Jon Gruden: Trio of tight ends 'life blood' of Raiders offense

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The call came in early in the second quarter Sunday at Green Bay but Darren Waller, the Oakland Raiders tight end for whom the pass play was designed, was not in the huddle.

With receivers Hunter Renfrow, Trevor Davis and Marcell Ateman lined up trips right and running back Josh Jacobs on quarterback Derek Carr's left hip in the shotgun, Derek Carrier was the tight end, lined up wide left and covered in man-to-man by Packers safety Will Redmond.

Again, the play was designed for Waller. Carrier turned Carr's throw into a 17-yard pickup on second-and-20 from the Packers' 38-yard line.

"Derek didn't run it in practice," Carr said with a wide grin. "(But) he runs the little corner stop-route, we hit him for a big play, right? Those guys, (you) can just plug and play them, wherever they need to be."

True enough, four snaps later, Carr hit rookie tight end Foster Moreau for a 10-yard touchdown that gave the Raiders a short-lived 10-7 lead. Moreau stretched the last three yards for the score with both Waller and Carrier on the field for the play.

Carr said the TD play to Moreau was preceded by a "hand signal" the Raiders had never used with all three tight ends in the game at the same time.

Yes, the Raiders ended up losing, 42-24, but their trio of tight ends served as more than Carr's security blanket. They put on a show. And they needed to on a day in which Carr's receivers consisted of Renfrow, a fifth-round draft pick; Davis, who only joined the Raiders on Sept. 19; Ateman, a 2018 seventh-round pick called up from the practice squad on Oct. 5 before being waived three days later and re-signed two days after that and Keelan Doss, the undrafted rookie and "Hard Knocks" hero. Let's just they were not about to put the fear of, well, Antonio Brown into the Packers secondary.

"All three of them can do everything," Carr continued. "Usually, you get a group of guys and, He can do this well, he does this well, and we kind of have to move them around."

As in, TE 1 is the receiver, TE 2 is the blocker and TE 3 is a combo. But as Carr said, Waller, Moreau and Carrier play all the roles.

And that's a good thing since Raiders coach Jon Gruden said the tight ends were the "lifeblood" of Oakland's offense.

"Waller is not a tight end, he's a football player," Gruden said. "You can line him up anywhere. He lined up in multiple places. So did Moreau and Carrier. They can line up in line and they love playing physical football. They can line up and play the finesse game. They're really smart and supportive of one another. They have no egos, they're great guys. I couldn't be happier with the tight ends."

Gruden was so thrilled that he joked that their position coach, Frank Smith, deserved a raise.

Maybe he wasn't joking. Consider: with 44 catches, the second-most in the NFL for tight ends, Waller passed Tim Brown for the most receptions through the first six games of a season in franchise history.

Waller's 31.6 fantasy points in Green Bay were the most by any tight end in a game this season. His two TD catches against the Packers were his first two scores as a Raider and the first time in his truncated career that he had multiple touchdowns in a game.

"Definitely want to win, for sure," said Waller, who also had 126 yards receiving, after the Packers loss, "but it was cool to find the end zone. Felt like there was a lot of good things the offense did, but we've just got to finish. But yeah, it was good to get in the end zone."

Waller's 486 receiving yards lead the Raiders and his average of 7.3 catches per game is second among all tight ends since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger to Kellen Winslow, who averaged 7.9 catches per game in 1984, when he played seven games.

Yes, Waller's confidence is high, in both himself and his position group, days after inking a multi-year contract extension with word of his battle for sobriety going viral.

"I don't worry about who's out there," he said of opposing defenses. "I just worry about, moreso now, what are they going to do to deal with me, deal with our group, deal with our offense?"

Meanwhile, Moreau's two TD catches are tied for the league lead for rookie tight ends.

"My co-workers, my partners in crime, Carrier and Waller, are really good players," Moreau said. "I'm learning a lot from them. I love what we're doing."

He's not the only one in the Raiders locker room who feels that way.