ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Count Jon Gruden among those anticipating a big season from the Oakland Raiders.
But when it comes to the prospect of Gruden's former team moving from the East Bay to Southern Nevada, the ESPN Monday Night Football commentator gets kind of choked up.
"The Raiders, the Las Vegas Raiders, I don't know, man, that's hard for me to imagine," Gruden said on a conference call Tuesday to discuss this season's slate of games on the network.
"The Oakland Raiders has a real place in my heart. I'd hate to see them leave. I love where they are. I love the tradition of the Raiders, and I'm getting teared up right now thinking about them moving. But I certainly understand their situation and I hope it all works out for them. If Las Vegas was to acquire the rights to the Oakland Raiders, that would certainly, I think, be interesting."
Gruden was the Raiders coach from 1998 through 2001, his final game with Oakland coming in the Tuck Rule loss at the New England Patriots. Al Davis traded Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and his new team beat the Raiders, 48-21, in Super Bowl XXXVII a year later.
Still, Gruden remains a popular figure in Raiders lore and among fans and alumni and, yes, owner Mark Davis ... even if Oakland has not returned to the playoffs since Gruden's final game with the team.
Gruden sees brighter days ahead.
"This is the year for them to take a giant step forward," Gruden said. "There's quarterback transition in Denver; the Broncos have lost some key players. Kansas City has had some injuries. I think the slate is pretty clean right now in the AFC West. It's about time that Oakland, I think, backs it up."
Gruden praised the work done by coach Jack Del Rio as well as the talent on the roster.
"And look, Derek Carr's got some weapons," Gruden said. "You have to love (Amari) Cooper, you have to like (Michael) Crabtree. I think (Clive) Walford is coming on. But most importantly they've solidified the offensive line. They bring in (Rodney) Hudson. They bring in the big guard from the Ravens (Kelechi Osemele). They've got Donald Penn, the old guy from Tampa. This is a salty group that can run the rock with (Latavius) Murray, and Khalil Mack, one of the best closers in the fourth quarter.
"And I even see (Sebastian) Janikowski still kicking. Hell, I drafted Janikowski (in 2000). You can tell I get excited talking about the Raiders. This ought to be a good year for them."
Gruden will see the Raiders first-hand on Nov. 21, when the Raiders play "host" to the Houston Texans on MNF in Mexico City.
And it will be an opportunity for Gruden to reunite with Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who was on Gruden's QB Camp show before the 2014 draft.
"He broke all of my cameras," Gruden said. "We had a bullseye and a little camera in the bullseye. He hit the bullseye three times in a row. We couldn't film any more of the shoot. I don't think there is anybody in this draft that throws a ball like Carr. He's one of those guys that comes down the pike every so often. It's time for him, I think, to take his next step."