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Jon Gruden Opens Up About Facing Bolts, AFC West

The most buzzworthy event since the end of the 2017 regular season was the return of Jon Gruden to the Oakland Raiders.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that his Wednesday press conference from the Scouting Combine was the more highly anticipated event of the day.

In what might be surprising to hear, Gruden explained how difficult his first few months have been.

"It's a lot different because you're not allowed to have any interaction with the players, and I've always complained about that since the new CBA came into place," he said.  "A lot of players would come to see me in Tampa to get their football fix. So, you're not allowed to have contact with these guys but what's most discouraging to me is we've got to make some decisions on our roster, on salaries, on players and their futures.  And you can't even meet them. I don't know these guys. I've never coached them. I never met half of them. So, that's been very, very difficult for me, and I've been emotional about it at times."

It's clear Gruden is itching to get started as he looks to get the Raiders back in the thick of the AFC West mix.  Oakland's former coach is excited to return to a division with a rich history, describing what it's like to compete against the team's rivals, including the Bolts.

"That (division's) really special," he said. "I remember being here and seeing Marty Schottenheimer across the field and Mike Shanahan, Junior Seau and the Chargers. I'm just thrilled to be back in the AFC West with the Raiders. It's been really cool. Not many people get a chance to go back and do it a second time. It's a neat story for me. But I want to take advantage of the opportunity and I know I have a lot to prove."

Overall, Gruden gave a revealing assessment of his team throughout his 15-minute press conference.  Naturally, Chargers fans have a vested interest in what he had to say, so here are some of the highlights:

On Amari Cooper…

"We think Cooper's going to be a great player. 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. I look forward to joining up with Amari Cooper. 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."

On Derek Carr…

"I thought Derek did some good things, obviously. He's got tremendous arm talent. We didn't play to the level we played two years ago for a lot of reasons. He got hurt in the Denver game, hurt his back, I think that impacted the way he practiced. I think that impacted the way he played. We had a new feature back, new offensive coordinator, struggled I think on the right side of our offensive line at times. Amari Cooper got hurt. Crabtree was suspended. All those things add up. And I'll say this: he's a lot of fun to be around, Derek Carr, I enjoyed meeting him when I had him on my show a couple of years ago and he's got the right stuff. He's going to be a great leader for us."

On Marshawn Lynch…

"Well, our program starts April 9. Looking at our film and the game that I broadcast on Christmas night, there's no question he's still the Beast, that's hard to bring down. And one of the reasons that I'm excited to be with the Raiders is to join forces with Lynch, but we'll see what happens. Obviously, we've got to take a look at our entire roster. But I'm counting on him. I'm counting on him being a big part of our football team."

On the team's biggest needs…

"Obviously, defensively there are some glaring needs at this time. Free agency hasn't started yet, but our linebacking corps we've got a lot of questions there. Navarro Bowman is a free agent. Looking for an inside pass rusher to step up. Our secondary, we've got to clean that up. But I think most importantly, with the Raiders, just looking at our last three drafts, we need some young people to emerge and start playing -- a lot -- for this football team."

While Gruden spoke on Wednesday, it'll be GM Tom Telesco and Head Coach Anthony Lynn's turn Thursday morning.  We'll be streaming it live on Facebook, Twitter, our mobile app and on Chargers.com, so be sure to tune in starting at 8:00am PT.

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