Ray-Ray Armstrong is going through a full offseason program with the Silver and Black in 2015 – a luxury he wasn't afforded just a year ago.
Armstrong arrived in Oakland in early October of 2014, just days before the team's Week 6 match-up against the San Diego Chargers, and while he grew more comfortable as a Raider as the season went on, there's no substitute for going through a full offseason program.
"It's very important, very important," said Armstrong following OTAs Week 2 Day 1. "It helps you a lot, just learning your teammates."
During his 12 games as a Raider in 2014, Armstrong totaled 25 tackles (15 solo), starting the final three games of the season, and growing more confident and comfortable as the season progressed.
"It was just being here over time, getting comfortable with everything," Armstrong said. "Getting comfortable with your teammates, your city, everything around here. When you're here for a while, you get comfortable and you're just able to play relaxed and let your talent show."
As he progresses through the offseason program, Armstrong has settled into life in the Bay Area and is indeed letting his talent shine through – something that has not escaped the watchful eye of the new coaching staff in Oakland.
"Every time you come into a new season, new opportunities for guys and certainly with a new staff, there are opportunities for guys to reinvent themselves," Head Coach Jack Del Rio said. "A guy like Ray-Ray [Armstrong] has really had a productive offseason. As a staff, we're really excited about where he's tracking."
Photos of LB Ray-Ray Armstrong from the 2014 season.
"A guy like Ray-Ray [Armstrong] has really had a productive offseason. As a staff, we're really excited about where he's tracking." - Head Coach Del Rio
"He [Armstrong] is a very instinctive guy," added linebackers coach Sal Sunseri. "He really has a passion for the game. The kid has done an excellent job of going out there and competing very day. He puts a lot of pride on himself of doing it right, being consistent and working to be the best he can be."
"He [Armstrong] is a very instinctive guy. He really has a passion for the game." - Coach Sunseri
Now that the University of Miami product has the chance to go through a full offseason with the Silver and Black, he's looking forward to taking the next step in his professional development.
"I see my game rising, each year, year in and year out, just putting in the work to be that player on Sunday," Armstrong said. "You never settle with anything. I feel like I can always get better with everything."
The Raiders signed veteran linebacker Curtis Lofton during free agency, but besides him, the 2015 corps of linebackers is a young one, with Armstrong, Khalil Mack, Sio Moore and former Super Bowl MVP, Malcolm Smith.
"It's exciting, just being around this much talent," Armstrong said. "With guys being this young, we have a lot of time to work together and get better. There's a lot of talent around, and I'm loving that."
In particular, the addition of Smith has added to the championship pedigree in the Raiders locker room, and speaking with the former Super Bowl MVP about his accomplishments has motivated Armstrong to push even harder for a championship of his own.
"Just talking to him [Smith] about the ins and outs of how the whole thing – how it felt, what it felt like being in that atmosphere; it makes you want it more," Armstrong said. "Just by him winning the MVP; it's very encouraging."
With over 100 years of combined playing experience, Armstrong knows that the new Raiders coaching staff has been in shoes and knows the rigors of playing a full NFL season.
As the offseason goes on, he is particularly looking forward to continuing his football education under the tutelage of Coach Del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr., both who played linebacker in the NFL.
"There's so much that you can learn from those guys," Armstrong said. "They played. Coach Norton has a couple of Super Bowls, and Coach Del Rio, you know his resume. You can just learn so much from those guys because they played the position and they're not just a coach. They played in the league and were good players. I'm learning a whole lot from them."
Heading into 2015, Armstrong and the Raiders optimistic. They have a young quarterback establishing himself as the leader of the franchise, a blossoming defense and the belief from the coaching staff that the time to win is now.
"We're not trying to rebuild," Armstrong said. "Last year felt like the rebuilding season, so this year we're really trying to win right now. The coaches are putting that mentality throughout the team and we're all taking it in stride."
"Last year felt like the rebuilding season, so this year we're really trying to win right now. The coaches are putting that mentality throughout the team and we're all taking it in stride." -LB Ray-Ray Armstrong
Armstrong continued, "We always had great players on this team, but just the new staff and the new strength coaches, and all the different things that we're doing this year, it really feels like changes are being made for the better."