Photo by Tony Gonzales
Football is back! The Oakland Raiders took the field for their first practice of Training Camp 2014, presented by California National Guard, at their Napa Valley Training Complex.
Head Coach Dennis Allen was happy with the way the team got going on the practice field."I thought we started off well today. I thought for the first day of practice, I thought it was a pretty clean practice," said Head Coach Dennis Allen. "I thought we worked well. We still have a lot of improvement that we've got to make. It's step one of a long journey. This is definitely a marathon, it's not a sprint, and we've got to come out here every day and get a little bit better every day. I thought we took a step forward today."
It was a hot day in Napa, but the energy level at practice was high as the players began the grind that leads up to the regular season. "It's a little warm today. Listen, that's what training camp's all about," said Coach Allen. "If you want to be a mentally tough team and you want to be able to win in the fourth quarter, you've got to go through experiences like this when you have to push yourself through the heat. You don't give into it, and you're able to still go out and execute your job at a high level. One-hundred-degree heat is no comparison to what it's going to be like the pressure of opening day."
Veteran defensive end LaMarr Woodley can feel the excitement from the guys on the team. "It was hot. It was long, but the energy was there," said Woodley. "It's going to be an exciting year. I'm looking forward to it. It looks like it's going to be real exciting from the player sense since I got here. The energy level was still there even though it was hot."
The first practice of training camp is a good first step in the long process of team chemistry and precision on the field. "I think the first day of camp, you're always going to have some things that you're going to have to work on," said Coach Allen. "I think the passing game is something that takes a little bit of time to get back into the rhythm, get that feel for each other."
Despite the imperfections, veteran wide receiver James Jones believes the Raiders over the course of training camp will have what it takes to be successful. "The good thing is that everybody has a lot of confidence," said Jones. "Everybody is on board with what we're doing. Everybody is trying to play together. Once you get that, everybody coming together as a unit, we're tough to beat."
DE Justin Tuck took the field in Napa for his first training camp practice as a Raider. "It was good. It was good to get out there and start running around," said Tuck. "There's a lot of rust to knock off after a couple of weeks off. It was fun though. It was good to get out here and get about our business. We have a lot of work to do and everyone knows what we can accomplish this year, but it starts with today and we have to build on it."
T Menelik Watson also took the field for his first-ever training camp practice. "First day of camp was special," said Watson. "I didn't really want to make too much about it, but it was great knowing what I went through last year. Last year, I was tucked away in a corner feeling sorry for myself. It was kind of a special moment, but it's time to go watch the film, watch the mistakes I made and get ready for tomorrow."
The first two Raiders training camp practices (today and Saturday) are non-padded. For Woodley, the "real" football doesn't begin until Sunday in full pads. "When you get the shoulder pads on, [football's] officially back."
Tuck is also looking forward to putting the pads on to see what the team really looks like. "You can find out what kind of team you're going to have when you throw the pads on," said Tuck. "We're in jerseys and shorts so everyone is flying around. Everybody looks like all stars. It was a good day. It looks like everybody did their work while they were on their break and came back in pretty good shape and retained a lot of the stuff we went over in OTAs and that's what I think you want to see the first day."
Rookie LB Khalil Mack is utilizing teammates like Tuck and Woodley, especially now that training camp is underway. "That's been the best part so far, learning from all the veteran guys and getting their advice, especially on days like today," said Mack. "Just getting their feedback, figuring out what I can work on, just communicating with them, on the field and off the field."
Although the first two practices have a similar structure to OTAs and mini-camp, they feel more intense with a greater sense of urgency. "Everyone's really excited to be back, excited to get the season started," said QB Matt Schaub. "Obviously it all began back in OTAs and mini-camp, but it's a little different animal when you get to training camp, things ramp up a little bit. It's an exciting time of year to be back to work and get all the guys on the field and get going."
"I think it's just the feel," added Watson. "We're all up here for the long run, so guys are just locked in."
Training Camp 2014 has begun and the Raiders are preparing for a singular purpose – to win. "I love that everybody is already counting us out," said Tuck. "I am an underdog story guy. I've always rooted for the underdogs in movies and all this stuff. But we hear it; we hear all the things that people say. And I'm in the business to prove people wrong."