Numerous Raiders players aren’t the only ones on the verge of something new when it comes to playing Monday night’s exhibition opener against the Dallas Cowboys. The game marks the debut of the Raiders Dennis Allen, too, in his first game as an NFL head coach.
Several players admitted that they are nervous, excited and eager. Allen sounds like a man comfortable in his new role, without any reservations about being the head man.
“Not really,” Allen said Sunday. “Once you get into the flow of the game, my focus is just going to be on managing the game and making the right decisions to put our guys in the best position to have success. That’s what the head coach’s responsibility is and that’s what I’m going to be prepared to do.”
Allen put the finishing touches on preparation for the game by simulating pre-game introductions and where to go for warm-ups.
As always, Allen seems well prepared and everything scripted well in advance.
Then again, Allen has had many years to prepare for this moment. Everything he does, from scripting practices to calling plays and working with players and coaches comes from things he gleaned working under coaches such as Sean Payton and John Fox.
“It’s all stuff that I’ve gathered from different people throughout my coaching career,” Allen said. “There’s not just a ton of original ideas in the NFL. We all gather stuff from people that we’ve had a chance to work with and learn from. So, everything I have, from my philosophy on down, there are things that I’ve learned and I’ve adjusted them as I’ve gone all along.”
— Allen has a clear-cut idea of what he wants to see from his players Monday and in subsequent exhibition games. That will be relayed to the players before the game, of course.
“Well, really, your message is, ‘This is what you’ve trained all your life to do. The football field is still 53 1/3 yards wide, it’s 100 yards long with 10-yard end zones on either side. So, it’s still football, you’ve been trained, relax, go out there, have fun, play the game,’ ” Allen said.
Easier said than done. For many players, this will be their first NFL game of any kind.
That’s where veterans such as cornerback Shawntae Spencer come in, ready to dole out plenty of helpful advice.
“Don’t take it for granted,” Spencer said. “Do not take it for granted because you never know what may happen. It may be an injury, as far as that may be your only play. It may be that you only get this one preseason game.
“Just letting them know that this is their resume, when you don’t have a lot of game film and things like that, this is your resume for all 31 other teams to be able to see what you can do. If you don’t make this ballclub, then you might actually have performed better than someone else on another ballclub, so they’ll bring you. Just make them aware of that, just to savor the moment and don’t take it for granted.”
Spencer recalled his first game, when he was a member of the 49ers. He said it took him one series before he got over his jitters and relied upon his instincts.
“I remember exactly,” Spencer said. “My first game, my first play. It was actually against the Oakland Raiders, and my first play, I was lined up across from Jerry Rice. And I was so nervous. This is the greatest receiver ever to play the game. And I remember he caught a curl route and we were playing at Candlestick, and the crowd erupted. And I was confused, like, OK, I thought this was a home game.
“But, at the end of the day, that’s Jerry Rice and his resume and the things that he did for that organization and that team, that fan base, was unprecedented. But, yeah, I remember it.”
— Punter Shane Lechler, wide receivers Denarius Moore and Eddie McGee, running backs Mike Goodson and Taiwan Jones, linebacker Aaron Curry, offensive lineman Zach Hurd and tight end Brandon Myers also missed practice, in addition to receiver Duke Calhoun and linebacker Mario Kurn.
Allen said players such as Moore, McGee and Jones, with hamstring injuries, likely won’t play Monday. Several other of the aforementioned players also aren’t expected to play.
— With a light practice today, the game Monday and a day off Tuesday, now seems like a decent time for a check on the progress made so far.
Allen had this to say on that front:
“I’ll say, we’re not where we need to be right now, but I have seen significant progress and I’m extremely pleased with the way the guys are working,” Allen said.
— Allen said he intends to pay particularly close attention to several positions that lack clarity so far in terms of starting roles, depth and such.
“I want to see how the tight end position shakes out,” Allen said. “I want to see where we’re at there. I want to see where we’re at from a defensive back standpoint, especially at the cornerback position from a depth standpoint. So, those are a couple positions. I’m interested to see how the O-line shakes out with some of those young players when they have a chance to get in.”
— There’s practice and then there’s games. As Allen Iverson once said, “Practice. We’re talking about practice.” Hence, Allen said, these games are going to weigh more in terms of grading players and determining who earns starting jobs, who gets backup roles and which players make the 53-man roster.
“You play the game under the lights and that’s when it counts,” Allen said. “So, we, obviously, are going to weigh these very heavily.
“It’s kind of like being in college, and you get some homework assignments. That’s like practice. They count, and it’s part of your grade, but you’re going to take your mid-term and you’re going to take your final, and those are going to weigh the heaviest. That’s how I look at that.”
— Allen said Curry remains in Los Angeles, where Curry is receiving treatments from a specialist on his injured knee. There is no timetable for Curry’s return.
— Play of the day: rookie linebacker Miles Burris intercepted a pass from Terrelle Pryor on a ball that hit the hands of running back Rashawn Jackson.
— Allen put his players through an abbreviated practice, without pads, given it’s the day before a game.
Players wrapped up around 11:30 a.m. showered, dressed and boarded buses for the Oakland Coliseum so that they can participate in the Raider Nation Celebration from 1 p.m.-4.
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