Raiders' training camp is located in Napa Valley in the center of wine country. The Napa Valley Marriott houses the Raiders during camp, and the practice fields are on the backside of the hotel adjacent to a middle school. The weather is absolutely beautiful with temperatures in rising into the 80's without a cloud in sight. The camp is closed to the public, but the camp is full of players' loved ones as the team host Family Day during the evening session.
Young quarterbacks often underestimate the importance of keeping the offense in manageable situations, so Russell's increased reliance on his underneath receivers shows that he is beginning to mature into better decision maker in the pocket. Though offensive coordinator
In addition, Russell has grown into the role of being a team leader. After missing most of training camp last season, Russell spent the offseason earning the respect of his teammates by diligently working in the weight room and film room. "I've been trying to show my teammates that I'm committed," said Russell. "We worked together all offseason, and I think that by being around every day I've been able to earn the respect of my guys."
The unit is also experimenting with more blitzes and pressures to take advantage of athleticism of linebackers
Despite the good vibes emanating from the defense, the unit still has major question marks along the interior line.
"We have great players," said defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. "We just need to get them on the same page, so that they play great."
After wrestling with the decision for a couple of days, Walker decided to stick with football, and practiced twice during double days for the first time on Saturday. Though he has yet to show the explosiveness that made him a Pro Bowler in 2004, Kiffin was encouraged that Walker took additional reps during the sessions and is hopeful that he will eventually work through the funk that he has been in since camp opened. "He wanted to come out and get some work in," said Kiffin. "He was not working as hard as he had been, so it was good to see him come out and work on his skills."
After watching Walker in two practices, there is no way that he is ready to handle the physical or mental stress of being the Raiders' "go-to-guy". He may regain his confidence and explosiveness during the preseason, but I wouldn't have high hopes of seeing Walker as a major contributor this season.
The Raiders knew that they were getting an upgrade at safety when they inked Gibril Wilson to a six-year, $39 million contract during the offseason, but they didn't know that they were acquiring a player with exceptional leadership qualities. "I really like that attitude that he brings to the huddle," said Kiffin. "He is kind of becoming the vocal leader of our defense."
Wilson gives the team a sure tackler in the secondary, and his versatility allows defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to play man coverage against the premier tight ends (
The key to the Raiders' success will be getting off to a quick start, but the schedule is littered with three divisional games during the first month. After the bye in Week 5, the team has a favorable middle season stretch that includes winnable games against the Falcons and the Dolphins. It will be critical for them to gain ground during that part of their schedule, as it gets tough for the team down the stretch with games against the Chargers, Patriots, Texans and Bucs to close the season.
Watching Lane Kiffin talk to his entire team prior to a "move-the-ball" drill during the second session of practice. The team had been a little sloppy during the early portion of the practice, and Kiffin immediately assembled his guys to encourage them to pick up the tempo of the drill. Though the discussion didn't last longer than two minutes, it was apparent by the way the team responded with more energy and better focus, that Kiffin still has the ear of his troops. Given all of the speculation that surrounded the young coach during the offseason, it was impressive to see his team respond positively to his leadership, and is a telling sign that things may be on the rise in Oakland.
• The Raiders have two stars in the making in linebackers Thomas Howard and Kirk Morrison. The duo came into their own last season, but the team's dismal record caused their play to go largely unnoticed by outsiders. Howard, who racked up 95 tackles to go with his team-leading six interceptions, displays outstanding speed and athleticism while flying to the ball. Morrison, who led the team in tackles for the third consecutive season, is more of a "banger" between the tackles, and he quietly racks up production with little fanfare. If the Raiders' defense experiences the resurgence that many predict, expect these two to play prominent roles in the turnaround.
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• Unheralded receiver