When it comes to now unemployed quarterback Christian Hackenberg, Jon Gruden is not a slave to mutual exclusivity.
The veteran coach, who spent just under a decade away from the sideline and in the television booth before returning to the Oakland Raiders in January, released Hackenberg, once an oft-criticized second-round pick of the New York Jets, just three weeks after acquiring him.
According to Gruden, though, Hackenberg’s inability to play the position at the professional level has little to do with the player himself, it’s an indictment of the current NFL landscape which drastically limits practice time and any coach’s ability to be hands-on with players during the offseason, a shift started when the 2011 collective bargaining agreement kicked in, an environment put into place when Gruden was safely in the ESPN booth.
Gruden is at least partially right. It’s conceivable that Hackenberg would have had a smoother transition in another era where a coach could hold his hand throughout the offseason and be there every step of the way during the developmental process.
The scary part of this for the Raiders and their fans, however, is that’s not the landscape Gruden is trying to traverse now. In other words, the veteran mentor isn’t returning to the same league that he left and Gruden obviously doesn’t like what’s going on in 2018 when it comes to teaching players.
“Everybody is an expert out there on Hackenberg and thinks he can’t play,” Gruden said as the Raiders finished up their three-day mandatory minicamp. “It’s unfortunate, this whole collective [bargaining agreement]. How do you develop a quarterback? I don’t know how you do it.”
Words are just that but on the surface that sure sounds like Gruden is throwing up his hands at the limitations.
At least in the short term, it shouldn’t have much of an impact in Oakland because Gruden inherited Derek Carr, a more than competent option at the game’s most important position. On the other hand, though, Carr is far from a finished product and still needs to keep improving so Gruden has to keep tweaking things to make sure Carr is headed down the right path.
The greater hope has to be that Gruden was simply venting on one particular player who has some significant talent but needs a lot of work and a lot of coaches do the same thing. The good coaches, however, understand that everyone is under the same limitations so the goal is to teach everyone to the best of your abilities and do a better job with the time allotted than the next guy.
“It’s not like it was,” John DeFilippo, the former Eagles’ quarterback coach and now the offensive coordinator in Minnesota, told GetMoreSports.com last year. “Under the old system, you took a couple days and could get right back into it with the guys. Now you just have to maximize the time you do get but it helps when you have people who understand the extra time you need to put in.”
DeFillippo was given much of the credit for the rapid development of Carson Wentz in Philadelphia and being the point guy for the Eagles’ quick shift in offensive philosophy late last season after Wentz’s ACL injury, something which enabled Nick Foles to lead the team to a Lombardi Trophy en route to being named Super Bowl MVP.
“Two things,” DeFilippo answered when discussing the move from Wentz to Foles. “Number one, I sat [Foles] down and made him list me, with our coaching staff, what are your best concepts, what do you see yourself do well?”
There was going to be no pounding the square peg in the round hole in Philadelphia.
“I’m not, myself, [offensive coordinator and now Indianapolis head coach] Frank Reich, Doug Pederson are not throwing the ball,” DeFilippo explained. “He is. And so, we really sat down and spent some time with Nick and formulated game plans based on what he felt comfortable doing. And to me, that’s coaching. Why would you ask your player to do something that he’s not comfortable with?”
The moral of that story is any coach needs to be malleable no matter the circumstance. Few would disagree with Gruden when it comes to the limitations of offseason work under the current CBA but there is a difference between lamenting it and using it as a crutch.
“[Hackenberg] has been working on changing his stroke, his passing motion, and I think he did that,” Gruden claimed. “We just didn’t have enough reps to take a good look at him. Since we were further along the road with some of our other guys, we didn’t have the space.”
On a micro level, the failure of the Raiders to do anything with Hackenberg is inconsequential since the only thing it took to get him from the Jets was a conditional 2019 seventh-round draft choice. The team needed room on the offseason roster for veteran defensive linemen Frostee Rucker and Ahtyba Rubin and already has Carr, Connor Cook and E.J. Manuel at QB.
“It is hard enough to get Connor Cook enough reps, let alone a fourth guy,” Gruden admitted. “It really depresses me how we can’t spend more time with these young quarterbacks, and it is really going to be an impactful situation on the NFL in the future.”
On a macro level that reads like a defeatist attitude and obviously could be a problem for Gruden trying to recapture past magic with the Raiders.
In the modern NFL, greatness at the QB position is usually defined when talent weds with work ethic.
The great ones at the position understand they have to do extra work away from the team during dark periods which is why mechanics gurus like ex-Major League pitchers Tom House and Adam Dedeaux have a long list of clients working with them.
Coaches would always prefer to be hands-on all the time but if Gruden 2.0 is going to be successful, complaining about the current conditions is fine. Surrendering to them is not.