All good things require balance, and an NFL locker room is no different.
Just as important as balancing different personalities through a 16-game regular season, striking a balance between young players at the onset of their careers, and veterans who know what it takes to win the NFL is also paramount.
Derek Carr recently turned 27, Khalil Mack is 27 as well, and Amari Cooper is still a few weeks away from blowing out the candles on his 24th birthday cake, but while the core of the Oakland Raiders are just entering the primes of their careers, this offseason there has been a conscious decision to surround that young nucleus with proven veterans with a wealth of experience, and something still left to prove.
And even though the Silver and Black are still in the throes of the Offseason Workout Program, that veteran presence is already paying dividends on multiple fronts.
“You can really tell a difference right away because with [veterans] ‘vets’, as you’re walking around the locker room or even right after a play on the field, they ask questions, like ‘What did you just run, what were you trying to do right there. What do you see?’” said Jared Cook. “We’re happy to exchange that information because we ask those questions right back. A lot of times when you ask a younger player that, they really can’t tell you and especially tell you in depth on what you’re trying to do or the type of goal that they’re trying to accomplish. So, that’s the biggest difference.”
From Doug Martin, to Derrick Johnson, paired with the return of veteran safety Reggie Nelson – a player incredibly familiar with Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme – the Raiders roster is built in such a way that there’s a definite balance between the young, and those with a little gray around their whiskers.
While we won’t get an accurate gauge of what these veterans will bring to the field until training camp, their collective presence has already been felt in the Raiders locker room.
“It’s so peaceful because everyone in that room holds a certain standard,” Derek Carr explained. “We have people at every position where it’s like, ‘This is the standard, this is how we do things.’ It’s not just on one or two guys to make sure it happens. Everyone is responsible for their position. Everyone is responsible for themselves.”
And let’s be clear, although the Silver and Black have signed a fair amount of players who are far removed from their respective rookie campaigns, these are guys who still have a lot left in the tank, and can no doubt produce on the football field.
For evidence of that, look no further than Jordy Nelson, the veteran wideout with 69 touchdowns, who figures to be a big part in what the Raiders do offensively in 2018.
“Jordy is very detailed,” Carr said. “He wants to do everything exactly how you want it done. I see why Aaron [Rodgers] loved throwing him the ball. He knows if you’re comfortable, you’ll throw it to them. I think all the guys are taking note of that. I guess Jordy has been in their ear. I don’t know. They all come up to me, ‘What about this route? Oh man, you did it perfect.’ But you just see when you add a guy like that, it just trickles down throughout the whole room of guys just their study habits. You see Jordy off to the side when another group is in, if you just look over there, he is probably just telling somebody something about a route or a technique or a coverage. He’s very smart. He can read coverage like a quarterback.”
Yes, the future of the Raiders rests on the shoulders of Carr, Mack, and Cooper, but if they want to get to where they eventually want to go, they’ll be helped along the way by a healthy amount of savvy veterans.