INDIANAPOLIS -- For all of the offseason buzz over the prospect of new Raiders coach Jon Gruden jumpstarting quarterback Derek Carr's stalled career, the biggest mystery on Oakland's offense is enigmatic wideout Amari Cooper.
The former No. 4 overall draft pick suffered through a miserable slump last season, featuring a precipitous drop in receptions (from 83 to 48), catch percentage (from 62.9 to 50.0) and receiving yards (from 1,153 to 680) from the previous year.
In spite of Cooper's standing as one of 2017's most disappointing players, Gruden is counting on a major bounce-back season.
"We think Cooper is going to be a great player," Gruden told reporters Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "He'll be the focal point of our offense ... the headliner in our offense."
Cooper's talent is undeniable. He earned Pro Bowl nods in each of his first two seasons before drops, injuries and a general offensive malaise laid waste to his third NFL season.
In that respect, Gruden faces a similar predicament to the one Sean McVay encountered with Todd Gurley upon joining the Rams last offseason.
Just as McVay did with his slumping power back, it's on Gruden to bring out the best in a uniquely talented player by adjusting the scheme, taking advantage of matchups, boosting Cooper's confidence and upgrading the talent surrounding him.
Here's what else we learned from Gruden's availability:
- Gruden didn't save all of his praise for Cooper. He reiterated the sentiment that the Raiders are counting onMarshawn Lynch to return as the featured back.
"There's no question he's still a beast," Gruden raved. "I'm counting on him. I'm counting on him big-time."
- That enthusiasm didn't carry over to veteran wideout Michael Crabtree, whose roster spot may be more tenuous.
"He's on the team," Gruden said of Crabtree. "Like I said, I'd love to coach all of these guys. We'll let you know, we'll keep you updated as we gain more information. ... (general manager) Reggie McKenzie has a press conference later today. I'm sure he can update you on the contract matters."
- Although injuries limited 2017 first-round pick Gareon Conley to just 92 as a rookie, Gruden has high hopes after studying the former Ohio State cornerback's "excellent" training-camp film from last summer.
"We're counting on him and (2017 second-round pick) Obi Melifonwu to play," Gruden added, emphasizing the defense's dire need for young players to emerge this season.
- Gruden acknowledge that his induction into the Buccaneers' ring of honor late last season was the impetus he needed to get back into coaching after nearly a decade in the broadcast booth.
"That did kind of push me over the top," Gruden explained.