Photo by Tony Gonzales
The Oakland Raiders took the field for their 10th practice of Training Camp 2014, presented by the California National Guard. The Silver and Black are approaching their first live action of the season when they face the Vikings in Minnesota on Friday.
Today, the team spent a noticeable amount of time on red zone offense and defense, an area the defense needed to improve on from last season. The defense looked dominant during Tuesday's practice and Head Coach Dennis Allen noticed.
"It looked like the defense got the better of the offense today," said Coach Allen. "So we've got a lot of improvement that we've got to make and really a short time to get there. The guys are continuing to work, but we've got to be able to execute better than we did today."
The players recognize their need to improve in all areas before game day, but are particularly aware of the importance of the red zone. "Red zone is huge," said S Brandian Ross. "We have to stop people from scoring touchdowns, hold them to field goals, and try to get the ball back. We weren't good in that area last year, and we're putting a big emphasis on it, so if people do get down there, we're able to stop them."
"As an offense, I can speak personally, that the red zone is one of the most important parts of our game," said FB Marcel Reece. "As an offense you want to keep Sebastian [Janikowski] off the field and make him kick extra points and not field goals."
Whether it's offense or defense, the key to success in the red zone is the same – chemistry and trust.
"We've got a dog mentality on defense," explained LB Sio Moore. "Everybody on that defense knows how to make plays and everybody is trying to make plays. The difference is it's not from an individual standpoint anymore. When we move as a defense, we move as an entire body, as a unit. It's starting to come into fruition now. It just makes everybody's job that much easier because unknowingly you trust the person on each side of you to make a play or do their job."
The same can be said for the offense, who rely on that trust, as well as timing, to get their job done. "I think the overall success is just timing and trust," said WR Greg Little. "The quarterback knowing where the receivers are going to be, the running backs knowing the O-line is going to take care of things upfront and we having that overall trust and timing. We'll just build on that."
It's a challenge to build that team chemistry when there are players coming from other teams, long-time Raiders, as well as unseasoned rookies. But the atmosphere at Raiders training camp, and the vibe since offseason workouts began, has allowed all of the guys to come together. "I've had a great support system with the player development here and just overall guys on the team have been really accepting of me and especially the receivers in the room," said Little. "We have a great bunch of guys in that room, a lot of personality as well."
The team camaraderie seems to be at a new level from past years – something Moore has noticed in his second year in Silver and Black. "From last year to this year, I can say that's probably the biggest thing that I've seen all the way from the whole offseason program. Guys were hanging out together. We were going out to eat together. When we were back out in Oakland, Antonio [Smith], [Justin] Tuck and I and Wood [LaMarr Woodley], we would always go out to eat together and, even though it's just eating, it's also getting to know someone on a more personal level. Everybody being more of a family…it's a real family, like a brotherhood, and you can tell the difference just by how everybody treats each other, how everybody works about it."
That feeling is what could propel the Raiders defense, and the offense, to success. "[Team chemistry is] huge. It's actually a big part of it," said Ross. "You have to know and trust that guys are going to be where they're supposed to be based on what the offense is doing. If you trust that whole-heartedly and do your job, it's going to be pretty hard for teams to score."
The Raiders will have the team's first chance to test the work they've done throughout the offseason and training camp this Friday in Minnesota. Will the camaraderie and bond they've built change the outcome on the field? Stay tuned.