Editor's note: Scott Bair will be holding his weekly CHAT today at 12 p.m. Join the conversation right here.
Derek Carr is the Raiders starting quarterback. Barring injury, Christian Ponder will not unseat him. That’s the case on the football field. Things are more equal with a net between them.
“I think we’ve played 30 to 40 games of ping pong, competing against each other,” Carr said. “Those are good things.”
Building team chemistry is part of training camp, and time spent together at the Napa Valley Marriott was nearly as important as work on the field behind it.
“We have downtime each day and there’s a ping pong table, corn hole and a pool table (in a makeshift game room),” Carr said. “I’ve only been here two years but that area has been used more this year than it was last year. That’s a good thing. That doesn’t mean we’re just playing games. That means we’re having downtimes after meetings and people are hanging out together. People are doing things together.”
The coaching staff has worked to unite players and encourage positive thinking, to make them believe they can fare better than the recent past. Head coach Jack Del Rio brought in motivational speakers while the Raiders were in Napa. He preached fundamentals and discipline and attention to detail in meeting rooms and on the practice field.
Every now and then, the man simply had to pick up a paddle.
“The ringer at ping pong in all of training camp is Coach Del Rio,” Carr said. “He jumped on there and we won pretty easily. It’s awesome to see that, though. You have to have people doing that stuff together, going to eat together, to have a good football team.”
The Raiders spent more than three weeks secluded in wine country, a productive period that formally ended on Sunday afternoon. The final full practice concluded on Thursday, with a Friday walk-thru before travelling to Minnesota for the second preseason game.
The Raiders start work at an Alameda training complex with nearly $10 million in upgrades. There are new practice fields with improved turf, drainage and irrigation. A massive weight room and juice bar area has been constructed. A steam room is going in, and the locker rooms should be tricked out.
Del Rio’s charges return to Alameda a better team than when they left. They haven’t been perfect, far from it, in fact, but the isolation did the Raiders good.
“The time up here has been very productive,” Del Rio said. “The facilities here are really good and us being this close together created an environment where we can be very productive teaching and we’re getting the work in on the field and in the meetings. Having the fans here has been great. So yes, it’s been a real productive time for us.”
The Raiders have had some mixed results in a pair of preseason games, standard operating procedure this time of year. The Raiders are clearly more talented and well organized, showing solid growth as the regular season approaches.
“There are so many of the little fine points of coming together as a football team,” Del Rio said. “It’s all important. It all matters and I think all the little things are the difference. I think we’ve had a productive time but, as I’ve been mentioning, there’s a large mountain of work in front of us. We have a lot to do, but we’ve given ourselves a chance. We believe we’re doing the things that need to be done to be a really good football team.”
The Raiders are still too inconsistent for Del Rio’s taste and he is trying to work the bad out of his practices. Some days were better than others, but the Silver and Black continually took steps forward and didn’t suffer anything considered a major injury. Those are all positive signs. Many more are needed.
“It’s really more about the process; it’s about the every day,” Del Rio said. “There’s not a snapshot. It’s kind of like there’s a checklist of things, and it’s continuous. We can get it today and not get it tomorrow. We asked our guys to come out here and set their minds, set their intentions on what they want to accomplish and come out here with great energy and be willing to work, sacrifice and grow. That’s what we’ve done as a football team.”