Promising start for Gruden Part II as Raiders beat Lions

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OAKLAND It was almost perfect.

The Raiders first possession with Jon Gruden calling plays at the Coliseum opened with two short completions and a 60-yard power run for an apparent touchdown by Marshawn Lynch.


As is often the case in early August, the Raiders couldnt pull off the storybook beginning Friday night in a 16-10 exhibition win over the Detroit Lions. Rookie left tackle Kolton Miller was called for holding, essentially wiping out the first drive.

I was really ticked off after that play was called back, Gruden said. I just got to the stadium. Id just called my (third) play. Chucky came out for a brief moment tonight.

In truth, Chucky, the Gruden alter ego named after the doll in the 1988 slasher movie, appeared to come out less than in his previous incarnation. He flashed his wicked look a time or three, but at age 54 Gruden appears to be internalizing a little more than he used to.

It should be noted, however, that Cindy Gruden, Jons wife, laughed out loud when that theory was suggested to her following the game.

As much as Gruden is looking to put tales of the 1998 through 2001 seasons behind him, the coach looked almost humbled during pregame and said as much afterward.

It was awesome. I saw some recognizable faces that had gotten a little bit older, Gruden said. Saw some old friends that mean a lot to me. This is a great responsibility. The nostalgias worn off. Weve got to do something with this opportunity. But it was sure great to see the Raider fans.

Grudens first trip on to the field since Jan. 12, 2002 (a 38-24 playoff win over the Jets) came at 6:30 p.m. with many fans still filing in.

A classic rock fan to the core, Grudens sound track on the stadium P.A. system started with Led Zeppelins Rock and Roll as he stopped and posed for photos wit Cindy and sons Michael and Jayson as the lyrics been a long time echoed in the background.

Next up was Aerosmiths Back in the Saddle, as Gruden made his way to conversations with general manager Reggie McKenzie and owner Mark Davis. As players went through stretching, Gruden walked among them as is his custom, reminding them of areas on which to focus.

The starting lineup, in another throwback move, was introduced coming out of the Black Hole area in the south end zone rather than a straight shot from the tunnel to the field. Gruden got big cheers when the stadium announcer welcomed him back to the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum (although, oddly, wide receiver Jordy Nelson matched him in terms of decibel level).

As much as Gruden wants to put all nostalgia talk aside, and as calm and cool as he looked as he took the field for the first time, one of his closest friends indicated otherwise.

Asked if Gruden was fired up, Jeff Leonardo, his longtime driver, said, That would be the understatement of the year.

Leonardo, observing the pregame scene on the field, was relieved he wasnt responsible for getting Gruden to the game from training camp in Napa.

Thank goodness, he came on the bus, Leonardo said.

Adding to the emotions is that Grudens son Deuce, who was 4 years old when he was traded to Tampa Bay, is now on the sidelines as the Raiders strength and conditioning coach.

The opening drive, before Millers penalty, was looked straight out of Grudens original playbook.

Taking over at the 29, Grudens first play call was a play fake by Carr, who then rolled right and hit Nelson for a 4-yard gain. It was a play Rich Gannon, seated in the television booth doing analysis, executed countless times.

Then Carr threw to the opposite sideline for seven yards and a first down to Griff Whalen. Two short passes and a first down, followed by Lynchs big run with double tight ends in a single back set.

Alas, Miller hooked defensive end Anthony Zettel for the hold, and the drive died after Carr threw incomplete deep to Martavis Bryant, had another pass deflected and Doug Martin was stopped for a short gain. That was it for Carr, who gave way to Connor Cook. The third-year quarterback completed 11 of 19 passes for 141 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.

Its dangerous to draw conclusions from a preseason game, but its fair to say this is the best Cook has ever looked by a considerable margin. You can credit Gruden for much of that.

There were hints of the power running game Gruden loves, particularly with undrafted rookie Chris Warren (13 carries, 86 yards), even with Lynchs touchdown being nullified.

For having not called plays in a game since 2008, Gruden found a good rhythm and plays came in quickly and without confusion. If there were any problems with sideline technology unlike anything Gruden is used to, it didnt show.

Gannon, working in the local TV broadcast booth, could barely contain his glee when he emerged at halftime.

Theyre going to be so much better, Gannon said.

The Raiders outplayed the Lions decisively on both sides of the ball, played with the kind of juice Gruden insists on, and made enough mistakes for the teaching to continue in earnest when the Raiders return to practice Monday in Napa.

A month to go until the regular season begins. So far, so good.