Derek Carr And Khalil Mack Relishing Leadership Opportunity In 2016

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Charles Woodson and Justin Tuck were exactly what the Oakland Raiders needed – in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Woodson, the former Raiders first rounder was returning to the Bay Area where his Hall of Fame career began; and Tuck – a two-time Super Bowl champion in his own right – was looking to add another chapter to his football story away from the bright lights of New York City.

With three Super Bowl rings and 10 Pro Bowl appearances between them, the pair was asked to not only change the culture in Oakland, but also mentor a new crop of young Raiders upstarts, while still playing at a high level and leading by example.

Woodson and Tuck did just that, but after both players announced their retirements, neither walked through the doors at 1220 Harbor Bay Parkway for the start Offseason Workout Program this week. They did their job in preparing Derek Carr and Khalil Mack to take the mantel and become the leaders for the young nucleus of Raiders – both on and off the field.

"It is a little weird around here to not see him [Woodson], not seeing his face and [Justin] Tuck's face and some other guys," Mack said when asked about beginning his first Offseason Workout Program without Woodson. "But at the same time, they still keep in contact with us. Deep down we know they're still going to be a part of this whether they're here or not."

Woodson and Tuck did exactly what they were asked to do. Under their watch, Derek Carr blossomed into one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, and Mack has shown that he's already one of the premier defensive players in the game.

The torch has been passed, and although they're both just 25 years old, much will be expected from the tandem of Carr and Mack going forward.

"I felt older when I walked in, if that makes any sense," Carr said. "I sat there and I looked at it and was like, 'It's time to really take over.' I felt like we made strides in that area. Guys like Khalil [Mack] and myself taking strides in that area last year, but we still had 'Wood.' We still had Tuck."

While both, Woodson and Tuck are gone, they didn't leave the newest Raiders' leaders ill prepared for their new vocal roles.

Whether it was something as small as Mack taking over the pregame speech duties from Woodson during the latter part of the season, the two young Raiders' stars have been adequately groomed for their new responsibilities.

"'C-Wood' wanted me to prepare and get ready for that role, but at the same time, just taking it day by day and slowly, slowly seeing what happens," Mack said. "The leadership role definitely is in effect at this point."

It's a role that is evident to their teammates as well.

"Seeing Derek Carr take that leadership – you can just tell he believes in it, and he wants you to believe in it," said running back Taiwan Jones. "It's starting to spread through everybody and it's a good thing to see."

The Silver and Black have undoubtedly taken positive steps forward in the past several years, but as impressive as they were last season, Carr knows the team needs to be better.

"We need to be better than 7-9," Carr said. "Seven and nine is not going to cut it, obviously. That felt really good last year because that's the best I've experienced, but now that I have a taste of it, it's like, 'Man, we were so close to winning 10 games. Why can't we win 10, 12?' Those are the kind of things that just go through my head and I'm just like, 'Seven wins just isn't good enough.'"

The Raiders expect to contend for the AFC West crown in 2016, and if they reach their goal, it will be in large part due to the leadership of their young stars – stars that were prepared for their roles by Charles Woodson and Justin Tuck.

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