The Raiders kicked off training camp with an up-tempo, pass-happy practice that pleased the hundreds of fans in attendance, the players and, most important, coach Dennis Allen.
“For the first day of practice, it was a pretty clean practice,” Allen said. “We worked well. We’ve still got a lot of improvement that we’ve got to make. It’s step one of a long journey. … We took a step forward.”
Allen’s assessment seemed spot-on, at least to the naked eye. Then again, it’s tough to get a great gauge for things when players aren’t banging into each other, tackling or going all out.
That comes Sunday, when the Raiders are permitted to practice in pads for the first time this season. Allen doesn’t need to wait until Sunday to know what he expects from his team this season.
“You have to push the chips all in every year,” Allen said. “Nothing is promised in the NFL. We’re here for one reason, and one reason only, and that’s to win games. We understand that what we’ve done around here in the past has not been good enough. We understand the task ahead of us and we’re fully committed to getting that done.”
That process kicked into high gear Friday, with the start of training camp. Things crank up even more Sunday, when the players don pads and get after each other.
If Friday is a harbinger of any kind, the Raiders are going to come out firing, working hard to get better and making strides toward improving upon last season’s 4-12 finish.
— The offensive line looked the same as it did throughout all the offseason workouts and three-day minicamp: From left to right, Donald Penn, Khalif Barnes, Stefen Wisniewski, Austin Howard and Menelik Watson. That isn’t likely to change anytime soon, either, unless a player gets injured.
— Five players fielded punts, including returners Denarius Moore and Greg Jenkins and veteran running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
Taking a look at Jones-Drew isn’t some camp novelty, either, Allen said.
“That position has not been settled yet,” Allen said. “He’s a guy that when he came into the league, he’s done that some and he’s done it at a high level. He’s a guy that I wanna take a look at down there. I think we wanna go into this training camp with an open mind and really open up to all possibilities of guys.”
— The temperature soared past 100 degrees Friday. None of the players complained, passed out or complained. Allen welcomed the kind of hot day that the Raiders avoided in recent years during training camp.
“That’s what training camp is all about,” Allen said. “If you want to be a mentally tough team and you want to be able to win in the fourth quarter, you have to go through experiences like this where you have to push yourself through the heat, don’t give into it and you’re able to still go out and execute your job at a high level.
“One hundred degree heat is no comparison to what it will be like the pressure of opening day. Our guys handled it pretty well.”
— Miles Burris worked alongside rookie Khalil Mack and Nick Roach as part of the linebacking corps with the first-team defense. Sio Moore worked with the second-team.
Moore supplanted Burris as the starter last season when Burris’ surgically repaired knee took longer than expected to heal. Moore retained the job even when Burris was cleared to play.
Burris spent most of his time on special teams. Now he is back to full strength and giving Moore all he can handle in terms of competing for the starting spot.
“It’s going to be a great competition there at the ‘Will’ linebacker spot, to see who can step out and take that role over,” Allen said.
Based on how well Burris looks so far, Allen said, it’s not a stretch to envision Burris in the starting lineup in the regular-season opener.
“My expectation is that he’s going to compete to be a starting linebacker for us,” Allen said. “Now that will be determined by how we go through training camp and the preseason. There’s a lot of time between now and the time we open up against the New York Jets. But I like where he’s at right now.”
— Every player on the 90-man roster that is deemed healthy was on the field and taking part in drills today. That included defensive lineman Antonio Smith, who missed most of the offseason with an undisclosed injury.
— Veteran wide receiver Greg Little arrived in Oakland with a well-earned reputation for dropping too many catchable passes.
On Friday, Little dropped one such pass. However, he caught everything else thrown his way and looked the part of a receiver that can not only make the Raiders 53-man roster but make a contribution.
“Since he’s been here, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do,” Allen said. “He’s been a real pro about the way he has gone about his job. His job, just like everybody else out here, is going to be to focus in and continue to work to get better on a day in and day out basis.”
He averaged 52 receptions for 607 yards in his three seasons with the Browns. That far exceeds the production the Raiders got from the likes of Juron Criner, Brice Butler and Andre Holmes last season.