RB Darren McFadden runs in a touchdown during the Raiders victory in Denver in 2010. Photo by Tony Gonzales
The Oakland Raiders open the 2011 regular season under the bright lights of Sports Authority Field at Mile High versus the Denver Broncos on ESPN's Monday Night Football. The Silver and Black face their division rival at 7:15 p.m. and have been preparing for the game by holding night practices throughout the week.
"I think it's a good idea," said rookie G Stefen Wisniewski. "It's not something you are used to because you get to game day and you sit around all day. You sit around all day and then it comes time to play, you're not ready. If you practice it, it's no big deal."
Getting their minds and bodies adjusted to the schedule is just one piece of the puzzle for the team. They have also put in hours of time studying the Broncos tendencies on offense and defense during the day, and most importantly, perfecting their own execution to be fully prepared for opening night. "I feel very comfortable and confident that our players are getting ready to go play a big time football game," said Raiders Head Coach Hue Jackson.
Monday's match up will be Coach Jackson's first regular season game as a head coach. "I'm sure as it gets closer, I'll get even more excited," said Coach Jackson. "We want to be on the national stage. We're excited about the opportunity to play on Monday night. We take as many of these games as we can get because we want to go out and showcase our talent."
The team is pumped up for the opener against the AFC West rival Broncos. "I'm definitely excited," said veteran RB Rock Cartwright. "I'm looking forward to the new opportunity to go out there and start a new season. I'm definitely expecting some big things from it this year."
T Khalif Barnes and the rest of his teammates understand the significance of starting the year off strong, especially against a division opponent. "It means a lot because it is the season opener, obviously," said Barnes. "It couldn't be much better against the Broncos. It means a whole lot because people were skeptical about whether this season was going to happen, so that means a lot. We've been working hard in camp, but to open up against Denver makes it pretty sweet."
Rookie RB Taiwan Jones is excited to make his regular season debut on Monday Night Football against Denver. "I'm excited," said Jones. "It's definitely a dream come true for me that I can go out and prove myself in front of everybody. You couldn't set a better stage for it and I'm excited about it."
The Raiders beat the Broncos in both match ups during the 2010 season, but those games have been forgotten by this year's squad. "Last year will buy you nothing and last year is last year," said Cartwright. "Each game is different and each player is different, so we just have to go out and focus to do what we can do to put together good drives and have a good game plan."
Barnes echoed Cartwright's sentiment. "This is a whole new year and it doesn't matter what anybody did last year," said Barnes. "It is 0-0, a whole new clean slate, and it's going to have nothing to do with going in there on Monday night since it is a completely different deal."
Starting QB and captain Jason Campbell has also put last year's victories behind him. "You don't [think about it] because last year was last year," said Campbell. "Every year is a different year. Every year you have to refocus. Every team is different and you have to continue to build and continue to grow, but you don't go out there this year looking for the same thing last season. It's a new year. They have a new team and a new defensive coordinator, new head coach, they're different. They have [Elvis] Dumervil on one side and [Von] Miller on the other side, so they're a different defense than they were a year ago. You don't look at it from year. Every year is different."
K Sebastian Janikowski is not concerning himself with the magnitude of the Broncos-Raiders rivalry. "Every week you have to step up your game. It doesn't matter who you play especially after last year with them getting beat down 59-14," said Janikowski. "I think they're going to be ready and we'll be ready."
The Raiders defense is preparing for the Broncos offense led by QB Kyle Orton. "On offense, obviously, there is the quarterback Orton," said Coach Jackson. "Brandon Lloyd is playing as good as most receivers in the league; he's a talented player. Eddie Royal is a good player for them. Willis McGahee, who came from Baltimore, who I had a relationship with in Baltimore as a rookie is a really good addition for their football team. Obviously, Ryan Clady is playing good. He's been a very good left tackle."
The Raiders secondary is focused on handling their assignments, making their tackles, and executing no matter which player on the Broncos offense has the ball. "This is the National Football League," said S Tyvon Branch. "Every team has good players and we just have to go out and match up with them. I'm sure Coach is going to have some stuff in line to stop those guys, but we just have to go out there and execute."
But the defense is well aware of offensive threats Knowshon Moreno and Brandon Lloyd. "Whenever it is Knowshon Moreno, we're going to make sure we tackle him," said CB Stanford Routt. "Whenever they throw it to Brandon Lloyd, we're going to cover him."
Rookie CB DeMarcus Van Dyke has the same mindset as Branch. "We are just going to try to go out and execute our game plan that Coach [Hue Jackson] has for us," said Van Dyke. "You have Brandon Lloyd and all the good receivers, but we'll try to do our thing to stop them."
While the defense works on their assignments, the Raiders offense will contend with the impressive Broncos pass rush of which Coach Jackson spoke during a press conference. "On defense, they have two of the best pass rushers in football," said Coach Jackson. "[Elvis Dumervil] is an accomplished pass rusher-sacker. They're bringing back a really good player into the fold. He didn't play against us either time last year, but that's okay. He's a good player but we feel like we have some good players too. [Von Miller] has speed. He can run. He's good at rushing the passer. He had a great lean and dip. He will put pressure on people; he knows how to do it. I'm sure that's exciting for the football team and something that we have to combat. But, again he's like most of the great pass rushers in this league. He knows how to get to the quarterback."
Despite the challenge of Miller and Dumervil, the Raiders offensive line feels prepared. "They have a good defense all around, so we have to be sharp as an o-line," said Wisniewski. "We will be ready for them."
The Raiders head into Denver on Monday night with a clean slate. The 2010 season and the 2011 preseason are in the rearview mirror. "I'm looking forward to our football team because I think it's time," said Coach Jackson. "I always say the time is now. The time is now. It's time for the Raiders to play like Raiders."