By Steve Corkran
Saturday, July 28th, 2012 at 5:16 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Running back Taiwan Jones touched the ball 18 times in the 10 regular-season games he played in 2011. Now that backup back Michael Bush is gone and Jones is healthy, combined with a new offensive scheme, Jones said he expects to see quite a bit more action.
“Just from hearing (coach) Dennis Allen talk, he wants to run the ball,” Jones said soon after his arrival at training camp in Napa on Saturday. “And the offense that we’ve got installed, they’ve got a lot of run game, so I believe there will be more than one running back getting touches.”
Last season, it was Darren McFadden doing most of the touching of the ball last season, at least until he suffered a season-ending foot injury. From there, the workload fell upon Bush.
McFadden is healthy once again, and he no doubt will resume the role as the lead back. One of the burning questions that needs answering during training camp is whether Jones or recently acquired back Mike Goodson is next in line.
Jones arrived in tip-top shape, weighing about the same as he did last season (198 pounds) and fresh from an offseason spent working out with personal trainer Terrell Gaines in Los Angeles.
Jones said he isn’t taking any chances after missing considerable time in training camp last year and the final six regular-season games with a hamstring injury.
“You’ve got to know to listen to your body and also eating right and stretching and taking care of yourself, as far as massages and doing ice baths and things like that,” Jones said.
As for the conversion to the zone-blocking scheme, Jones said that fits his game well, given he likes to make one cut, get into the open field and let his speed take over.
“Yeah, most definitely,” Jones said. “That’s a big part of my game is the one cut and go. Everybody knows that I’m a speed guy and I’m able to stop on the go and change direction, so this plays well for me.”
For now, Goodson and Jones are competing for the vacancy created by the departure of Bush in free agency. How well they fare in camp and Oakland’s four exhibition games will be the determining factors.
Jones said he is ready to assert himself and show people why the Raiders selected him in the 2011 NFL draft.
“When Michael Bush left, I felt like there was more demand on me needing to step up to help this offense,” Jones said.
In a vast departure from the past several decades, the Raiders handed out media guides on the first day of training camp.
Of particular ntoe, the media guide features colors other than black, silver and white for the first time. In short, it’s an impressive guide.
Also, no mention of past catchphrases such as “commitment to excellence” and “the greatness of the Raiders.” Instead, in block letters on page 6 is the motto: “THE FUTURE IS NOW. A NEW ERA OF EXCELLENCE.”
To realize how much things have changed in one year, this is the first training camp in a long, long time without the likes of late owner Al Davis and senior executive John Herrera, as well as the addition of a media tent on the field.
It’s all part of the Raiders massive effort to overhaul the organization. So far, all the changes appear positive and paint the Raiders in a positive light.
Numerous national media have commented on how refreshing the changes are.
Thinking back to last year at this time, it does seem rather stunning how much things have changed.
Mark Davis is the owner, Allen the coach, Jason Tarver the defensive coordinator, Greg Knapp the offensive coordinator, Carson Palmer the quarterback and the roster chock full of new faces.
The coaches went through a walk-through on the fields Saturday afternoon, getting a feel for the layout and the environs that they will call home for the next three weeks or so.
The players won’t hit the fields until Sunday, when they will be put through a conditioning test. The first practice is Monday. The first padded practice isn’t scheduled until Wednesday.
Coach Allen will speak with the media for the first time in Napa on Sunday afternoon.
Right offensive tackle Khalif Barnes said he knew two weeks ago that assistant offensive line coach Steve Wisniewksi wasn’t sticking around this season.
On Thursday, the Raiders announced Wisniewski’s resignation because of “personal reasons.”
Left offensive tackle Jared Veldheer said he intends to keep in touch with Wisniewski, who was a huge influence on his career.
“He was a big help,” Veldheer said. “I was able to learn a lot of little technique things, and he was able to help me a lot. So, I’d like to maintain that relationship with him because I know he’s still in the area. Obviously, he helped, and now, for whatever reasons, had to step away from it. We all wish him the best, and we’re going to move on with what’s to be had now.”
Barnes said he gleaned quite a bit from his time learning from Wisniewski.
“he texted me a couple of weeks ago, and I was surprised to hear it,” Barnes said. “He wished me all the best. I wished him all the best. Wiz, I know he was special to me. When he first came in, he gave me some of his 13 years of experience and knowledge, and how it was to be in the trenches.
“I don’t think anyone did it better to him when he was with the Raiders. Talk to some old defensive players, and they’ll tell you they didn’t like to play against that guy at all. He was rough in there. I wish him all the best and I hope to see him around from time to time.”
Veldheer said the Raiders offensive line remains in capable hands with Frank Pollack at the helm.
“I’m really excited to continue to work with him through the summer here and get ready for the season,” Veldheer said. “He’s helped us out with a bunch of stuff. As far as breaking it down in the classroom and on the field, he’s been great.”
As for life without Al Davis, Veldheer said the goal that Davis set each year remains the same.
“It’s probably going to be a little different (without Davis around),” Velhdeer said. “That’s to be expected, I suppose. But, we’re moving forward and moving in the right direction and, obviously, going for a championship.”
Raiders fifth-round draft pick Juron Criner is one of only three draftees leaguewide that remain unsigned. The two others also are wide receivers. One important difference, though: Justin Blackmon (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Kendall Wright (Tennessee Titans) were selected in the first round.
As mentioned earlier, ESPN reported that Criner and the Raiders are $14,000 apart in the signing bonus portion of Criner’s contract negotiations.
Criner has until Sunday morning to report. If he fails to report by that time, then he is considered a holdout of sorts. Difficult to say a player is holding out if he doesn’t have a contract but, in essence, that’s what it amounts to.
With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement limiting teams to one padded practice per day, there’s a premium on getting as much out of that practice as possible.
Defensive lineman Dave Tollefson ought to know what it takes to be successful. He arrives after a five-year stint with the New York Giants in which he earned two Super Bowl rings.
“It’s on us,” Tollefson said. “It’s not on coach (Allen), it’s up to the players to enforce that amongst ourselves that work is being done and we’re getting better because now, more than ever, a wasted day can hurt you. You’ve got to take advantage of every single day you have on the field, whether that’s a walk-through or a padded practice. Obviously, the walk-throughs become exponentially more important now than ever so you’ve got to make sure you take advantage of that.”
Quote of the day: “I kind of am what I usually am. I probably dropped a few. What are you saying, do I look good? — Barnes, when asked if he lost any weight during the offseason