First-year coach Dennis Allen and his staff got their first look at the entire roster Tuesday, with every player showing up for the start of the three-day, mandatory mini camp in Alameda.
Fullback Manase Tonga and safety Mike Mitchell weren’t on the field, but they were here rehabilitating knee injuries. Defensive lineman Dave Tollefson, center Stefen Wisniewski and defensive tackle Travis Ivey were the only players in uniform who weren’t able to participate in individual and team drills. They worked out on the side.
Allen had even more reason to feel good about the way things went after seeing defensive end Matt Shaughnessy practice for the first time since last September and linebacker Aaron Curry retun from a nagging injury he suffered earlier this offseason.
“It’s nice to have him out there,” Allen said. “Obviously, he’s rusty. It’s been a long time since he’s lined up and played defense. He is a little rusty, but it’s good that we get him out here and get a little work.”
Shaughnessy hurt his shoulder against the New York Jets on Sept. 23, underwent surgery and missed the final 13 games last season.
He spent the better part of this offseason rehabilitating the shoulder. On Tuesday, he turned it loose for the first time.
“I’m full-go now,” Shaughnessy said. “If there was a game on Sunday, I’d play.”
Shaughnessy said he is energized by the new defensive scheme.
“Once we learn this defense and start playing together, it’s going to be tough to stop because there’s so many different things we can do. And if we’re all on the same page, we’re just going to be working faster.”
Allen said he likes what he sees from his defensive linemen.
They can be “as good as they want to be,” Allen said. “It’s dependent on how much those guys are willing to put forth as far as the effort to continue to improve. If they’re willing to put forth effort to continue to improve, they can be as good as they want to be.”
Defensive tackle Richard Seymour called Shaughnessy a vital cog in the Raiders defense, someone the Raiders missed a great deal last season.
“Oh, man, tremendously,” Seymour said of missing Shaughnessy’s presence. “I tell him all the time, he’s the best run defensive end in the NFL, for sure, in terms of stopping the run. He’s the best in the NFL against the run. I can’t say that against the pass now for all the sacks a lot of the other defensive ends have. In terms of the run, I’ll put him out there with anyone. He’s definitely developed into a complete player. It was a big blow for us when he went down.”
Shane Lechler shanked his first punt Tuesday, with the ball kicked from his own end zone failing to sniff the 50-yard line. Call it his mulligan.
On his second punt, Lechler bombed the ball some 70 yards, causing more than a few bystanders to ooh and aah.
“That was my first ball since the Pro Bowl,” Lechler said. “I go back mentally to the basics. Drop it, watch the ball hit your foot. I got up through a few of them today and felt good about it. It’s one of those things where I was worried on how it was going to be. I haven’t touched a ball since the Pro Bowl. It came off well. Looks like I still got it.”
The question is, will the Raiders still have Lechler beyond this season? This is the final year of a contract that made Lechler the highest-paid punter in NFL history.
If he has his way, he will be re-signed by the Raiders and spend the remainder of his career in a silver-and-black uniform. He is entering his 13th NFL season.
“Yeah, why not?” Lechler said. “I’ve been here 13 years, what’s 13 more? I’d like to finish it up here if I could. I know Mark (Davis, owner) believes in me and the Davis family does. I want to be here when it turns back around. I was here when it was awesome, and it would be cool to see it come full circle.”
The Raiders qualified for the playoffs in each of Lechler’s first three NFL seasons, including a Super Bowl appearance in the 2002 season.
He has enjoyed sustained success throughout his NFL career. However, the Raiders are in the midst of a nine-year stretch in which they failed to win more than eight games in a season and make the playoffs.
Lechler said he feels a sense of urgency for the Raiders to get back to the playoffs so that he and older players such as Sebastian Janikowski and Cooper Carlisle can taste what that feels like at least one more time.
Lechler said his right (kicking) leg feels as strong now as it has at any point in his career. It’s not a stretch to envision Lechler kicking well into his 40s.
Time and again Tuesday, Lechler launched balls that forced the returner to retreat and field the ball 65 yards or more away from the line of scrimmage. Three straight times, returners muffed Lechler punts.
Rookie wide receiver Juron Criner has developed somewhat of a cult following based on his early showing in offseason practices.
With good reason, too. It seems as if he turns in a head-turning play every time you look. Tuesday was no different.
On one play, Criner ran upfield, made a sharp cut, turned around and was welcomed with the thud of the ball hitting him in the chest.
No problem. Criner processed the situation in a split second, clutched the ball to his chest and fell to the ground for yet another breathtaking reception.
Jacoby Ford, DeQuan Lewis, Bryan McCann and Chaz Powell split time on punt returns. No word on whether Moore would have been part of the rotation, though he handled that role quite a bit last season.
Ford was guilty of muffing one punt. He looked sure-handed on his other chances.
Mark Davis and general manager Reggie McKenize watched most of the practice from the sideline. Reggie’s twin brother Raleigh also was spotted on the field for the first time since he was hired earlier this offseason.
Seymour has spent most of the offseason working out on his own, away from the Raiders year-round facility in Alameda.
He said he trains four days a week and that his offseason regimen this year helped him shed 10 pounds from his well-built frame.
“I did a little boxing, a little bit of everything,” Seymour said. “I get more football specific as the season gets closer. I definitely train four days a week for sure. That’s always been my routine. That’s one thing that keeps you strong, especially in the interior of the line.”
Allen said he likes what he sees of Seymour so far and that he’s expecting big things from him this season.
“I wouldn’t say it would be any different than what it would be in the past,” Allen said of the perennial Pro Bowler. “I would expect good things out of him. He’s a Pro Bowl player and I would expect that to continue to be the case. I would expect him to make plays when we need him to make big plays.”
Seymour’s impression of Allen and his staff is a positive one, he said.
“They understand what they want and they do a good job of teaching how to get it done,” Seymour said. “That’s a quality that’s overlooked in the NFL because even though you may have talented athletes you still need to teach them what to do and how to do it.
They do a great job of getting that message across and making it become (reality). You can hear it like you heard it before but someone just makes it crystal clear like, ‘Oh, I get it now.’ That’s kind of what they do a really good job of doing. They’re really smart guys who understand the game. It still remains to be seen.”