What We Learned from Breakfast with Coach Del Rio

Oakland Raiders Head Coach Jack Del Rio spoke to the media Tuesday morning at the annual AFC Coaches Breakfast at the NFL Owners Meetings in Boca Raton, Florida.

He spoke with reporters for about an hour, so here is what we learned from his time fielding questions.

Although the Raiders have been aggressive in free agency this year, it's all part of the plan and the process of building a winning team.

"We have a lot of work to do. We just got started. I don't feel like we're sending any signal other than recognizing needs and desires to acquire good players. We still have a lot of work to do. We accomplished some things by being able to acquire, if you take a look at the first three guys we got, those three guys fill some major areas of need, but we still have work to do."

When he became the head coach of the Raiders, Del Rio stated that winning the division was the No. 1 goal of the team.

"We have a goal, we're on a mission, this is just the natural progression of where it needs to go. We laid out some goals and things last year, became a competitive team, established a healthy culture, expectations have been raised. We learned how to compete and changed the culture that's for sure."

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Bruce Irvin is a gifted athlete the Raiders plan to use in a variety of ways.**

"I think he's a really good football player, he's gifted athletically, super long and fast and tough and we feel like the one area we'd like to maybe utilize him a little more is the going forward part. He's done a lot of coverage and he really is more natural at rushing, he's been asked to do a lot of coverage, he's done a really nice job. Obviously, he's been a part of probably the best defense in the league the last four years of his career. We're getting a guy who's played at a high level for a really good defense and brings a lot of attitude. He's a gifted pass rusher, it's going to be tough to deal with his length and speed on the edge of out defense."

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A veteran presence in the secondary was a priority for the Raiders.**

"Love his competiveness, Sean [Smith] is a long athlete, he's a veteran with an understanding of who is and where he fits in this league, he brings that knowledge of playing that position at a high level for a long time in this league. We needed a veteran presence in our secondary, it's good to get him, we love his length, he's a long guy. That's who we added, a competitive, long athlete that brings toughness and experience."

Offensive tackles Menelik Watson and Austin Howard will battle it out for the right tackle spot.

"They're both returning from injury from last year. Menelik is going to first to return, Austin will return a little later in the offseason. They're both guys that showed they could play at a high level. Menelik was probably ahead at the point he was injured. Austin stepped in and really had a good year for us.

Despite Peyton Manning's retirement, the rest of the division is still chasing the defending champion Denver Broncos.

"Certainly Peyton retiring begs that question. Denver's defense remains really strong. I know John Elway is not going to sit on his hands and not have a quarterback. So at some point he'll work a trade, draft, do whatever he needs to do, he'll work hard to find that quarterback. To me, you don't make too many assumptions, you get prepared to be as strong as possible. Right now they're the defending champs, you give them all the credit and we're all chasing them."

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Charles Woodson will be missed.**

"Charles was unbelievable, full of class, great teammate, top shelf leader in the locker room, showing guys what it looked like, how much the game meant to him, played through pain this year several games, shoulder, knee. He was an inspiration for our football team. Certain first ballot Hall of Famer. When a guy like that comes through the building, you understand you're dealing with one of the greats of the game and it was an honor having him."

Suspended linebacker Aldon Smith could still be in the mix for the Raiders defense.

"We've talked about it, thought about it, we'll continue to have conversations. He's got work to do on his personal life. It might make sense at some point, as he takes care of what he needs to take care of, that he could return. I think in his heart he's a good young man. Like all of us, we can all work to be better. My time around him, I enjoyed being around him, good teammate."

The Raiders have gotten many people's attention, including free agents around the league.

"I think Reggie spoke to that about it being a completely different feel from in particular two years ago. Last year we were pretty effective as well. This year certainly with the way we competed last year, the way Derek emerged, Khalil emerged, you could see some of the young talent, some of the culture we created made it a more appealing destination. It's a great brand. Raiders' tradition of excellence, tradition of winning football and the Super Bowl are something that guys are drawn to. Having the quarterback is huge. One of the things that made Denver a destination for a lot of guys was having Peyton in the building." 

Coach Del Rio is encouraged by the start to Latavius Murray's role as the featured back.

"I would say that it was good. You get 1,000 yards it's an accomplishment, even though it doesn't mean quite what it did when you had 12 games, it's still a milestone to get 1,000 yards, it was solid. I think there's more out there, I think he's still just scratching the surface, there's a lot more upside, there's a lot more opportunities to break a tackle, to make a guy miss, to hit the hole just right. We would like to add somebody in the backfield at some point. It's not like it's a glaring need. We do have a good player there. Latavius' got great speed, he's a good young man, smart, understands protections, I think he can work on being more natural catching the ball. I think we'll be better creating holes and moving people out of the way." 

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Donald Penn's re-signing is very important for the Raiders offensive line. **

"It's good to get Donald back, he's a guy for Derek who protects the blindside, he's done it at a successful level, tough guy, he prides himself on keeping the quarterback clean. With a young quarterback, we're happy to have that veteran presence who knows what he's doing over there." 

Improvements to the Raiders facility have helped attract players.

"It's helped. Last year we were showing the designs of what we were going to do. It was like 'here's what our weight room is going to look like next year. Really, we're going to do this.' They were coming through like, 'sure you are.' Now we're able to say 'look at our new weight room. Look at our new fields.'  Last year they were being torn up. Now we have the new fields that are done. The building is painted, there's a steam room, all kinds of different improvements were made in the last year to create the high performance environment we want to put our players in."

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