SAN LEANDRO, Calif. — A final send-off before training camp.
A sea of silver and black lined up outside Ricky’s Sports Theatre and Grill on Friday afternoon.
Members of Raider Nation eagerly awaited admittance into a free barbecue hosted — and paid for — by Raiders coach Jon Gruden.
“[Gruden] is an excellent coach, and I expect big things out of him,” said Norman Barker, a Raiders fan of nearly four decades. “He’s a driver. He makes things happen.”
The sports bar anticipated more than 500 Raiders fans for the event, a chance to see the new coach. And for the owners of Ricky’s, a chance to engage an old friend.
“Jon has been a longtime friend of ours, and he would come around all of the time,” said Ricky Ricardo, the self-titled owner of Ricky’s. “We’re looking forward to having him here.”
Ricardo and wife Tina were friends with Gruden back during his first stint with the Raiders from 1998 to 2001.
The Raiders, Gruden and Ricky’s organized the barbecue as a way to show thanks and gratitude for the support of Raiders fans.
Gruden spoke to fans at the barbecue and was joined by former Raiders Cliff Branch and Lester Hayes and general manager Reggie McKenzie.
Gruden measured his words regarding the upcoming season and praised his coaching staff.
“I don’t want to make a lot of promises, but we have one hell of a quarterback in Derek Carr,” Gruden said.
The coach also said the interior offensive line of center Rodney Hudson and guards Gabe Jackson and Kelechi Osemele is “as good as there is in football.”
But Gruden also indicated there were some issues. “We got a lot of work to do. I encourage all of you to come up to training camp and watch for yourself.
“I need your word now that you’ll stay behind this football team no matter what.”
The Raiders begin training camp in Napa next week. Rookies and quarterbacks report on Tuesday.
The beginning of full-squad practices is July 29.
Contact reporter Chris Booker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Bookerc94 on Twitter.