NAPA – This offseason was kind to the Raiders. Quality players took their money. Amateurs they wanted fell appropriately in the draft. New faces blended well with familiar ones, and the locker room grew close without much effort.
Outsiders saw that, and responded with compliments aplenty. The Raiders are this year’s “it” team, a sexy pick to rise through the ranks and make the playoffs for the first time in a decade-plus.
Finishing .500 or worse would be a disappointment with all this talent, odd considering the Raiders haven’t accomplished that feat since 2002. Welcome to a new world, where expectations are deservedly high.
“I’m going into my sixth season and it hasn’t felt like this in a long time,” said running back/special teams ace Taiwan Jones. “We have a lot of young guys that came in with tremendous confidence and with a lot of ability to get better. The coaching staff, man, they’re amazing. They know how to relate to us. Just the feeling that you guys feel and that we feel, it hasn’t been here in a long time, so I’m excited about it.”
Head coach Jack Del Rio is okay with that. His expectations are high – the AFC West is wide open and certainly winnable -- and his confidence never wavers. He has, however, made a point whenever possible that flattery doesn’t produce wins. Hard work does, and that is his bedrock.
His leaders understand that, which has helped keep players in line. But everyone has a cell phone. Most have Twitter. All that positive Raiders talk is unavoidable.
“If you're going to take it in, you definitely have to know how to channel it,” running back Latavius Murray said. “We know we have a long way to go, but we know what we are capable of. We know the guys we have in the building but that doesn't mean anything if we aren’t able to go out there and put it on the field.”
Expectation talk revved up this offseason and continued Thursday, all before the team’s first training camp practice. That happens later Friday morning at the Napa Valley Marriott, when national media tours start and the talk gets louder, far closer to the Raiders’ ear. NFL Network is first up on Friday, other national brands to follow.
“If you worry about high expectations, then you’re worrying about the wrong things,” safety Reggie Nelson said. “All you have to do is play football and let it take care of itself.”
Finally playing football will help sort some things out. Roles will be defined, hierarchies will be established and the team will continue refining schemes initially installed last year. It will also allow them to focus on tasks at hand.
Some downtime was spent watching looking backward, using old Raiders teams as an example of what do right.
They were intimidators way back when, using brains and brawn to rule the AFC. This group wants to get back to that, when the team played hard, entertaining football and won a ton.
“There is no less expectation than that,” defensive back TJ Carrie said. “A lot of us continue to watch the old Raiders and how physical they were and how tenacious they played and fearless, the energy that they brought to the crowd, the fans, the expectation that they always fulfilled within the fans. Going into the season, that’s going to be the main goal, making sure that we’re playing sound football and smart football.”