By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Optimistic Raiders prep for 2015 campaign
Cornerback Neiko Thorpe, left, was defending the ball against safety Larry Asante during practice where the energy and spirits ran high. - photo by Virginia Still/The Leader

Since competing in Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003, the Oakland Raiders have yet to reach the postseason. Last year the team started 0-10, but regrouped and finished the year strong, winning three of their final six games. The offseason has seen many changes, including the arrival of new head coach Jack Del Rio.

“We want to create a sense of urgency; we want to build up our confidence. Everyone is capable of winning. We have a physical camp and want to carry that into the preseason and eventually into the regular season,” Del Rio said during the team’s first day of training camp in Napa on July 31.

Del Rio is a Bay Area native, born in Hayward, and is a former National Football League player and brings an impressive résumé to Oakland. Del Rio coached the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2003-2011 where he finished with a record of 68-71 and made two playoff appearances with the team.

“This team has the opportunity to come together, and it’s a group of young men who have their eye on doing something special. It’s a challenge, you know. We all start at the bottom of the mountain; we all have this opportunity to come together. That’s what we are working on here today,” added coach Del Rio.

Like every NFL team, the Raiders went through roster changes in hopes of finding that potential winning formula. Veterans like Michael Crabtree, Trent Richardson, Roy Helu Jr. and Kris Durham were brought on board to help on the offensive side of the ball, while Nate Allen and James Dockery signed with Oakland this offseason to help on defense.

The optimism around the first day of training camp could not be contained by second year starting quarterback Derek Carr.

Carr started all 16 games for the silver and black in 2014, finishing with 21 touchdowns; 12 interceptions and a respectable 76.6 passer rating during his rookie campaign.

“It’s a totally different situation (from last year to this year); I can be myself, where as last year it was Matt Schaub’s team. As a rookie you go through that awkward phase but now, especially after having sixteen starts under my belt, I can read blitzes better, find the open receiver faster. I know what to expect this season,” Carr stated.

He was also excited to get straight down to business with his new offensive weapons in wide receivers Crabtree and first round draft pick, Amari Cooper.

“This is the ultimate team game. No one person can win on their own. The more great players we can have on this team, I am all for it, and those two guys are two great players. I am excited to work with them,” Carr added. “To see how their presence alone affected some of the other guys who have been on the team for a few years has shown as well, makes them more competitive. Coach Rob Moore (wide receivers coach) has done a great job with those guys. We have a really experienced group.”

Carr and his new teammates are hoping that translates into churning up more yardage on the field. Oakland finished last in yards per game last season with an average of 282.2 yards.

Perhaps the loudest buzz came from the defensive side of the ball. The Raiders are under a new regime on defense, as first year Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr. takes over the role. Assisting Norton Jr. will be NFL Hall of Famer Rod Woodson, as the team’s Assistant Defensive Backs coach. Oakland finished twelfth overall in defense rankings in 2014, and hope to climb into the top ten in 2015. Returning veterans and fan favorites include defensive lineman Justin Tuck, linebackers Khalil Mack, Malcolm Smith, and a talented secondary featuring Charles Woodson, DJ Hayden and Neiko Thorpe.

“The biggest thing for us is to be a fast, aggressive defense. Play with a lot of grit and energy, especially playing at home in front of the Black Hole in Oakland. We feed off those guys and we have to show them we know that,” expressed Tuck about the team’s defensive goal for the upcoming season.

Tuck was a two-time Super Bowl champion during his tenure with the New York Giants, and is entering his eleventh season in the league, his second with Oakland.

The Raiders open the season on Sept. 13 at home against the Cincinnati Bengals.

During the season the Oakland will be featured in a Christmas Eve game on the NFL Network, taking on San Diego.