Photos from the Raiders first practice of Mandatory Mini-Camp - June 17, 2014.
The Oakland Raiders took the field for their first of three practices of Mandatory Mini-Camp Tuesday afternoon. This week is the final opportunity for the players to work together and with the coaches before training camp at the end of July.
"It was good work today. I thought we had a good practice," said Head Coach Dennis Allen. "I think the guys are competing. They're coming out here and trying to get better every day. They're continuing to work. We're moving a bunch of guys around, looking at a bunch of different lineups, looking at guys in different spots. Just really trying to get a good feel for what we have as we go in and get ready to go in to training camp. I think we've had some good work, I was really pleased."
Although mini-camp is similar to Organized Team Activities, the final stretch of the off-season program brought extra excitement for the players. "There's no full contact, no live contact, so the practice tempo was a little bit similar," explained Coach Allen. "I think the guys understand mini-camp by nature, just by the name of it, you get a little bit more excitement. I thought the guys responded well to it today."
This off-season has been used to build chemistry between the different units, particularly between quarterbacks and receivers. "That's what this time of year's all about, especially between quarterbacks, tight ends and receivers, it's all about understanding route adjustments," said QB Matt Schaub. "What guy is best at this type of route? What's this guy's strength? Can he adjust to the ball in the air? Do you have to put it on his body? Is this guy good at slants? Is this guy a go-route runner? All of these things, as a quarterback, you start to learn about guys and file it away, so once you get to the fall, it's second nature and you understand everybody's strengths."
Coach Allen has noticed Schaub's ability to insert himself in a new situation and thrive. "I think he's been outstanding. That's what you're looking for in a veteran quarterback," said Coach Allen. "I don't think we've seen the best of what we're going to see out of Matt Schaub. Even though he is a veteran player, it's still a different offense for him, it's still something new. He's still learning, but I've been very pleased with what I've seen out of him so far. I've been pleased with watching him over here in his uniform throw the ball, he looks pretty good."
Veteran RB Maurice Jones-Drew can feel the squad getting better on a daily basis, specifically the offensive line. "I've been around some great offensive lines and these guys have the potential to be one of the best I've ever played with," said Jones-Drew. "To see some of these guys, how they've grown since April, is amazing. I think for us, like I said before, it's all about getting better and continuing to compete, and as long as we do that we'll be fine."
Schaub feels confident in the team's growth as well.* *"I feel good given the offseason progression," said Schaub. "Kind of coming in a little over two months ago, where we're at as an offense and where I'm at within the offense, it's a continuing process and each day just trying to get a little bit better, pick out a few things to work on from the day before. But it's a never-ending process, just continuing to get better. But I feel good out there, feel good in the huddle, feel pretty good about what we're trying to accomplish offensively."
"As long as we get better every day, I think that we'll be fine," added Jones-Drew. "I love the way everybody's competing. You're starting to see guys step up a little bit, and that's what it's all about."
And the running back committee is improving and ramping up the competition. "When you watch them practice, you see guys that still have explosion, guys that still have run skills, guys that can make people miss," said Coach Allen. "I haven't paid a lot of attention to what the statistics may say, I just see what I see with my eyes and I see a couple of guys that look like that if they can stay healthy, they still have the ability to perform at a high level in this league."
The veterans are working off each other to play their best football. "Everyone wants to be the guy, but I think with what we have here with myself and Darren [McFadden], and the other guys that are working their butts off, when these pads get on, you're going to start seeing what we're going to be about, and that is going to be running back-by-committee, which is going to help us because we're going to be fighting every day to get the ball," said Jones-Drew. "I know Darren wants the ball just like I do, just as Latavius [Murray] and Stew [Jeremy Stewart] and everyone else. That competition and that drive is what's going to help us become a better backfield and try to be the best backfield in the league."
McFadden and Jones-Drew are putting their past injuries and seasons behind them and looking forward to the future. "For us, we just go out there and play ball," said RB Darren McFadden. "We don't think about what happened in the past. For me, the past is behind me, I don't even care to really talk about it really, so I'm moving forward. The only place I can go is up."
Each position group has two more practices to bring the competition, continue to improve and prepare themselves for Training Camp 2014.