There were no grand proclamations or postseason predictions, but there was a definite vibe to the Oakland Raiders' offseason unlike the previous two under general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen.
Old Raiders were brought back as invited guests, as if McKenzie and Allen were finally confident enough to show what they've built after back-to-back seasons of 4-12 records with a dearth of talent on the roster in part because of salary-cap restrictions.
The Raiders completed their offseason in good health, and appear to have more depth than at any time. Despite another defensive makeover, free safety Charles Woodson was delighted with the level of communication among veteran players and convinced the team would jell quickly.
Mostly, there was a chip-on-the-shoulder confidence instilled by a handful of free agents who are out to prove they have a few years of good football left after essentially being discarded by their previous employer.
Allen, asked if he could feel the difference in tone, responded in the affirmative and was sure the regular media contingent could see it as well.
"I don't think there's any question you can feel that," Allen said. "You guys have been around here too. I think you've seen these practices here for awhile. I think we had an outstanding offseason. From the day we started our offseason program to now, I think the team has improved tremendously, but we've still got to go out and do it when we get to training camp and the regular season."
Quarterback Matt Schaub, acquired for a late-round draft pick after a horrendous season with the Houston Texans, feels rejuvenated, challenged by a new system and eager to leave the past behind him.
"There's never enough time to get everything you want in but I feel we made efficient use of our time as a group on the field, in meeting rooms and getting to know the guys away from football," Schaub said. "We've developed the chemistry of a team. I feel very comfortable where we're at heading into the summer break."
Players report: July 25
First practice: July 26
Joint practices with Cowboys at Oxnard, Calif.: Aug. 11-12
--Donald Penn went to high school in the Los Angeles area and as a youth attended Raiders games with his father at the Memorial Coliseum.
"My dad and I used to go and tailgate with his friends," Penn said. "I always remember being in the parking lot, playing catch with my dad's friend's son. We'd go to games; sit in the nose-bleed seats.
"We rooted for the Raiders, my dad and his friend cooking in the parking lot, drinking beer before the game. It was something I looked forward to."
--Out with a broken fibula in Week 2 last season, strong safety Tyvon Branch was robbed of the opportunity to play alongside Charles Woodson, something he had been looking forward to throughout training camp.
"I only got two games," Branch said. "With Charles, it's easy. He knows what to look forward to. I don't have to line him up. He's one less guy I have to worry about. He'll give me a lot of tips and when he comes to the sideline he'll say, 'What do you think? What could we have done different?' He has a lot of wisdom."
Branch's absence meant Woodson stayed primarily as the deep safety rather than coming into the box to blitz and play as he did in Green Bay. His presence could free Woodson up to do more.
"We play similar," Branch said. "He's more of a ball hawk than I am and I'm more of a hitter, so we balance each other out, but we're versatile. We can play inside or outside, we can both play deep."
--Quarterback Derek Carr is earning rave reviews from teammates and offensive coordinator Greg Olson said he has come along faster than expected. Carr, however, is approaching his rookie season with tunnel vision and won't get caught up in talk of competing with Matt Schaub for the starting job.
"I'm the same guy every day," Carr said. "If I throw five touchdown passes or five picks, my confidence isn't going to be shot and it isn't going to be through the roof. I'm the same guy every day. Ask people that know me."
--Team strength: A refurbished front seven.
The Raiders let their best defensive lineman get away in free agency and needed 15 different players to record 38 sacks, but rebuilt their front seven to the point where it is the strongest part of their team.
--Breakout player: Linebacker Khalil Mack.
The No. 5 pick in the draft, Mack has turned heads with his explosive play as well as his work ethic. Anything less than double-digit sacks will be a surprise, with the feeling being he could be a first-year standout along the lines of Von Miller or Clay Matthews.
--Fantasy football reality check: Tight end Mychal Rivera.
Given quarterback Matt Schaub's fondness for throwing to tight ends and Rivera's ability to get open, the second-year player out of Tennessee could be a trusted red-zone receiver. Rivera won't be a classic tight end in that he'll be split wide, put in motion and put in positions to get open, catch passes and score.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Matt Schaub. Backups - Derek Carr, Matt McGloin, Trent Edwards.
Schaub, coming off the worst season of his NFL career, enters camp as the unquestioned starter. He will be given more freedom within the Raiders offense to change plays at the line of scrimmage than he ever had in Houston. The Raiders are gambling that a change of scenery will return Schaub to his previous form, where he was only one of a handful of quarterbacks in NFL history to record five consecutive seasons with a passer rating of 90.0 or better. If Schaub were to flop as Matt Flynn did the previous season, or become injured, then Carr, a second-round draft pick out of Fresno State, would assume command. Carr has impressed offensive coordinator Greg Olson with his grasp of the offense and he is further along than the Raiders anticipated. McGloin won the starting job from Terrelle Pryor midway through last season as an undrafted free agent and showed promise as an NFL quarterback. Edwards sticks only if Schaub, Carr or McGloin are injured.
McFadden has averaged 3.3 yards per carry over the last two seasons and desperately wants to prove he can be a reasonable facsimile to the back who averaged more than five yards per carry in 2011 and 2012. Jones-Drew is in the same boat, having been slowed by injury and ineffectiveness over the past two seasons. By reducing the work load of both, the Raiders hope they can squeeze 1,500 yards combined. If not, Murray, an intriguing second-year back who was on injured reserve last season, will get a long look. Sheets flourished in the CFL last year and hopes to carry that success to the big stage. Reece remains one of the NFL's most difficult matchups as a runner/receiver at fullback and blocks adequately. Atkinson's best hope to stick is by returning kickoffs and covering kicks. Stewart is a core special teams player and only a minor factor as a runner. Olawale, a favorite of general manager Reggie McKenzie, is secure as a special teams player and the only viable backup to Reece.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Mychal Rivera. Backups - David Ausberry, Nick Kasa, Brian Leonhardt, Jake Murphy, Scott Simonson.
By virtue of 38 receptions for 407 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie, Rivera will be given every opportunity to exceed those numbers with a quarterback in Schaub who loves to throw to the tight end. He is not a prototype in-line blocking tight end, and neither is Ausberry, who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury and split first-team work with Rivera in the offseason program. Kasa, a defensive end until his senior year at Colorado, has the kind of size to deal with defensive ends if not the experience. Leonhardt, Murphy and Simonson hope to catch the eyes of the coaching staff in camp and sneak onto the practice squad or even the 53-man roster if the Raiders don't avail themselves of a street free agent or the waiver wire.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- James Jones, Rod Streater. Backups - Andre Holmes, Denarius Moore, Juron Criner, Brice Butler, Mike Davis, Greg Little, Greg Jenkins, Seth Roberts, Rashaan Vaughn.
Jones had his two best seasons with the Packers since he began a rigorous offseason training regimen and will discover what life is like without Aaron Rodgers. His steady presence and professionalism will add to the Raiders if he can continue to produce. Streater, with 60 receptions for 888 yards in his second season, continues to improve to the point where the Raiders wonder where his ceiling actually is. Holmes caught 28 passes for 431 yards and was in the regular rotation for the second half of the season. He is the best jump-and-catch target on the roster. Moore caught 46 passes for 695 yards and five touchdowns, but always leaves the coaching staff wanting more, going invisible for long stretches and dropping the occasional pass. Criner, in his third year, needs to display some consistency to stick. Little signed after being cut by Cleveland, where he dropped too many passes. His start in Oakland was promising. Jenkins, a converted college quarterback, has special teams skill and is a developing talent at wide receiver. Butler played early in the season but was surpassed on the depth chart by others by midseason.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Donald Penn, LG Khalif Barnes, C Stefen Wisniewski, RG Austin Howard, RT Menelik Watson. Backups - G Gabe Jackson, C/G Kevin Boothe, T Matt McCants, T Dan Kistler, T Erle Ladson, G Tony Bergstrom, T Jack Cornell, G/T Jarrod Shaw, G Lamar Mady, G Lucas Nix.
Penn made it to the Pro Bowl as recently as 2011 but resembled a revolving door for the Bucs last season. The Raiders are counting on line coach Tony Sparano to get him closer to the 2011 level and protect the blind side. Ideally, Barnes is replaced by Jackson, a rookie third-round pick out of Mississippi State who can become a road grader alongside Wisniewski. That would free Barnes to be a utility player at every position on the line except center. Howard, a tackle with the Jets, will initially move inside to right guard, where the Raiders feel he is equipped to push defensive tackles backward. Whether he stays there depends on Watson, a second-year player whose rookie season was wiped out by injuries but has the skill set to start on either side. Boothe has two Super Bowl rings with the Giants and can back up at both guard spots as well as at center. McCants got some time last season and showed enough to be brought back. Bergstrom, a third-round draft pick two years ago, was drafted in a zone blocking system by a team that now utilizes more power-gap. Mady and Nix have both played by necessity and could get pushed out with more talent on hand.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DRE Justin Tuck, NT Pat Sims, DT Antonio Smith, DLE LaMarr Woodley. Backups -- E Shelby Harris, E Denico Autry, E Jack Crawford, E Ryan Robinson, T Justin Ellis, T Stacy McGee, T Ricky Lumpkin, T Torell Troup.
Other than Sims, brought back as a nose tackle, it was pretty much a complete overhaul starting with Tuck, out to prove he can achieve the kind of success in Oakland he had as a two-time champion in New York. Smith missed the offseason because of an unspecified weight-room injury, but brings life and a solid pedigree. Woodley, an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense with the Steelers, is reinventing himself as an end with his hand on the ground.
There is ample strength in the middle rotation with McGee, an impressive rookie last season, and Ellis, a 335-pound draftee who both figure to play. Harris is out to prove himself after being dismissed from his college team as a senior. The Raiders have never figured out how to best use Crawford, who has been an occasional tackle and end. Robinson was a surprise making the 53-man roster last season but seldom saw the field.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Khalil Mack, MLB Nick Roach, WLB Sio Moore. Backups -- OLB-MLB Miles Burris, OLB Kaluka Maiava, OLB Kevin Burnett, OLB Kaelin Burnett, OLB Justin Cole, LB Carlos Fields, LB Bojay Filomeautu, LB Marshall McFadden.
Mack will be the strong-side linebacker, but could wind up with his hand on the ground rushing the passer in nickel situations as well as being utilized as a blitzer. The Raiders believe him to be a game-changer -- something the defense hasn't had along the front seven for a decade. Roach is the steadying presence of the defense who showed himself capable of being a fulltime middle linebacker. Moore showed promise with 4.5 sacks as a rookie, but found himself pushed by Burris in the offseason.
Burris was the team's second-leading tackler as a rookie, but his second season was slowed by a long rehab following knee surgery. Maiava is a capable reserve at all three linebacker spots, while Kevin Burnett, a starter last season has a $2.8 million salary that could be a target because of Mack's presence. Kaelin Burnett, Kevin's brother, was a special-teams regular last season and could stick again on that basis.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- RCB Tarell Brown, LCB Carlos Rogers, SS Tyvon Branch, FS Charles Woodson. Backups -- CB DJ Hayden, CB Chimdi Chekwa, CB Keith McGill, CB TJ Carrie, CB Taiwan Jones, CB Chance Casey, CB Neiko Thorpe, CB Jansen Watson, S Jonathan Dowling, S Brandian Ross, S Shelton Johnson.
The Raiders brought in Brown and Rogers from the 49ers, the third time in three years they've brought in potential veteran starters in free agency. Both are highly intelligent and came off productive seasons, more so than last year's starters Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins. Strong safety Tyvon Branch was lost in the second game because of a broken leg, which robbed him of the opportunity to play with Woodson, but also left Woodson to play as single deep safety because the team didn't trust Ross, who struggled as a starter. Hayden is in a "prove it" phase because injuries have robbed him of time to develop after being the No. 12 overall pick in the 2013 draft.
Chekwa has improved steadily, but rookie draft picks McGill and Carrie will be given every opportunity to surpass him on the depth chart and possibly play a role in some packages. Dowling opened some eyes in the team's mandatory minicamp as a seventh-round draft pick who has good ball skills as a deep safety.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Sebastian Janikowski, P Marquette King, LS Jon Condo.
Janikowski had the poorest season of his career in 2013, missing 10 field-goal attempts, many of them from distances from inside 40 yards -- something that didn't happen at all in 2012. It was a difficult adjustment without longtime holder Shane Lechler, and the Raiders will experiment with backup quarterbacks Derek Carr and Matt McGloin as holders in place of King. King is still learning the touch game as a punter, but had a 48.9 gross average with strength that rivaled his illustrious predecessor. Condo remains one of the best snappers in the business and can cover on punts as well. Cornerback Taiwan Jones is one of the best gunners in the business, but the return game is wide open with rookies TJ Carrie (punts) and undrafted free agent George Atkinson (kickoffs) sure to get long looks.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--C/G Andre Gurode (not tendered as UFA).
--DE Jason Hunter (not tendered as UFA).
--DT Daniel Muir (not tendered as UFA).
--T Tony Pashos (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--CB Chimdi Chekwa has grown on the coaching staff after being originally cut and brought back to practice squad, then to 53-man roster.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--LB Khalil Mack (1/5): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--QB Derek Carr (2/36): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--G Gabe Jackson (3/81): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--DT Justin Ellis (4/107): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB Keith McGill (4/116): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB T.J. Carrie (7/219): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--DE Shelby Harris (7/235): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--S Jonathan Dowling (7/247): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--G/T Khalif Barnes: Potential UFA; $1.2M/1 yrs, $100,000 SB.
--LB Kaelin Burnett: ERFA; terms unknown.
--CB Taiwan Jones: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
--T Matt McCants: ERFA; terms unknown.
--RB Darren McFadden: UFA; $1.75M/1 yr.
--FB Jamize Olawale: ERFA; terms unknown.
--S Brandian Ross: ERFA; terms unknown.
--DT Pat Sims: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--RB Jeremy Stewart: ERFA; terms unknown.
--S Usama Young: UFA; terms unknown.
--S Charles Woodson: UFA; $2.15M/1 yr, $1.15M guaranteed.
--OL Kevin Boothe: UFA Giants; $2.625M/2 yrs, $300,000 RB.
--CB Tarell Brown: UFA 49ers; $3.5M guaranteed/1 yr.
--LB Justin Cole: FA; $645,000/1 yr.
--QB Trent Edwards: FA; $730,000/1 yr.
--T Austin Howard: UFA Jets; $30M/5 yrs, $15M guaranteed.
--WR James Jones: UFA Packers; $10M/3 yrs, $3.65M guaranteed.
--RB Maurice Jones-Drew: UFA Jaguars; $7.5M/3 yrs, $1.2M guaranteed RB.
--WR Greg Little (waivers Browns).
--T Donald Penn: FA Buccaneers; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB Carlos Rogers: FA Redskins; terms unknown.
--QB Matt Schaub (trade Texans).
--DT Antonio Smith: UFA Texans; $9M/2 yrs.
--DT Torell Troup: FA; $570,000/1 yr.
--DE Justin Tuck: UFA Giants; $11M/2 yrs.
--DE C.J. Wilson: UFA Packers; $795,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
--LB LaMarr Woodley: FA Steelers; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB Phillip Adams: UFA Seahawks; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--G Mike Brisiel (released).
--WR Jacoby Ford: UFA Jets; $740,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
--DE Lamarr Houston: UFA Bears; $35M.5 yrs, $4.95M SB/$15M guaranteed.
--CB Mike Jenkins: UFA Buccaneers; $1.5M/1 yr.
--RB Rashad Jennings: UFA Giants; $10M/4 yrs, $2.25M/SB/$2.98M guaranteed.
--TE Jeron Mastrud: Not tendered as UFA/Bears; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--CB Tracy Porter: UFA Redskins; terms unknown.
--QB Terrelle Pryor (traded Seahawks).
--T Jared Veldheer: UFA Cardinals; $35M/5 yrs, $6.25M SB/$17M guaranteed.
--DT Vance Walker: UFA Chiefs; $10.02M/3 yrs, $3M SB.
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