Raiders balance Las Vegas move with pandemic

Dealing with an offseason move to Las Vegas, an overhaul of his defense and contending in a division with Patrick Mahomes and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs is a tough enough task for Raiders coach Jon Gruden.

It all pales in comparison to trying to keep his players safe from COVID-19 in a city where the coronavirus is spreading.

“One mistake can bring us all down in a real bad way,” Gruden said Thursday. “It’s not just becoming to football; it can create a terrible illness. So I want to dominate when we leave the building. We want to crush this virus. We want to beat this virus into the ground, and I can use those words because it’s not on our schedule but it is an opponent that we have not been able to beat. It can really break you down physically. I know a lot of people that have had it and have it, and it’s an awful thing and we don’t want to have anything to do with it but beat it.”

The Raiders have weathered the issues fairly well so far. No players have decided to opt out of the season for safety reasons and backup running back Devontae Booker is the only player placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list after the first round of testing for rookies and veterans.

Gruden said the message has been sent that players will be evaluated as much for how they conduct themselves off the field to stay out of dangerous situations as for how they do on the practice field.

“We take full responsibility and accountability in each other,” rookie receiver Henry Ruggs III said. “We know that we’re all safe if we’re around each other and at home. So pretty much we’re just trying to keep that circle, keep us with just the team. That way we can stay on the football side and keep learning and things like that. Other than that, just home and stay on your own. Get into your playbook. Get your rest and come back good again.”

While all teams are dealing with many of these issues, the Raiders have particular challenges because of their relocation.

They had planned to spend the offseason still in the Bay Area and then hold training camp as usual in California’s wine country. Players also would have had time to figure out their plans for the move to Las Vegas.

But the offseason program got canceled and Gruden and his staff weren’t allowed in the team’s new facility in Nevada until late June.

Several players led by quarterback Derek Carr led informal offseason workouts in the Las Vegas area but many of the players didn’t move into their new homes until more recently.

Gruden said he still hasn’t met top free agent addition Cory Littleton.

“We are not the lone ranger,” he said. “Everybody in the league is going through this. We have to do the best we can. It’s not going to be the most equitable, fairest season. Some teams are going to be hit hard by this virus, some teams might not. Some teams might have fans, some teams might have cardboard cutouts. I don’t know but we just got to deal with it. We got to try to be creative.”

The pandemic also has taken away some of the fanfare of the move.

The team had expected to wine and dine free agents in Las Vegas this offseason only to have that idea wiped out when the league went into lockdown because of the pandemic.

The draft in April that was scheduled to be on the Strip as the NFL’s first major event in Las Vegas was held remotely instead.

The new practice facility opened quietly with only a handful of staffers allowed in at the start.

Now the team’s fancy new stadium might not be able to have any fans for its first season.

“It’s just been hard,” Gruden said. “I’m worried about my kids, my mom and dad, my family, my brothers, my friends and I’m worried about all our players. I’m really worried about Las Vegas; I love this place. We were eager to have the draft here. We are eager to make some friends here and have some real exciting times as we make our move here. We have the best facility, the best stadium I’ve ever seen in my life and I’ve seen a lot, having been a former broadcaster. I miss being around people. I’m a handsy guy, I like to hug people and high-five them. It’s been tough on America, it’s been tough on the world and I just want to keep reiterating that to our players. We got to beat the virus. That’s our challenge right now. We got to beat the virus right now to have a chance to play.”

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