SportWhy Incognito, Brown, Burfict are Raiders' coach Jon Gruden's greatest challenge
Antonio Brown absent from Raiders’ first spring practice
The Raiders convened for the start of their offseason program Tuesday, with one notable exception. Receiver Antonio Brown, Oakland’s top offseason acquisition, was not present for Tuesday’s voluntary team practice in Alameda. Head coach Jon Gruden did not specify the reason for Brown’s absence but said it’s not a reason for concern. “He’s not here today,” Gruden said. “Hopefully we’ll see him here in the next couple days. He’s been working extremely hard learning our offense. And really excited to get him out here. But in the meantime, we have plenty of balls to throw and plenty of receivers to throw to.
“You can’t have all Boy Scouts.” That’s what Oakland Raiders general manager Mike Mayockafter the team signed guard Richie Incognito, whose abilities on the field are usually overshadowed by his troubling incidents off of it.
It was quite an about-face, considering that a month ago Mayock couldn’tthe importance he and Jon Gruden placed on character. That seemed a strange line to toe back then, because Oakland had already traded for receiver Antonio Brown and signed linebacker Vontaze Burfict. It seems even stranger now, because in Incognito, the Raiders have a guy whose off-field makes Brown and Burfict look like, well, Boy Scouts.
Raiders sign former Bills OL Richie Incognito
Former Buffalo Bills OL Richie Incognito has signed with the Oakland Raiders.
If, and it is an enormous “if,” you can look past Incognito’s ugly history, you’ll see a guy who can actually play. He has made four Pro Bowls, including three consecutive from 2015-2017. He was out of football last year, in large part because of his off-field problems. Actions speak louder than words, and signing Incognito clearly shows where Oakland’s priorities are. They want guys who can play, character be damned.
Gruden doubtless believes that he’s the right guy to make all of these personalities mesh, and maybe he’ll be proven correct. He’s a ravenous, maniacal “football guy” at his core, and the Incognitos, Burficts and Browns of the world tend to respond well to that sort of single-minded approach.
It’s worth taking a look, though, at what Gruden must deal with, because these three men represent the biggest challenge of his career.
Should Raiders have given Richie Incognito his latest second chance?
The Raiders are flirting with acquiring a shiner on their good eye. The team’s latest calculated risk comes from the decision to sign offensive lineman Richie Incognito, giving him at least his second second chance. Or maybe it’s his third second chance. Or maybe it’s his second third chance. Incognito’s behavior has resulted in not [more]
No one works harder at his craft than Brown, but he has also displayed a short fuse when he doesn’t feel he’s getting the ball enough, or when a pass sails well out of his reach. If he was willing to publicly and demonstratively express his frustration with two-time Super Bowl winner Ben Roethlisberger, what’s going to stop him from airing out Derek Carr the minute things start to go bad?
Oh, and Brown is also omnipresent on social media, including, infamously, an episode where he broadcast on Facebook Live after a Steelers playoff victory. That sort of distraction wasn’t around during Gruden’s first go-round with Oakland.
In Burfict, Gruden has a player he profusely praised during his years as a broadcaster. Burfict’s own Bengals teammates probably had a less favorable view of their talented-but-volatile linebacker, who routinely took bad penalties that hurt the team despite numerous fines aimed at curbing his reckless play.
Incognito pleaded guilty in connection with separate August 2018 incident
A suspension for Richie Incognito is looking more and more likely. As it turns out, Incognito faced not one but two criminal cases last August. In addition to an incident at a funeral home that resulted in a guilty plea to disorderly conduct charges, Incognito engaged in misconduct at his grandmother’s house two days earlier. [more]
If his Twitter silence is any indication, Burfict probably won’t be a major headache off the field, but will Gruden still be enamored with him if he costs the Raiders wins on it? The phrase "he’s talented, but…” is a perfectly apt description of Burfict. That doesn’t bode well for a harmonious player-coach relationship.
The majority of Incognito’s former teammates praise him as a blood- and-guts guy between the lines, but there might not be a more dangerous, unpredictable personality in the league. Joe Philbin had no control over Incognito when he played for Miami, and the bullying scandal that swirled around the team was one of the uglier situations in recent NFL history.
How will Gruden manage to coax the most out of Incognito the player while managing to keep Incognito the person in check? Left to his own devices, he may take over the Raiders’ locker room, which could lead to catastrophe.
The addition of character risks and potential major distractions only makes sense as a roster-building strategy if there are strong leaders in the locker room. The coach tasked with managing them also must be an alpha male in his own right.
Bills increased security during final days of Richie Incognito’s time with the team
The Raiders think they’re rolling the dice on Richie Incognito. In reality, they could be playing with fire. The folks at BuffaloRumblings.com spotted this passage from the AP story regarding Oakland’s decision to sign Incognito: “A person with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press that security was stepped up at the Bills headquarters around the time Incognito announced his retirement on social media.
Gruden cut that profile during his time with the Buccaneers, where he had highly respected veterans Derrick Brooks and John Lynch to lean on. They were guys who policed the room, and kept temperamental talents such as Keyshawn Johnson from stepping out of line. Oh, and the Bucs were loaded with talent, with Brooks and Warren Sapp in the midst of careers that would land them in Canton.
There are no strong personalities on the Raiders like Brooks or Lynch. There is only Gruden, who has ironclad job security in the form of a nine-figure contract, but plenty of pressure to produce a year before the team moves to Vegas. There is no question he has injected more talent into his team, but at what cost?
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Richie Incognito making a positive impression so far.
The Raiders wanted to “solidify” the left guard position after trading Kelechi Osemele to the Jets. After seeing Richie Incognito in the offseason program, the Raiders believe they have done just that.
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