(AP) – “Chucky” is back on the sideline at the Coliseum.
Jon Gruden makes his return for the Oakland Raiders when they host the Detroit Lions in their exhibition debut on Friday night.
Gruden last coached a home contest in Oakland on Jan. 12, 2001, when the Raiders beat the Jets 38-24 in a playoff game. Oakland lost the “Tuck Rule” game in New England the following week and Gruden was traded to Tampa Bay after the season, where he won the 2002 NFL title.
Now he’s back for a second stint in Oakland after spending the past nine seasons as a TV analyst for ESPN.
“I’m looking forward to it bigtime,” he said. “I’ve got some things obviously I’ve got to work out. So I’ve got to work myself through calling plays again and managing some tough situations. I’m anxious to see if I can do it.”
The game also marks the debut for new Lions coach Matt Patricia, hired this offseason after a highly successful stint as defensive coordinator for New England.
The Lions will leave starters in just long enough to break a sweat before backups compete for spots on the roster. The Lions’ third-string quarterback, Jake Rudock, will have a lot to play for. Rudock made the team as a rookie last year, but veteran Matt Cassel was signed to be Matthew Stafford’s backup. Patricia may choose to keep two quarterbacks. Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson will have a chance to make an impression and perhaps push veteran LeGarrette Blount for a starting spot.
Elsewhere on Friday night: the Atlanta Falcons travel to face the New York Jets.
And Saturday, the Minnesota Vikings meet the Denver Broncos, while the Chargers head to the desert to meet the Arizona Cardinals to finish off the first full weekend of preseason games.
LEARNING TO FLY
Falcons coach Dan Quinn will make sure rookies get their chance at playing time right off the bat Friday.
With that in mind, Quinn said he hopes to play all four quarterbacks, with starter Matt Ryan and backup Matt Schaub playing early. Rookie Kurt Benkert and Garrett Grayson, who played on the practice squad in 2017, will follow the veterans.
“You want to make sure that a guy doesn’t run out of time, where he didn’t get enough turns or looks,” Quinn said. “So one of the things that we’re really committed to is playing the rookies and the first-year guys. If you look back in our history, our play time for the preseason would show that.”
An Atlanta rookie to watch is running back Ito Smith, competing for the No. 3 job behind Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
Sam Darnold will make his NFL debut for the Jets and the rookie could make a strong case for winning the job with a solid performance. The No. 3 overall pick out of USC is competing with Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater to be the starter, but Darnold will be given every opportunity this preseason to come out on top.
“First NFL game, going out there and being really emotional is something I’m looking forward to,” Darnold said. “At the same time, I realize I have to be smart in all my decisions and sound with everything.
“Yeah, I’m probably going to be a little emotional – not emotional as in like crying or anything like that – but it’s definitely going to be awesome to be out there first NFL game. I’m also going to be aware of every situation and everything that is going on.”
Darnold has impressed his coaches and teammates with how quickly he has been able to process the offense. While he has been up and down at practice since ending a three-day camp holdout last week, the former USC star has certainly flashed the skills that made him so coveted.
The Vikings-Broncos matchup Saturday night features more intrigue than the typical preseason opener.
Denver QB Case Keenum gets to face his former teammates whom he helped reach the NFC championship game before management dumped him in favor of Kirk Cousins, the jewel of this winter’s free agent class.
Keenum said this week he’s eager to face the Vikings.
“Definitely. I mean, I got a firsthand view of how good a defense it is, so I know we’ve got our work cut out for us. It’s going to be a great test. I’m excited to go compete against a really, really talented defense,” Keenum said.
Keenum went 12-4 for the Vikings last season after injuries to Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater, but Minnesota moved on in the offseason, winning the Cousins sweepstakes with, among other things, a strong roster, a sparkling new stadium and a fully guaranteed contract for $84 million over three years.
Keenum signed a two-year, $36 million deal in Denver.
Many stars won’t play when the Chargers visit the Cardinals, but the youngsters getting plenty of playing time are likely to include Arizona quarterback Josh Rosen and Los Angeles linebacker Uchenna Nwosu.
The LA-area natives know plenty about each other after spending the past three years in crosstown competition, with Rosen at UCLA and Nwosu at USC.
“I’m looking forward to seeing him again,” Nwosu said with a grin. “I’ll give him a nice hug, like I did in college.”
Coach Steve Wilks, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and quarterback Sam Bradford will make their Cardinals debuts.
Do not expect Bradford or running back David Johnson, back from a season-ending wrist injury suffered in Game 1 of the 2017 season, to make much more than token appearances.
The Cardinals’ preseason focus will be on identifying a wide receiver group behind Larry Fitzgerald, sorting out the running backs behind Johnson, and securing the cornerback spot opposite Patrick Peterson.
“It’s been great,” Johnson said of the new offensive scheme. “Mike McCoy really knows how to bring out everyone’s strengths.”
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press.