Former Raiders Linebacker LaMarr Woodley
LaMarr Woodley tried telling people back in 2014.
Admittedly, they didn't listen, but that didn't stop the former Super Bowl champion from sticking to his message, keenly aware of what was brewing in the Bay Area.
2014 was Woodley's lone season as an Oakland Raider, and while he eventually signed with the Arizona Cardinals at season's end, calling it a career just one year later, he saw during that season that the Raiders were on the verge of building something special at 1220 Harbor Bay Parkway.
"I told people the year I was here, I feel like we had a good team that year," said Woodley. "We didn't get it done, but after I left, I told people that the Raiders were going to turn it around in the next two or three years. I told people that. I said, 'when they turn around, y'all don't understand how big that fan base is.' I said, 'they are crazy.' I said, 'those people support the Raiders, and when things turn around up there, it's going to be a shock across the whole nation.'"
In the annals of Raiders history, the 2014 season will assuredly be remembered more as the rookie seasons for quarterback Derek Carr and Khalil Mack, and not for the team's 3-13 record, but in hindsight, the 2014 season proved to be an important one for the franchise.
While the team admittedly didn't find a ton of success on the field, General Manager Reggie McKenzie succeeded in surrounding his young, talented nucleus of players with savvy veterans from winning franchises, who could impart what they had learned throughout their careers, to a roster primarily made up of players just a few years removed from college.
Future Hall of Fame safety Charles Woodson had re-signed with the Raiders the year previous, and the additions of Woodley and defensive end Justin Tuck – another Super Bowl champ – immediately provided some legitimacy and accountability to a young locker room in need of direction.
"We came from different teams, and [understood] the Raiders, they have great history [and] tradition here," Woodley said of the addition of him and Tuck. "It was all about just getting back there, and making sure that the young guys that were here, understood what it's really about. I think they were just here on the team, but they didn't really understand what the Raiders organization was about, and when you started to get guys to buy into that, then it started to change things around, because the fans understand what the Raiders are about."
Woodley appeared in just six games as a Raider before his season prematurely ended because of injury, but during his few months on the field, one player unsurprisingly stood out to him, a rookie from the University of Buffalo named Khalil Mack.
Fast forward three seasons and Mack has become one of the premier defenders in the NFL, with a trophy case that seems to be filling up by the month, perhaps now most noticeably with his AP Defensive Player of the Year award.
Ask Woodley though, and he'll tell you he isn't surprised by the level of success No. 52 has found.
"You could see it," Woodley said of a young Khalil Mack. "You definitely could see it in training camp. You could definitely see it, when he went out there and played on the field; it was just kind of like learning the position, kind of learning about being an NFL player, but when a guy has natural talent, you can see it."
Woodley also lauded Mack for his desire to continually ask questions as a young player, and taking every opportunity possible to get in the ears of the Raiders veterans, particularly those along the defensive line.
"To me, he was just a student," Woodley explained. "He already knew that he had the raw talent, but it was just getting the information from guys that had been in the league for a long time to add to his game, so he could continue to build."
Now, with a pair of First-Team All-Pros to his name, Woodley thinks that the next step for Mack is to begin sharing his knowledge with the young players that come in under him, because as the former Pro Bowler says, that's when success really manifests itself.
"When you have guys like that, that are sharing that information with guys on his team, then you start to build a different culture around here, and everybody really started learning the Raider way," Woodley said. "When you have everybody on that page right there, that's when you start bringing in Lombardi [Trophies]."