OAKLAND, Calif. — Many reporters laughed on Feb. 28 when Raiders coach Jon Gruden said at the NFL combine that he wanted to “throw the game back to 1998.”
Clearly, Gruden meant it.
The team reportedly reached a two-year, $4.2 million contract with former Dallas Cowboys fullback Keith Smith. He adds a thumper not only on offense but special teams, where he played 239 snaps in 2018. Rich Bisaccia, now the Raiders’ special teams coordinator, held the role in Dallas from 2013 to 2017.
Gruden said in Indianapolis that he wanted a fullback and blocking tight end.
The Raiders already had Jamize Olawale on their roster. Now, Smith further checks the fullback box after inline tight ends Derek Carrier and Lee Smith were signed this week, effectively checking the other.
“I like Jamize,” Gruden said in Indianapolis. “He didn’t play much last year; he had some injuries. I think that hurt the offense as well. He gives the offense some deception because he can run. I mean, he’s a fullback with speed. He was injured. It impacted us on special teams, and it certainly impacted the offense. But I would like to have a fullback. They’re a dying breed in football, but I think it does give your running a lot of deception.
“And if Marshawn Lynch is the feature back, I think it’d be nice if we serviced him with a fullback. … You need a blocking tight end if you’re going to slam the ball with a beast. So those are two things that I’m looking for.”
Smith, a converted linebacker, spent his college career at San Jose State before playing four seasons in Dallas.
Most of his NFL work has come on special teams; he’s logged 544 snaps there compared to 263 on offense and 41 on defense. He’s totaled eight carries for 46 yards and two catches for 5.
At the combine, Gruden remarked about 1998 when asked about adopting analytical data, such as player tracking systems, as an evaluation tool.
“Are you talking about the analytics, the GPS, all the modern technology?” Gruden said. “Man, I’m trying to throw the game back to 1998.”