Raiders ready for 1st camp since Al Davis' death
The uniforms are the same familiar silver and black the Oakland Raiders have worn for decades. The roster contains the fastest collection of players in the NFL. And the offense features a quarterback who wants to throw the ball deep.
Those are just some of the many familiar standards that still exist as the Raiders head to their first training camp since death of owner and architect Al Davis.
But make no mistake, there's a different vibe around the Raiders as they begin preparations for their first season in a half-century without Davis at the helm.
''The newness has started to dwindle, but every day is something because things have been done a certain way for so long. It's just the way it is,'' general manager Reggie McKenzie said. ''Changes are going to continue to be made through this time next year because you can't build Rome overnight.''
But McKenzie has made progress on a complete overhaul since being hired by Davis' son, Mark, in January to run the football side of the organization that had been under Al Davis' purview ever since he arrived as coach in Oakland in 1963.
McKenzie hired Dennis Allen as the team's first defensive-minded coach since John Madden roamed the sidelines during the 1970s, overhauled the scouting and personnel departments, made significant roster changes by jettisoning some big-money players and modernized the out-of-date infrastructure.
''It's definitely different. You don't see the same faces around here anymore,'' said defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, entering his ninth season with the Raiders. ''Al D was almost hands on with everything. He was very involved with every decision and now it's a chain of command.''
McKenzie is in charge of the front office and Allen has quickly seized the reins on the field. The longtime assistant has adjusted well to his first head coaching job at age 39.
He has earned the respect during the offseason of veterans like Richard Seymour, who praised Allen's teaching skills, and young players as well.
The former Denver defensive coordinator has also installed a new defense in Oakland after years of running Davis' preferred style of man-to-man coverage on the outside and little blitzing up front.
Safety Michael Huff said he's happy to be playing a ''real defense'' in his seventh season with the Raiders.
''Nothing personal but, obviously, before with Al, rest in peace, he had his hands in all the defense.'' Huff said. ''He had all his little things he liked to do. Now with D.A. out there, we got all kinds of blitzes, we got 3-4, 4-3 fronts, just a lot of different variety and a lot of different things going on. So, I'm going to love it.''
The defensive schemes are far from the only changes. Barely one-third of the roster headed to camp played a single game with the Raiders before Davis' death last Oct. 8. The newcomers are at crucial spots, most notably at quarterback where Carson Palmer prepares for his first full season in Oakland.
Acquired last October from Cincinnati in a bold deal by former coach Hue Jackson for a 2012 first-round pick and 2013 second-rounder, Palmer showed signs of being the elite quarterback he was a few years ago in Cincinnati but was far too inconsistent with 16 interceptions in 10 games.
But with a full offseason to learn a new offense that will feature plenty of bootlegs and rollouts and to build a rapport with a speedy, young receiving corps, Palmer feels rejuvenated after being ready to retire a year ago rather than play with the Bengals.
''It's a completely new offense,'' he said. ''There's really no similarities to anything I've done before, but I love all the boots and play-actions and all the nakeds and keepers. I'm excited to do that and really those are the things that are going to help the run game. The more the running game moves the chains and the better the run game is, the better everyone else is on the entire team.''
After decades of dominance under Davis, the Raiders have not been very good of late. They have not made the playoffs or had a winning record for nine straight seasons, going 8-8 the past two years.
But the Raiders still set a standard of excellence earlier during Davis' run that the new regime hopes to match.
''I think what he did here with the Raiders organization and how he built the organization, the loyalty that he's created within the organization, makes this one of the best organizations in sports to get an opportunity to work for.'' Allen said. ''I'm excited about trying to meet the standards that are here in the Bay Area for the Raiders. We won't do everything exactly the way it's done before. We'll put our own stamp on it, but I'm excited about working for the Raiders.''