Today we introduce a new weekly column from our Senior NFL Writer Hayden Nadolny. His column will run each Monday morning through the NFL season.
Welcome to Any Given Monday, delivered by an Australian on a Monday night for you to read on a Monday morning.
Inspired by Peter King’s MMQB and now FMIA, this column will be Raider Nation’s weekly primer to ready you for the coming week in the NFL. With Jon Gruden’s return to the sidelines in the Silver and Black, we are all in for a roller coaster of a year. It’s going to be one heck of a ride, and I truly hope that the roller coaster is reflected in AGM at Silver and Black Today.
2018 MINI SEASON PREVIEW
There’s been a viral theme going around on Twitter this week in the lead up to training camp, so I think it’s fittingly appropriate that I give my two cents within this theme on players who I believe will have a big impact on the fortunes of the 2018 season.
Breakout guy – Bruce Irvin
Yes, I get it. Irvin is already an established Super Bowl winning veteran in the league. However, he’s never truly established himself as one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL. Not only will Irvin have at least 10 sacks, he will be a terror on the field and a true impact player. Irvin has shown flashes of great play during his Raiders tenure, but he’s had moments where he has gone missing. Under Paul Guenther, I expect this to change.
Comeback Kid – Amari Cooper
2017 was a horrible season for #89. We saw his elite talent seemingly for one game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday Night Football and then he was absent the rest of the year. Injuries didn’t help his cause either. Cooper has increased his weight to 223 pounds (up from 210 last season) entering training camp and provided his increased muscle mass doesn’t hinder his flexibility, is primed for a career year under Gruden. If Gruden is unable to get the best out of Cooper, the Raiders offense as a whole will not be humming.
Rising Star – Mo Hurst
Hurst is a fifth-round pick with first-round talent. The Raiders have only had one practice in pads, so it’s impossible to evaluate the lines yet. Yet his track record was impressive at Michigan and his pass rushing strengths (on paper at least) translate to the NFL. One knock some people have on Hurst is that he’s too small to play defensive tackle in the NFL, but they said the same things about Aaron Donald and he worked out just fine.
Don’t Forget About – Gabe Jackson
Many forget about Jackson’s presence inside on the O-Line. After a season in which he played hurt, Jackson is healthy and ready to bounce back. He is going to be an important cog in the running game (along with Kelechi Osemele and Rodney Hudson) and will need to be an anchor to assist the starting right tackle (likely one of Breno Giacomini or rookie Brandon Parker).
Needs to Rebound – Derek Carr
All great teams go as their quarterback goes, and if the Raiders are to have a special year, Carr must get back to his 2016 form. By all accounts, Carr has had a great off-season working with Gruden, and spent extra time with the receivers outside of normal practice hours on their own accord. This can only bode well for the chemistry and timing that Gruden’s offenses is built on. The coach has raved about Carr at every opportunity he’s put in front of a mic. Watching the HC/QB relationship develop will be in my opinion, the most intriguing storyline of this season.
Darkhorse – Arden Key
Analysts and so-called experts are down on Key because of his off-field concerns. They certainly are valid, but his on-field production when healthy in 2016 was elite. Back at his 2016 playing weight, Key could have a similar season to what rookie Carl Lawson had under Guenther in Cincinnati last year.
Under the Radar – Rashaan Melvin
This might be an obscure selection given Melvin’s outspoken approach about this season, but he is often overlooked when considering the makeup of the secondary. Last season he was playing at an elite level prior to getting injured. His game against the Steelers in which he shut down Antonio Brown was special given how dominant Brown was last year. Why he is being overlooked as a potential playmaker on this defense is a bit baffling to me.
Miller has impressed the coaches all off-season and his work ethic showed in the summer break where he put on additional weight to further improve his body. With Donald Penn currently on the PUP list, Miller has been receiving all of the first-team reps at left tackle. We won’t know how far along Miller is skills wise until they put on the pads for the rest of camp, but he’s off to a good start.
The second-year player is showing up as much more than just a special teams ace. Switzer has been getting a large portion of the first-team reps in the slot. Given his small stature, it’s unlikely the Raiders will be isolating him on the outside but Gruden is an offensive mastermind so there is no doubt that the everyone will get their numbers called during the season.
A Quote to Remember
“We’re going to be running zone and stuff like that, but it’s not going to be lateral…it’s going to be more downhill.” – Kelechi Osemele on what type of running game the Raiders are installing for the upcoming season.
A Tweet of Amusement
It's like spotting a unicorn eating four-leaf clovers under a rainbow on Feb. 29 https://t.co/YD2EomPVyf
— #AskFFT (@daverichard) July 26, 2018
Velocity Frequent Flyer Travel Note of the Week
My day job and family commitments mean that I fly between Adelaide and Melbourne each week. Not only does this result in really cashing in on the frequent flyer points (Cheers, Virgin Australia), every time I have a flight there is inevitably a story to tell. After all, when you fly multiple times a week as frequently as I do, you have to keep yourself amused, otherwise, it wears you down.
Instead of talking about myself this week, I want to highlight my dad’s recent motorbike trek through Cambodia earlier this year. As he stopped along the Mekong river, he spotted this man.
— Hayden Nadolny (@HBNadolny) February 16, 2018
1. The restructure of the Julio Jones contract should not bode well with other owners around the league. Jones had three years left on his deal and was planning to hold out of training camp until his contract was restructured so he would get some additional money this year. The reality is that in 12 months time they’ll be renegotiating it again because this was nothing more than a Band-Aid. I support the right for players to cash in but they can’t sign a new long-term contract and then be complaining about it a short time later. I won’t be surprised to see other players in similar contract situations to Jones pull this kind of stunt going forward, because most owners will inevitably cave in to their demands.
2. Someone of note is going to get injured either early in camp or in the first game. Not trying to put it out there or anything, but injuries inevitably happen. Australian rugby league coaching legend Craig Bellamy insightfully claimed that injuries needed to happen to help gauge the intensity of your training loads. If you have too many players off the park, you are likely working them too hard. If everyone is on the field, well then you’re not training them hard enough.
3. When thousands of people get Madden 19 this week, they will be filled with excitement for a few hours that is. And then, they’ll realize that the game is more or less the same with a few nice gimmicks added. Oh well, I’ll be getting my Madden fix too, and am sure to be pining for a return of the 2k NFL franchise by this time next week.
7 things I think –Khalil Mack edition
1. August 7 is a key date for Raider Nation, as Aaron Donald must report to camp by then, otherwise, this season does not accrue towards unrestricted free agency eligibility. This of course assumes that Mack is waiting for Donald to set the market before he agrees to any extension, of course.
2. Given Adam Schefter’s recent comment about Aaron Donald, if Mack is waiting for Donald, maybe he does continue his holdout well past August 7th. Players seem to get increasingly peeved with every passing year about the exorbitantly high-dollar contracts given out in the NBA, while a fully guaranteed contract in the NFL is virtually non-existent with the exception of Kirk Cousins’ recent deal with the Vikings. Mack and Donald have a chance to be the pioneers in not only resetting the defensive market but also changing the structure of contracts for players moving forward.
3. Given the complexity of the financials surrounding an extension, it’s impossible to determine how this should have been handled. Nonetheless, the Raiders made Mack a priority, and told both he and his agent as such, as far back as the 2017 off-season. Maybe the contract offer is still in the mail…
4. Gruden hasn’t been able to get hold of Mack lately (reportedly – though Gruden denies this), but this is much ado about nothing, here. Until Mack reports, he shouldn’t be speaking to Gruden. When the major players start getting involved in the contract negotiations, things can get messy and be taken personally. That’s why players have agents, and why coaches have front office executives to be their voices in such situations.
5. Mack has spoken to Guenther, and he is more important than Gruden from a schematic point of view for #52. But because Raider fans are panicking, this will get unnoticed by many
6. I’m not buying John Middlekauff’s recent report that Mack’s people don’t believe that Gruden values defense. Gruden won a Super Bowl on a team who was defense-centric. He has continually emphasized the need for a pass rush, and drafted four defensive players with the first six picks of the 2018 rookie draft class.
7. The Raiders should not entertain any calls about trading Mack at this point. If he gets traded, it will be for draft picks. Players rarely, if ever get traded for other players. In fact, the only time I can recently remember a high profile trade between two stars of the NFL was Clinton Portis for Champ Bailey over a decade ago. So if Mack is traded for draft picks, give him a year in the system, and if it doesn’t work out locker room wise (which I extremely doubt it would reach such a point), you move him for picks at the end of the year when you have a better idea of what’s available in the draft. Of course, no one wants it to get to that stage, but they’re currently in a position they didn’t exactly envision six months ago with Mack’s contract situation either.