ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The frustration felt by Jon Gruden over not being able to talk football with his Oakland Raiders players was palpable from Indianapolis at the NFL combine on Wednesday.
So, too, was his excitement for working with wide receiver Amari Cooper.
“We think Cooper’s going to be a great player,” Gruden said. “We think Amari’s not only a great prospect, a great player, he’s a great person. He had a lot of injuries last year and that impacted him, but he’ll be the focal point of our pass offense. I hope he’s listening here today.”
If not, well ...
The knock on Cooper in his first two seasons was that he’d get nicked up late in the year and his production would slip. So Cooper showed up bulkier to training camp last season in hopes of warding off the injuries -- to no avail.
Take away his monster game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 7, in which he caught 11 passes on 19 targets for 210 yards and two touchdowns, and Cooper had a pedestrian 37 catches for 470 yards and 5 TDs on the year. And he had 10 drops and the fifth-worst drop rate in the NFL at 17.24, per Pro Football Focus, a year after he had four drops and a 4.60 drop rate.
That showing on Thursday night in the rain to help beat Kansas City, though, is what has the Raiders in general, Gruden in particular, already scheming up plays.
Even if Gruden cannot do it with his players exactly yet. Not until April 9, the first day of the Raiders’ offseason training program.
“What’s most discouraging to me is we’ve got to make some decisions on our roster, on salaries, on players and their futures,” Gruden said. “And you can’t even meet them. I don’t know these guys; I’ve never coached them. Never met half of them. So that’s been very, very difficult for me and I’ve been emotional about it at times.”
That whole hurry-up-and-wait thing has Gruden impatiently anticipating the moment he can grind with the likes of Cooper.
“I look forward to joining up with Amari Cooper,” Gruden said. “He’s got tremendous quickness. I think he’s smart, he’s versatile, he’s a gamer, he likes the bright lights and he’ll be the headliner in our offense.”