Gruden all smiles with fans inside stadium for practice

NFL

LAS VEGAS (AP)Standing near midfield of Allegiant Stadium, coach Jon Gruden couldn’t help but smile after giving backup quarterback Marcus Mariota a play to run Sunday during practice.

With approximately 13,000 fans in attendance, and ”RAI-DERS! RAI-DERS!” chants echoing throughout the Las Vegas Raiders’ $1.9 billion stadium, one thing was perfectly clear: Chucky is having fun again.

”It’s always been fun, that’s why I came back to coach, especially with the Raiders,” Gruden said after the roughly two-hour session. ”It’s always been the best time of my life. To share it with Raider fans again for the first time in a long time was special. It was really cool and really exciting for me and all of our players. `Raider Nation,’ the Raider fans, are special.”

Personal seat license (PSL) season-ticket holders, family members and team employees got the first look of what a game-day atmosphere will be like, with starting lineups announced and players running from a tunnel in the corner of the end zone, house disc jockey Joe Green blaring everything from hip hop to classic rock, tight end Foster Morreau exuberantly celebrating touchdowns, and starting quarterback Derek Carr even taking time to interact with fans sitting in the front row by waving at a few and signing autographs for others.

”It was a blast, it was a lot of fun,” Mariota said. ”Having the fans around again, it just creates that atmosphere that we all crave so much. It was quite enjoyable and I can’t wait to see this thing sold out and packed. Our fans always bring the juice. It’s gonna be a lot of fun.”

Though Mariota said it’s still his goal to become a starting quarterback in the league, and he’s kept tabs on what’s going on around the league when spots open up on other teams, he’s content backing up Carr for now and is energized for this season with Gruden leading the charge.

”His energy and his passion is contagious,” Mariota said. ”Every single day he’s the same guy, he brings the same enthusiasm and for us as players, it’s really fun to go to work. I appreciate his demeanor, I appreciate how he approaches the game, and I love the passion.”

All fun aside, it was still business as usual.

Gruden kept several key players out of practice so he and his staff could get a better look at the depth of his training camp roster as the first set of cuts approach.

From the defensive side of the ball, Nicholas Morrow, Cory Littleton, Karl Joseph, Yannick Ngakoue and Maxx Crosby were in attendance but took the day off. From the offense, Josh Jacobs and Richie Incognito sat out, while Darren Waller missed his fifth straight practice for an undisclosed reason. Gruden said the team was ”being very careful” with Waller but he expected his starting tight end to be okay.

”We want to try to come out of camp healthy and keep the right 53 men,” Gruden said. ”But we also want to be physical and ready to play. We have a lot to accomplish. We’re gonna have to be creative on how we do business.”

One scary moment came when defensive back Trayvon Mullen collided with receiver Zay Jones, who was lined up in the slot and ran a short curl route. Mullen’s head slammed into the front of Jones’ helmet, and he immediately dropped to his hands and knees. After being tended to by trainers, Mullen walked off the field on his own. Gruden said he was told it was a stinger.

It might have been the only moment there was a hush among ”Raider Nation.”

”To have them in Allegiant Stadium for the first time was very, very, very good,” Gruden added about the fans. ”I can only imagine what it’s going be like when Seattle comes in to start the (preseason).”

The Raiders open their preseason schedule at home Saturday against the Seahawks. It’ll be the first time ”Raider Nation” will be allowed into the 65,000-seat venue for a game.

Las Vegas opens the regular season at home on ”Monday Night Football” against the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 13.

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