Raiders first-year coach Hue Jackson arrived early for his news conference Wednesday, stayed late, and displayed all the enthusiasm we have become accustomed to seeing since he arrived last season.
First and foremost, Jackson said, he wants the Raider Nation to know that “we are back.” From there, Jackson launched into a 26-minute question-and-answer session with the media that featured several newsworthy items, some clarifications and plenty of reiteration on themes he has hammered on since he replaced Tom Cable in mid-January.
“Oh wow, oh wow,” Jackson said. “Is this fun or what. First of all before I say anything I have to say something to Raider Nation. Raider Nation, we are back. Back in business, back to playing football. I’m excited, our players are excited.”
Jackson said rookie running back Taiwan Jones signed a contract Wednesday. He added that the other draftees are close to signing and could be in the fold by the time the first practice arrives at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday.
The first two days of practice won’t entail much more than conditioning, walking through plays and some light practice. Things will heat up Saturday.
By then, the Raiders will have most of their players either signed or on the field. Jackson confirmed that the Raiders signed 14 undrafted free agents (the players will be listed in a subsequent post).
“We were able to put 14 new young men on this team, and I’m excited to watch them compete,” Jackson said. “I’m excited to watch them. Obviously, practice time is cut, these guys need to rise up quickly and show their work, because opportunities are going to be a little bit different than they have been in the past. I’m anticipating somebody emerging out of this group to play some pretty good football.”
Jackson said that he has spoken with cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and tight end Zach Miller since the lockout ended. He remains hopeful that one or both will be re-signed. Both players are unrestricted free agents who can negotiate with any team.
“By Friday, we all will know exactly what is going on,” Jackson said. “I’ve said a number of times, I’d love to have all of them back. I’m not sure exactly how that’s going to go. We’re talking to everybody. I know everyone wants to know, ‘Are you talking to this guy or that guy?’ We’re talking to everybody. If there’s a guy that’s out there that is free, trust me I’ve called him and I’ve talked to him. …
“Right now, you hear all the different things. This guy is going here, this guy is going there. Some of that is true. That’s the way it works. But we also know nothing can be signed until Friday. A lot of things can happen between now and then. There’s still several hours left in this thing called free agency before people start to sign on the dotted line.”
Cable called Jason Campbell the unquestioned starter during his first interview in Napa last season. Cable and Jackson agreed that it was best to bench Campbell at halftime of Oakland’s second regular-season.
Yet, Jackson is every bit as decisive as Cable was that Campbell is the guy for the long haul.
“Say that one more time,” Jackson said, when a TV reporter asked who the starting quarterback is going to be. ”You did not ask me that question. He did not ask that question out here today. Does anybody no know who the starting quarterback is of the Raiders? Are you kidding me? Doesn’t he wear No. 8? His name is Jason Campbell. He is the starting quarterback of the Raiders. Period! Any other questions?”
Just for good measure, Jackson once again took the time to remind people that being good is a foreign concept to him.
“We’re going to create something here that’s great,” Jackson said. “I am not interested in being good. I am interested in being great.”
Count wide receiver Louis Murphy as one of the many who on the importance of the Raiders re-signing Miller and Asomugha:
“Very important. He’s a big contributor. Hopefully we get him and Nnamdi. I don’t know how hard that’s going to be, but hopefully we can get both of those guys back and a lot of the other veteran players, too, like Michael Huff, Bush. Those are two guys that helped us win.”
On the prospect of the Raiders adding a veteran receiver such as the Cincinnati Bengals Chad Johnson if he gets released:
“I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to have him. It wouldn’t hurt to have Ochocinco or any of those veteran guys. T.O. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t really matter. But I think with the guys that we do have here, I feel like we’ll be fine, I feel like we’ll be able to produce and make plays.”
Cooper Carlisle said he is under the impression that he will be the Raiders starting right guard once again.
“As far as I know,” Carlisle said. “We haven’t had a lot of contact, so we don’t know everything, but as far as I know that’s the plan.”
Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey said that he and other Raiders receivers got a jump on things because quarterback Jason Campbell got an opportunity to huddle with Jackson during a brief break in the lockout.
“Right when the season ended, Jason had a chance to meet with coach Jackson and get some things in so when he met with him, he already knew what was going on, he knew what he wanted us to be, so we just listened to him and just took it from there.”
Running back Darren McFadden showed up in Napa with the look of a man who hasn’t missed a day of workouts since last season ended. Perhaps, then, it comes as no surprise that he predicted big things for himself this year, one year after his breakout season.
“I try to just keep my goals to myself and just set them for myself and go out there and accomplish them. But I have big goals set for this year.”
Raiders cornerbacks coach Rod Woodson, who retired from the Raiders in 2003 and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said he would love to have Asomugha under his tutelage. However, he is prepared to move forward with the players he has if Asomugha signs elsewhere.
“I got to coach the guys that I have,” Woodson said. “When you got great players, it makes coaching a little big easier. I wish Nnamdi all the best. He’s my guy. I really like Nnamdi as a person. He’s going to have to do what’s best for him, and we’re going to have to do what’s best for us as the Raiders.”