Miles Traveled to Date: 11,340
Upon arrival at the Napa Mariott, I was shown the transformed hotel room that would serve as the media workspace, and the temporary PR headquarters located one door down. Credentials gained, I found Neil and we spent some time chatting with the local beat guys and having a look around the grounds.
Napa always being a pleasant setting, we found the expected bright sun and manicured fields, but were struck by the general sense of renewal in the air. Dennis Allen, the Raiders’ young head coach, has captured minds and the excitement attached to that was easy to see.
Matt Shaughnessy said it best: “It’s fun out here.”
1) New Again
The thread running through Raiders camp in Napa wasn’t subtle: there’s a palpable sense of newness. It’s odd that change has brought that on, given the almost constant turnover that has marked the team for much of the past decade. This change, though, was fundamental, affecting the entire structure of the organization. There is now separation of the football and business operations and clearly drawn lines to delineate the territory that the coaches are solely responsible for.
Translating to the field, the players appear energized by the change and are turning in tuned-up work. When new defensive coordinator Jason Tarver was rapidly barking calls and moving the dummy offense during an alignment-check walkthrough in today’s initial defensive session, there wasn’t an off-target response from any defender. The entire unit shifted as needed, communicated across the formation, and quickly recognized tweaks meant to trip them up. The energy, particularly on defense, was apparent most of the day.
2) Up to Speed
Quarterback Carson Palmer talked today about the “blur” that was his 2011 season in Oakland–from the unexpected call about the trade, to not being in “football shape” and then diving immediately into weekly gameplans, to working from a playbook he didn’t know. This offseason has meant correcting all of that. That includes conditioning with an eye toward a new playbook that will call for him to move more, getting his mind up to speed–not just his legs– and building to a comfort level with the players around him.
Seeing Palmer operate today, was witnessing a QB in control. Calm and sure, his passes found their targets and his feet stayed under him. He did move, rolled each way, adjusted to the rush if it pressed him, and on one standout effort placed a perfect ball (twisting to throw as he sprinted left) to Marcel Reece who had worked his wheel route up the near sideline. There were no “wow” velocity throws and there were no “wow” awful attempts, but there was a steady stream of solid quarterback play on this second day of camp.
3) A Kid No More
I spoke with Jared Veldheer about his odd entry into the league in 2010–a small-school kid making the jump, platooning at left tackle with spot duty at center–and how he handled it all. He chuckled and, with a smile, gave the standard “I just wanted to do whatever they wanted me to do” answer. When asked about the time at center specifically, he said Al saw something in him and wanted to try it despite him not playing the position since high school. He referred to it as “the experiment that didn’t work out”.
I also presented him with an interesting bit from the PFF database: on the total pressures he allowed in 2011, 46% came to his inside (rather than around the edge or as a straight-on bull rush), a number far above the league average of 32%. I don’t think he had heard the number before, but he took it in stride, nodded and acknowledged the danger of the inside rush–it being the shorter path to the QB–but had no one reason off-hand as to what led to that being the case. They go live tomorrow and maybe that will stick in the back of his head.
● In the defensive walkthrough period, when bringing in nickel personnel, safety Matt Giordano entered in place of rookie linebacker Miles Burris (who had been manning the weak side linebacker spot while Aaron Curry sat with a knee injury). Giordano slotted in opposite Tyvon Branch while Michael Huff slid to cover the slot. No idea if that changes when CB Ron Bartell returns (DeMarcus Van Dyke and Shawntae Spencer were the left and right corners in this drill, respectively).
● A passing period that pitted linebackers and safeties against running backs and tight ends highlighted some coverage trouble for the under men. Outside of a play each by Philip Wheeler, Travis Goethel, and Rolando McClain, the linebackers were taken to task on nearly every cross and out that they saw.
● A quick observation from the running back group: Mike Goodson runs with a much lower, more “coiled” style than fellow hopeful No. 2 Taiwan Jones. Jones’ relatively upright form works well in space, but closer to the center of the field, he presents a tasty target to traffic defenders.
● Talking to Shaughnessy about his penchant for superb run defense on the edge (he was a Top 5 4-3 DE in our Run D grades in his last full season), he said it’s something he takes pride in “All the getting upfield stuff is fun, but it’s about stopping the run first. A mindset.” When asked how he expected it to feel to return to pads tomorrow (he hasn’t seen contact since his Week 3 injury last season), a broad smile hit his face and his gaze raised over my head and out to the field behind me. He’s ready after a long wait.
● Checking in on the tight ends, there was a short period of plays run from double-tight alignments. All of them featured one of the two widened to a stand-up slot position, either to the same side or opposite one another. The two combos were: 1) Brandon Myers as the slot guy with Richard Gordon tight to the line, and 2) David Ausberry in the slot with Tory Humphrey in-line.
● Sebastian Janikowski’s first field goal attempt in the final moments of practice split the uprights (actually sailed far above the uprights) and hammered the top of the scissor lift holding the camp video guy high above the field. The ball ricocheted from there over the fence between the practice field and the neighboring elementary school playground. He wasn’t kicking from far out, but it was a fun display anyway.
August 1 – Dolphins (Davie)
Buccaneers (Tampa Bay)
Falcons (Flowery Branch)
If you’ve got questions for Neil to take along to any of his upcoming camp visits, follow him on Twitter (@PFF_Neil) and let him know.