Photo by Tony Gonzales
The Oakland Raiders took the field for their seventh practice of Training Camp 2014, presented by California National Guard.
"It was a good practice today," said Head Coach Dennis Allen. "Again, these guys are out here competing. They're having fun and they're getting better. So that's a good sign and, again, there was a little bit of give and take on both sides of the ball, but I think overall really, offensively and defensively, I think we've been pretty crisp over the last couple of days. We'll have another good practice tomorrow and then it'll be a players' day off after that. So I like where we're headed as a football team."
The Silver and Black are exactly one week away from their first preseason matchup with the Minnesota Vikings. What has been accomplished so far and what still needs to be done to be ready to take the field against a team in a different jersey?
"The biggest thing I feel like we've accomplished is building that team chemistry, the team unity," said OL Austin Howard. "We've got guys from Houston, from New York, from Tampa Bay, so on paper, it would seem it would come across as a little bit chaotic. Fortunately, we have a lot of good weathered veterans on this team who have been through A, B, C all the way to Z, so we've been allowing the veterans of this group to collectively build an offense and direct us to that successful path."
Rookies LB Khalil Mack and S Jonathan Dowling recognize that, although they've made great progress through the first week and a half of camp, they still have a long way to go to be ready. "I feel like the team came a long way," said Dowling. "It looks like pretty much everybody knows the playbook pretty good. Not too many people are making mistakes. Everything comes in time. For me, before this first game, I just want to see this team keep growing, becoming a brotherhood. The closer we are, the closer we are with each other, the easier this game is going to be."
Mack feels like he is becoming more comfortable in his role on the defense. "I've gained a lot of confidence in my pass rush ability as well as some coverage things," said Mack. "But, even then, I still want to get better technique-wise, especially at the linebacker position I'm playing, playing SAM linebacker. I have to be all around, move here, move there, in certain packages, so being all around and being fundamentally sound."
Improving on a daily basis, not just in training camp and the preseason, but throughout the regular season is how the players want to approach practice. "Just a matter of consistency, just build on consistency and progress every week, whether that's preseason one or the Super Bowl," said Howard. "You can always progress every single week. There's always one little thing you can get better at each and every week. Tony [Sparano] does a good job of making sure we focus on that one little thing every day."
All of the players, veterans and rookies, are looking forward to the first preseason game. "When you have a game to look forward to, you know there's going to be a change in schedule and a change in routine which helps the monotony," said LB Nick Roach.
"That's the thing I'm looking forward to now. You can't do too much against your own teammates, so it'll be good to get out there against some different guys and get some different looks," added Mack. "It'll be exciting to get back out there and put the pads on, especially as an Oakland Raider."
The players are motivated to have the opportunity to get after a team in a different jersey. But Dowling is more excited to take the field as a professional for the first time. "I'm strictly motivated off the fact that this is my first NFL game, my whole family watching, and I have a chance to finally just get my dream," said the rookie safety.
As training camp continues on, each player finds their own way to stay focused. P Marquette King looks for ways to improve at his craft on a daily basis. "I ask myself every day what I'm going to do to be the best punter ever," said King. "I'm really not trying to compete with anyone outside. I just want to focus on myself and focus on ways I can better the team and get myself better. I come out here every day and ask, 'What am I going to do to get better?'"
The desire of the Raiders players to be their best is what gives this team the opportunity to be great. "I have to get better every day," said Dowling. "I'll never be where I want to be because as a DB, you have to set yourself up to be the greatest of all time. I'm nowhere near Deion [Sanders] yet, so I'm just striving for that."
Success on the football field is a process and Howard understands its one day at a time. "It's a progression. There's always something to build on and learn every day," said Howard. "It's just a matter of getting better every day and continuing to build this good thing we have going so far."
The units are working together and the Raiders 2014 first-round draft pick is feeling good about the defense. "We're growing. It's been great. It's been fun with all these guys – Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Nick Roach and Sio Moore in the linebacker room. It's all around fun. It's fun to play on this defense."
When the offense is clicking, they give the defense a challenge. When the defense works well, the offense has to step their game up. "Hats off to the defense – they give us a great look each and every day, they really help us get better," said Howard. "I don't think we could face any better defense in terms of getting us prepared for the season. We appreciate what they do and hopefully we give them the same look in return."
The team has four more practices to improve before they fly to Minnesota for the first game of the preseason.