Raiders return to work under new coach

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) With four straight losses to open the season and the head coach having already been fired, there are plenty of negatives to dwell on for the Oakland Raiders.

That’s why interim coach Tony Sparano decided to focus on some of the positives when he met with his team before his first practice on Monday.

He showed them what plays have been successful. He praised the strong red zone defense, a lack of sacks allowed, a major reduction in penalties and told the players they have often been a play or two away from winning a game.

That message resonated with a team desperate for any kind of success.

”He knows what this team can do good. I think he also knows what we have done bad, and if you focus on all the bad you can do they got this thing called the tank that you go in, and you stop caring about winning or losing and you just come to work every day,” defensive tackle Antonio Smith said. ”That’s not in my DNA and I don’t think it’s in nobody on this team’s DNA. He’s just making sure that we’re going to have none of that on this team.”

The Raiders were off last week after returning from London, where they lost 38-14 to Miami for their 10th straight defeat dating to last season. That led to coach Dennis Allen being fired last Tuesday and Sparano held only a brief meeting with the team before the players left for the bye week.

”I think you rarely want a bye week this early because then you have to run off so many straight games. But for us it kind of came at the right time where we get a chance to break up all the stuff, clear our minds of everything,” running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. ”We had a week to just get that out of our system and get back to playing football. That’s all we’re here for and all we care about.”

Sparano introduced a few changes already.

He altered the practice schedule to have players come in later for a more intense Wednesday practice before tapering off later in the week. He added periods to practice to work on fundamentals and increased the tempo at practice.

He moved a handful of players around in the locker room to create a new dynamic. And he promised a stronger commitment to the run game on a team that has passed on a league-high 68.4 percent of offensive plays.

That all came from four days of self-scouting to see what worked well, what didn’t work and determine what changes needed to be made when the team returned.

”That’s really important right now as we go forward, because the things that we’re not doing well we’re just not going to continue to do,” he said. ”There’s no sense in putting a square peg in a round hole right now. We won’t do those things and we’ll get on to some of the things we do well.”

Sparano even got a little assistance from a coach with a Super Bowl pedigree. General manager Reggie McKenzie invited former Green Bay and Seattle coach Mike Holmgren in to watch film and share ideas.

Holmgren had previously talked to owner Mark Davis about a possible role in the organization and Sparano said he welcomed the opportunity.

”It’s all part of this self-analysis, looking at all of us,” he said. ”Reggie wanted to bounce some things off of him himself and I enjoyed getting a chance visiting with him, and some of my coaches visited with him a little bit and he got a chance to watch some tape. It’s just good to get a different set of eyes, another perspective, somebody that’s been there before that’s been part of these type of things.”

NOTES: QB Derek Carr practiced after leaving the last game with left ankle and knee injuries and looks like he will be able to play Sunday vs San Diego. … The Raiders claimed WR Kenbrell Thompkins off waivers from New England. Thompkins had six catches for 53 yards this season. … LB Nick Roach (concussion), LB Kaluka Maiava (hamstring), RB Marcel Reece (undisclosed) and OL Khalif Barnes (knee) did not practice. LB Sio Moore (ankle) worked out on the side.

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