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Jon Gruden pulls from the past to forge Raiders’ future

Updated August 1, 2018 - 8:21 pm

NAPA, Calif. — The video quality is not perfect. Far from it.

The players are no longer active, having retired or passed away.

These men stashed in Jon Gruden’s film archives were giants decades ago. The Raiders coach has pulled them from retirement and, in some instances, returned them to life, showing classic footage to his players this offseason. There is a romantic yet almost urgent element to it, the way in the film “Coco” people from the past must be remembered by sunrise or become lost forever.

Honoring the history, Gruden said Wednesday, is geared to the future.

“I’m just trying to make some points,” he said.

Barry Sanders is jump-cutting. Jack Tatum is shelving receivers over the middle. Welcome to the Raiders’ 2018 film room, where coaches and players spend plenty time reviewing modern football footage. In between, Gruden has taught players, some of whom were toddlers when he last became the franchise’s head coach in 1998, some of the game’s roots.

“They love seeing Barry Sanders,” Gruden said. “I think they love seeing Joe Montana in the two-minute drill. I had a couple of young guys get up there, they didn’t know who Jack Tatum was. They didn’t know who Art Shell was. Part of that is having a respect for the league that you’re in and the guys that came before you.

“You try to accomplish a lot. You only have them for so long. You try to keep their attention span. Then all of a sudden, man, there’s Dan Marino. ‘Man, I didn’t know he had that quick of a release. Geez, he was pretty good.’ A lot of these guys never heard of Mark Cooper or Mark Clayton. I think they like it. You can make some points, show some great routes and also teach them a little bit about the people that came before you.”

The tactic, albeit nontraditional, seems well received.

Tight end Jared Cook was born in 1987. He entered the NFL in 2009. From every standpoint, the film archives predate him. Yet, he said, they resound.

“He’s bringing up film from like 1976 when you ain’t even think they had film,” Cook said. “Like grainy film where you can barely see the players. He has that knowledge. He’s been watching football since he was a kid, and he’s been in the league since he was a kid. Everything that you’re seeing and everything he’s teaching you are things from his background. …

“He’s bringing players in to talk to us. (Former NFL tight end) Rickey Dudley has been a huge influence on me, just from knowing him from OTAs and camp, just talking to him every day. I’m in his ear asking him questions because he’s been part of this offense, so he knows. It’s things like that Gruden is introducing to us that we have never had before. It’s pretty awesome.”

The classic film sessions don’t all derive from game footage.

Gruden said that the Raiders have reviewed how legends like wide receiver Jerry Rice and running back Roger Craig practiced, particularly the drills they ran to improve their footwork and other fundamentals.

“Those can be great teaching moments,” Gruden said. “Look, we’re not running a 1964 operation here. But there are some things that happened in 1964 that were pretty damn good. If you don’t think so, go ahead and have a nice day.”

Contact reporter Michael Gehlken at mgehlken@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.

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