The road to success in the NFL begins each year with the hard work and wide-open possibilities of training camp. As teams around the league gear up for the 2015 campaign, NFL Media reporters will be checking in from all 32 camps around the league. For our next stop, Ian Rapoport visits the Oakland Raiders.
Where is NFL Media?
The Oakland Raiders spend their training camp amid vineyards and tourists in Napa Valley, tucked away on the practice fields adjacent to a Marriott. Their facility has room for barely 1,000 fans, but that didn't prevent it from being one of the loudest stops. Meanwhile, back in Oakland, the organization just re-did the practice fields and added an 18,000-square foot weight room.
1)The new coaching staff led by Jack Del Rio has amped up the volume a bit for the Raiders. Their practices now resemble the Jaguars' or Seahawks' practices when it comes to intensity and enthusiasm. And Oakland has the personnel to match the energy. Short on veterans with experience, the team has plenty of young, athletic, talented players who want to make noise. That will matter come September. As Charles Woodson explained, the Raiders no longer will have to "turn it up" on game days. The energy from practice will already be there.
2)After three consecutive years of full draft classes, the Raiders finally have the overall talent base to compete. Asked one team source for the biggest difference between this year and last year. The answer? "Talent." Sure, it takes time for those players to mature, but with the salary cap now in order, it's time to see the fruits of the laborious rebuild. General manager Reggie McKenzie can proudly point to building blocks on offense and defense -- with quarterback Derek Carr and linebacker Khalil Mack. Expect both Carr, a 2014 second-rounder the Raiders graded as a first-round talent, and Mack, the pass rusher they never believed would fall to them at No. 5 overall, to take the next step.
3)When the offensive staff led by coordinator Bill Musgrave took over, it didn't hand Carr a completely new playbook. Some of the terminology is new, some plays are new, but the coaches have attempted to blend in what worked last year with what they think will work this year. This staff has been wowed by how receptive the second-year passer is to learning himself -- and then teaching others. Though a minor finger injury stopped him from throwing most of the spring, his mental focus has impressed. What you likely will see from Carr is more willingness to throw downfield. The middle of his line was solidified in free agency with center Rodney Hudson, and the offense's big-play potential grew with the additions of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Carr won't have to check down as much.
Amari Cooper, WR: The rookie reminds those who scouted him of a young Randall Cobb, except bigger. If that's what Cooper becomes, the Raiders can claim victory. But he also might be better. What the organization wanted was an NFL-ready, polished pass catcher who loves football. He's been all that and more, and it looks like Cooper will follow in the footsteps of the 2014 rookie receivers when it comes to showing up and being able to play immediately.
Michael Crabtree, WR: It's training camp, and optimism can be the norm. But it's safe to say the Raiders believe Crabtree is going to be playing himself into a big contract when the year is over. He's flashing the hands that once led Jim Harbaugh to deem him the best catcher of the football ever. The Former 49ers receiver has answered questions about his speed, stemming from lower-leg injuries he's sustained in the past, and so far, so good.
"We've got a big, strong group of men in our offensive and defensive lines."
» Mack can get after the quarterback -- expect him to do more of that this year. As in, all the time. Not good for opposing passers.