gannon got a first-hand look the last two days at an offense updated considerably from when he played in it.
“I’ll be honest, I sat in meetings and it was a little uncomfortable for me,” Gannon said. “I didn’t think I was going to walk in there and know it all, but man, there’s a lot of different terminology and verbiage and tweaks and additions.
“There’s similar concepts but it’s evolved.”
All of it, Gannon said, is Gruden’s way of putting Carr in position to succeed.
“There is a lot of responsibility placed on him, as there was me, in terms of seeing things, changing things, getting in the right play, making the right choice, changing the protection,” Gannon said. “And Carr is really, really good at it. You can tell he doesn’t make many mental mistakes. He knows where to go with the ball. His anticipation is good.”
Gannon, who had a knack for using his feet to get occasional first downs, then getting down and out of trouble, believes there will be more of that from Carr this season.
“He’s got real good feet and I think that’s one area he’ll be better at is his ability extend plays and make plays off the scramble, move the pocket, things like that,” Gannon said. I think he’s a natural at it.”
Another similarity with the Gruden-Gannon Raiders teams is a reliance on veteran players, which played a part in erasing a negative outlook that festered in the Mike White and Joe Bugel years.
“They wanted to add some veterans who have a lot of intangibles they’re looking for, smart players that can process a lot of information, you can plug ’em in and they can play,” Gannon said. “They have good leadership skills, they’re good teammates, they practice and prepare, and they’re going to rub off on the younger guys.”
Source: East Bay Gannon on Raiders’ Gruden: ‘I feel rejuvenated being out here’