Photo by Tony Gonzales
The Oakland Raiders took the field in Oxnard, Calif., for the first of two joint practices with the Dallas Cowboys. It was intense. It was feisty. It was everything energy level-wise that a team could hope for. And one thing is for certain - Raider Nation is the best fan base in all of sports.
For the entirety of practice, the Raiders fans cheered and yelled and supported their Silver and Black. "I'm going to start off by just saying, what a hell of an atmosphere to practice football in," said Head Coach Dennis Allen. "That's what Raider Nation is really all about, man. That was awesome to see those guys come out and support us like that. It almost felt like, at times, that I had to quiet the crowd down just so we could get some plays off. It was a great atmosphere."
Veterans and rookies, long-time Raiders and newcomers to the organization, experienced an environment much like game day at O.co Coliseum. "It's a reality check for all the new guys who thought they knew what the Raider Nation was all about, who heard the stories, who put on the jersey one time for a preseason game," said FB Marcel Reece fresh off the practice field. "It's a reality check for them because they have no idea what [Raider Nation] is and now you come here to basically training camp, to another team's training camp…Cowboys have been here for years and years and they're going to be here for years and years and we come down here one time and we out show them. It's Raider Nation – it's about loyalty and this is what we're about."
Today's practice atmosphere reaffirmed to the players that Raider Nation is far and away the most passionate. "I think the Raiders have a great fan base, hands down. I don't think there any fans like the Raiders fan and I found that out really quick," said DL C.J. Wilson. "So having them out here screaming like it was a game, it meant a lot. I was like, 'wow.'"
Veteran WR Andre Holmes used to play for the Cowboys and has experienced training camp in Oxnard in the past, but never like today's practice. "The fans here were amazing. They overshadowed the Cowboys fans," said Holmes. "They were live the whole time and it definitely gave us a little boost even though we definitely came in with a lot of adrenaline."
Rookie LB Khalil Mack was almost speechless. "Man, Raider Nation. Raider Nation has to be the best fans in the world," he said.
In addition to an epic showing by Raider Nation, the work on the field was extremely beneficial for the team from Oakland. "It was great work against these guys," said Coach Allen. "There was a lot of stuff going on so it's hard to pay attention to what happened on both fields. But, what I saw was some guys out here competing. I thought we did some good things."
The Raiders got the kind of work in they were hoping for by traveling to Oxnard. "This is very important to our progression as an offense and defense because we get used to playing against each other and [now] we get to see looks that are off the script that we hadn't seen before," said Holmes. "And we got to go out there and be productive and go out there and get a lot of explosive plays. It's very huge in our progression as a team."
The offense and defense felt their units improve from today's practice. "Very intense. It's my first time practicing against another team, but I felt like we got some great work in today, both sides of the ball," said Wilson. "Our offense and defense did a great job. I felt very confident in our team today that we performed and had a great day."
This was a totally different environment from anything Mack had ever experienced before. "It was a lot different. You could tell it was a game-like atmosphere out here and we got some good work in," said the Raiders first-round draft pick. "It's a lot better. It moves a lot faster. You get used to certain things playing against each other all the time and it's good to get out there and get some different looks and play with some different personnel and play against some different skill type of guys."
While these two joint practices are still training camp, it's the best type of preparation for a game. "The intensity level was off the charts," said Holmes. "This is the closest thing you can get to a game with, I guess, less limits. It was a lot of fun, especially playing against a lot of guys I played with. It was good to be able to compete with them and talk a little trash."
The players were fired up. The fans were fired up. "We expect a game-like atmosphere when you come in. It's not just practice, everybody wants to get after it and compete," said Reece.
And everyone gets to do it again tomorrow. The Raiders will take the field with the Cowboys Wednesday morning for their second of two joint practices. Make sure to follow the action on Raiders.com.