By Steve Corkran
Thursday, May 24th, 2012 at 3:42 pm in Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders released veteran cornerbacks Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson this offseason in hopes of upgrading positions they deemed as problem spots last season.
In turn, they signed a host of veterans, including Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer, with the intent of not looking back. Bartell and Spencer are the projected starters for now.
Both say they like the Raiders new scheme, the coaching staff and the chance to play for a new organization. Both players battled through injury-plagued seasons last year, but they say they are healthy now and ready to validate the Raiders’ signing them this offseason.
Here are the transcripts from both players after Tuesday’s practice in Alameda:
Was staying in the Bay Area a factor in coming to the Raiders?
“There was several determining factors. That was one of them. I’ve grown quite fond of the Bay Area. I’m familiar with it and it’s always tough up and moving to a new city, learning a new city, and then all the other factors that play into being with a new organization. That was one of the factors, the other was just being reunited with Jonnie Lynn and Jason Tarver and, you know, I’m pretty familiar with the scheme. There’s some things that he’s changed and some things that he’s added in and things like that but that really helped me out as far as the learning curve coming in and being able to be on top and play fast.”
What happened in SF last year?
“I sustained a hamstring injury last year in training camp which kept me out pretty much 3 weeks of training camp so it’s understandable that when you got a new coaching staff and things like that they gotta be able to see you, you know what I mean, you gotta put your resume out there and I didn’t get a chance to do that because of the hamstring injury was so bad. You know, you take the good with the bad, you learn from it and move on.”
What’s it like coming here and having a opportunity?
“Oh, like I said man, it’s a great atmosphere. It’s funny because, a lot of familiar faces. I know a lot of the players, I know a lot of the staff and seeing yesterday, Fred Formosa as the head of security and he was in San Francisco my whole career except last year and things like that. So many familiar faces just all around the building from the video department to the PR and things like that so the adjustment hasn’t been that difficult for me.”
What has to happen for a team to go from the team the Niners were to the year they had?
“San Francisco’s team was loaded. They walked into a great situation. If you look at the talent over there as far as the defensive side of the ball and the offensive side of the ball. It was one of those situations where it never came together in the previous years. And this year the defense clicked, the offense played well and special teams played well and it came together. So, just looking at it here, you can ask league wide, the Raiders are always the most talented team. Size wise, speed wise, skills wise and things like that but it’s just changing the culture, being disciplined, doing the little things right. The turnovers, the penalties, you have to eliminate those things to be competitive in this league. You can’t beat yourself so starting there and starting with learning what coach Allen demands out of each play. Running through the ball, being sound in your assignments and things like that. Once you do those things it all comes down to the game but if you’re beating yourself before the ball’s even snapped, you don’t have a chance. So that’s what he’s really been preaching and that’s what everyone’s buying into right now. We got a great attendance at OTA’s and we had a great attendance thus far through the offseason programs so I think the whole building, everyone should be optimistic.”
What are you seeing as far as a change in culture here?
“I tell you what, man, it’s do it or come stand next to me. Or go home, you know what I mean? And that’s just what it is. It’s very in your face as far as Coach Allen, very, very instrumental on the defense, especially with the secondary, he’s a secondary coach, he knows what it looks like, what it’s supposed to look like and that’s what he’s demanding from us. And I’m sure it’s the same on the offensive side of the ball with the OC and that entire staff over there. It’s no nonsense. You hear different things, you know, when I came in, about previous staffs and things like that and how different this one is. It’s no nonsense. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. They want everyone to embrace the team concept and playing together and playing within each scheme.”
You know Bartell before this?
“Aw, man, it’s funny because me and Ron might be the two oldest guys here and our birthdays are the exact same day, same year. We got a lot of mutual friends from, you know, Walt Harris who I played with and I know he trained with in Arizona. Nate Clemons and Ron are good friends and Nate and I are good friends so we hit it off right away and the same with Huff. Just a lot of guys that I’ve played with from Terrail Lambert, I’ve played with Curtis Taylor, you know, just familiar with so many others guys. So the transition for me was so very, very smooth.”
You and Ron are in a similar situation. He is excited for the fresh start, you too?
“Yeah, it’s a breath of fresh air. I know that’s something that prior to leaving San Francisco that at the end of the season I sat down and talked to Trent Baalke about and he was gracious enough and nice enough to say ‘you know what let’s do this in a timely manner instead of dragging it out until, you know, August and then releasing me and all that other stuff. So I do appreciate that on his behalf. It was something that for both sides, all parties involved, it was the best thing, it was time. As far as my situation, I’m not too familiar with Ron’s other than he hurt his neck, things like that. But just hearing him talk, he’s so happy, so relieved and things like that. That’s a lot. It means a lot, you know.”
Q: How is your neck doing?
A: “Yeah, yeah, I feel great. I’m 100 percent. I feel great and I’m just happy to be back on the field. It’s the first time I’ve ever been injured. You get banged up a lot in this game, but it’s the first injury I’ve ever had where I’ve had to miss a significant amount of time. Luckily for me, it was not a simple injury but a straightforward, or fracture, and everything healed up fine. I’m just ready to play ball and I’m happy to be back.”
Q: Did doctors tell you that you’re predisposed to greater injury as a result of the neck injury last season? Any reservations?
A: “No, no, no, I don’t have any fear at all. The funny thing about it is, when I had the injury, I didn’t actually know that I had fractured my neck. It felt more like a stinger. I walked off corner of the field under my own power and I was actually about to check back into the game, and they just held me out since the game was pretty much over. We didn’t find out that I had the fracture until I got the C-T scan. So, I never had to go through that anxiety of getting carted off the field or losing feeling or paralysis or anything. So, from that standpoint, I never had to experience it. For me, once I got the clearance, I’m fine, I’m ready to go.”
Q: When did you feel all the way back?
A: “The fracture healed, and I was in a brace from the time of the injury, which was after the first game, from September to mid-December, came out of the brace, and they said the fracture had healed. After that, it was just the point of getting back the range of motion and strength. That took about a month or two. So, I would say I’ve been completely (healed) and 100 percent since about March. I feel great. The injury happened early in the year. I didn’t get a lot of wear and tear on my body because I played one game, so I feel fresh, new spirit, just excitement to help get this team back to where it should be. So, I’m just ready to play ball.”
Q: What’s your impressions about what this defense is going to be like?
A: “I love the scheme. I love the scheme. It’s a multiple-look scheme, it puts a lot of different people in positions to make plays. Some schemes are predicated upon D-line, some are on linebackers, some are on secondary play, but it puts everybody, on every level of the defense, it gives you the opportunity to make plays. It gives guys the chance to show their versatility. So, from that standpoint, I’m excited. Coach Tarver, he’s a young, energetic coordinator, we’ve got some good DB coaches, a young staff, so it’s just a lot of excitement right now. From that standpoint, we’re just ready to get everybody on the same page and see what happens.
Q: What’s it like walking into a situation where you have a great opportunity to be a starter?
A: “For me, being in my eighth year, being in St. Louis seven straight years and to see guys come and go, to have the type of injury I had, just from that standpoint, just being able to get back out on the field and compete, that’s all I can ask for. Another chance, another opportunity to play again. The way I look at it, the chips will fall where they may. They’re going to put whoever they feel is best for the job out there on the field. If I’m one of those guys, then more power to me. If not, I’ll play my role.”
Q: Is it invigorating coming to a new team, new scheme, different part of the country?
A: “Yeah. There definitely was some reservation at first because you’re somewhere for such a long time, especially in this business you’re at one place for seven years, you got reservations about moving on. But, for me, it’s a good situation, it’s a good opportunity. There’s some guys on the staff that I’m familiar with, a chance to be around some fresh faces, some young, energetic guys, a whole new city, a whole new part of the country, a new organization, so it brings some excitement for me. I’m looking forward to it.”
Q: Describe your style of play?
A: “Consistency. I’m a consistent football player. You know what you’re going to get from me week in, week out. I’m going to challenge guys, I’m going to challenge wide receivers and I’m going to be where I’m supposed to be. Just having a guy in a room – we have a lot of young guys – so just to have a guy in the room who has played a lot of snaps, a lot of football, seen a lot of variety of things and just be able to bring a calming influence into the room, that’s what my strengths are. Hopefully, I can help us rank a little big higher in that pass defense, but we’ll see what happens.”
Q: Are you and Shawntae Spencer taking a mentoring role with the young defensive backs?
A: “(We’re) Old men if you let everyone else tell it. Yeah, yeah, me and Shawntae played a lot of football in this league, we started a lot of games, been in a lot of battles. We got some young guys, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Chimdi (Chekwa), a lot of young guys who haven’t played much football. I’m just trying to give them a little tidbits here and there. I don’t want to step on a coach’s toes because it’s their job to coach. I just try to show them what it’s like to be a pro, how to approach practice, how to study film, how to take care of your body, some of the little things that I picked up along the way from a lot of the veterans that I was able to play with. So, if I’m able to rub off on them that way, it will be positive for them.”
Q: What’s your take on the owners voting to make hip and knee pads mandatory beginning with the 2013 season. Your thoughts?
A: “I won’t be wearing them in 2013, 2014, 2015. It takes away from the speed of the game. Hip pads, knee pads, thigh pads, they’re not going to stop you from tearing an ACL. It may stop a couple of soft-tissue injuries, but I don’t see it as a big deal about a knee pad. A knee pad isn’t going to stop a guy from blowing out a knee. So, me, personally, I won’t be wearing them, so I guess I just better put some fine money away.”
Q: It’s possible that the NFLPA will have a say in the matter at some point, given this wasn’t collectively bargained?
A: “Yeah, I would hope so. We’re the ones that have to play the game. I understand making the game safe. I’m all for the players’ safety but, at the same time, a thigh pad or a knee pad, if you get a helmet to the knee, you’re going to blow your knee. I don’t think a knee pad is going to stop that from happening. I’ve seen plenty of guys tear their knees before wearing knee pads. We have to abide by the rules, so hopefully they can work things out and keep things the way they are.”