The Raiders concluded their third and final mini camp Thursday, with coach Dennis Allen excited about how much progress his players have made, just about every player healthy and the foundation laid for the training camp that starts in late July.
The players won’t be on the field again as a team until they arrive in Napa on July 29. At that time, Allen said he expects all 90 players on the roster to be at or near 100 percent and ready to pick up where they left off today.
“I was pleased with the progress,” Allen said. “Obviously, we’re not near where we need to be yet. It’s always going to be a work in progress, but I specifically thought over the last couple of days that I could kind of feel that we were kind of figuring out what we were asking them to do, and I thought the guys really responded over the last couple of days.”
Allen said he and his assistant coaches aren’t allow to discuss football with the players between now and training camp. Even so, they intend to be in contact with the players to keep tabs on them the next six weeks or so.
He left them with a detailed list of things they should be doing between now and the time they reconvene in Napa.
“I want them to make sure that they keep improving on what we already started,” Allen said. “We’re just laying a foundation for what we wanted to build here. We’ve got to make sure that between now and camp that we don’t just put football totally aside. We’ve got to keep making sure that we’re staying in condition, keep lifting weights as well as keep studying their notes and the playbook.”
Quarterback Carson Palmer said he got the message and that he already has plans to keep in shape, as well as honing his knowledge of the playbook.
“Go back through everything,” Palmer said of how he intends to spend the next six weeks or so. “Starting with protections. Everything starts with protections. (Allen) fired everything at us. There wasn’t really time to sit back and absorb little things here and there, little nuances of the running game, little nuances of redirecting protections and two minute and all these different situations.
“So [I’m] really going to break it down, starting with protections and then going through all the run game responsibilities on the quarterback because that’s obviously going to set the tone of games is with our run game.”
Defensive tackle Travis Ivey returned to practice after being cleared from the concussion he suffered while lifting weights a few days ago.
Safety Mike Mitchell, fullback Manase Tonga, wide recievers Denarius Moore, Eddie McGee and Louis Murphy, defensive lineman Dave Tollefson, linebacker Aaron Curry, tight end Brandon Myers and center Stefen Wisniewski were the only players who didn’t practice Thursday.
Second-year running back Taiwan Jones highlighted an impressive three-day showing with a run on which he juked cornerback Shawntae Spencer near the line of scrimmage, emerged into the secondary and blew past two other would-be tacklers down the left side line.
The Raiders are loaded with fast players. However, Jones’ speed just seems to be otherwordly, especially when he gets into the open field.
Veteran fullback Owen Schmitt worked with the first-team offense quite a bit Thursday. He is making a hard push for the starting job, it seems, even if it’s real early in the process.
Allen said Schmitt is one of the candidates for the short-yardage role filled by Michael Bush in recent years.
It wasn’t long ago that offensive coordinator Greg Knapp talked about the tight ends being an area of concern. Fast forward to today, Allen is impressed by how far that group has come in a short period of time.
“What was perceived to be an area of weakness coming in, I’ve seen some significant improvement,” Allen said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what they do in training camp.”
Myers, David Ausberry and Richard Gordon have done an impressive job as blockers and receivers, with coaches taking note along the way.
Myers has an edge in experience, though Ausberry and Gordon are viewed as promising players in their own right.
“I’ve been around here a few years,” Myers said. “It’s kind of the same as it has been in the past; we just kind of rotate. But yeah, I’m in there with the 1′s right now and just trying to prove to the coaches and my teammates that I can be there and I’m just trying to make plays when my name is called.”
Myers said he has heard the talk about the tight ends being a weak spot with this team.
“People might think that because we don’t have the big name at tight end, but we’ve got guys capable of competing and making plays and we’re going to be fine,” Myers said. “Everybody’s pushing each other. Once the season starts, the best guys will be on the field, helping the team contribute to a win.”
Allen said he likes what he sees with the players on his roster right now. Still, there’s always room for improvement, so more changes will be made whenever there’s a chance to add a player that has the potential to make the team better.
“Listen, I’m never going to be satisfied with where we’re at,” Allen said. “We’re always going to be looking to improve, so it’s like I said, it’s an ongoing process. We’re going to be looking throughout this five-week period until we get to training camp and we’re going to be looking for every way that we can to improve this football team.”
Allen sounds as if he couldn’t be anymore pleased with Palmer after seeing him perform the past two months or so.
“He’s been an outstanding leader,” Allen said. “He’s taken to the new system, has a good command of what we’re asking him to do. He’s coaching the young guys. You couldn’t ask for anything better than what we’re getting out of Carson right now.”
Allen also sees a fire in Palmer that signifies to him big things to come.
“He’s got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder,” Allen said. “He wants to prove he still belongs in this league and can play at an elite level. As with everything else it’s all about your mind-set, and his mind’s in the right place right now.”
Palmer said he feels comfortable in the new offense and with his teammates, whereas last season he arrived midway through and was forced to learn on the fly.
“Can’t wait for camp,” Palmer said. “We got a lot of good work in, and you never know what to expect as you’re coming out of this last mini camp after the OTA’s and offseason workouts. I can’t speak for everybody but I’m definitely pleasantly surprised with where we are.
“We got a lot done. We put in a lot. We executed very well, there weren’t a lot of mental mistakes. There were some young guys, some rookie guys that need to catch up but for a new offense, a new system, and really a new regime, we’re in a good place with this time coming off to get ready for training camp.”
Tollefson spent the past five seasons with the New York Giants, playing for strict disciplinarian Tom Coughlin. He said he sees a lot of similarities in the way Allen runs the show.
“There’s not a lot of bullcrap that comes out of his mouth, which is important,” Tollefson said. “There’s enough guys on this team and in the NFL, in general, that can smell crap, if a guy is just saying stuff to fill time. He doesn’t to that. As a young guy, coming in and being as sharp as he has, knowing what to do as a head coach is pretty impressive.”
In particular, Tollefson said he has been impressed about Allen’s approach to reducing penalties and turnovers. Allen has said that the Raiders will be smart and disciplined.
Saying those things in one thing, Tollefson said. Getting results is another. So far, Tollefson is convinced that Allen has the proper approach to accomplishing the desired goals.
For example. Allen is showing slides of players committing turnovers and penalties after practice. It’s another teaching tool that goes a long way and something that worked well for Coughlin the past five years, Tollefson said.
“That’s something that Coughlin was huge on, showing us what he’s talking about,” Tollefson said. “If you turn the ball over and you get penalties, you will lose games and won’t make it to the playoffs. (Allen’s) done a good job of that.
“To give it lip service, that really doesn’t do it justice. Showing people the results of hanging on to the ball, getting the ball on defense and not shooting yourselves in the foot. The number of penalties that this team had last year was unreal. And then to go 8-8 on top of that, that’s kind of impressive. You got to see it for what it is. There’s no gimmes in this league. To keep setting yourself backward, it’s going to make it even tougher.”