At Head Coach Jon Gruden’s first NFL Combine since returning to the coaching ranks in 2018, he famously said “I’m trying to throw the game back to 1998.” He might have said it tongue in cheek, but there was some definite truth to those words.
Gruden backed that claim up on the second day of free agency when he signed Dallas Cowboys fullback Keith Smith. Smith’s primary role in Dallas was to blast open holes for superstar running back Ezekiel Elliott. After one season with the Raiders, he was not able to replicate the same success he experienced in Dallas. Gruden knew he needed to bring in some competition.
Gruden and his staff coached the North team in the 2019 Senior Bowl. On that roster was Wisconsin Badgers fullback Alec Ingold. Ingold impressed the Raiders staff all week long in practices. During the game, one play in particular left an indelible mark on Gruden.
Future Cardinals receiver Andy Isabella ran around the left end with Ingold leading the way. The misdirection play worked so well, Ingold had nobody to block. He was looking for work when out of the corner of his eye he sees Stanford linebacker and future Colt Bobby Okereke in hot pursuit. Ingold peels back and clobbers the linebacker. Understandably, Okereke fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes.
Coach Gruden was beside himself, he stepped onto the field to congratulate Ingold for his de-cleating block. Jon stuck his hand out to give him a quick dap. Ingold, who was so fired up, swung his paw so violently toward Gruden’s hand that had he connected cleanly, he would have taken his future coach’s hand off.
Ingold as a Pro
As expected, Ingold did not hear his name selected in the 2019 NFL Draft. Not because he couldn’t play at the professional level. It had more to do with the position that he plays than how he plays. He joined the Silver and Black as an undrafted free agent for an opportunity to make his childhood dream a reality.
Ingold faced stiff competition for a roster spot as he needed to beat out the incumbent Keith Smith. Raiders Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia and Smith have a very tight bond, so Ingold would have to overcome that obstacle as well. It’s no secret that Gruden favors veteran players over rookies, and Bisaccia is his most trusted staff member. From the outside looking in, his chances did not look very promising.
Ingold ended up beating out Smith for the fullback job. Since that moment, Ingold has become a fixture in the locker room. He’s developed a brotherhood with Pro Bowl running back Josh Jacobs. During media sessions, Gruden struggles to contain his fondness for him. He loves Alec so much so that Ingold scored his first NFL touchdown on Gruden’s signature play: Spider 2 Y Banana.
In the 2020 home opener, it was Ingold who scored the franchise’s first touchdown in their brand new Allegiant Stadium. Once again, it was the infamous Spider 2 Y Banana. If that is not a full-blown man crush, then I don’t know what is.
It’s evident from the moves Gruden and General Manager Mike Mayock have made this offseason that they indeed would like to take the game back to 1998. The offensive line was reworked. They now have better scheme fits for coach Tom Cable’s system. As a group, the unit got cheaper, younger and more athletic.
Gruden has a proclivity to sit on the ball and watch the clock bleed out. To keep the chains moving you must consistently convert short yardage situations. Ingold is a rare triple-threat from the fullback position. He can create a running lane for Jacobs or Drake, use his 6-1, 240 pound frame to bash into undersized linebackers, or sneak out of the backfield for an easy conversion.
It would not be a shock to witness Ingold become the Raiders first Pro Bowl fullback since Marcel Reece in 2014. The rest of the league will soon realize what Jon Gruden and the rest of Raider Nation already know.
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