NAPA (CBS / AP) — From the fast-paced practice that ran more than 2 ½ hours to an emphasis on being on time to meetings to mandatory check-ins for meals, it’s clear there’s a new regime in charge of the Oakland Raiders at the start of training camp.
After years of being plagued by a lack of discipline on and off the field, general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen are putting their own stamp on the franchise that was run one way by late owner Al Davis for nearly a half-century.
Allen said he wanted the Raiders to be a “tough, smart, disciplined football team” and that process began with the team’s first training camp practice on Monday. Allen is already preaching about body language and punctuality in his effort to turn the Raiders’ fortunes around.
“They’re real strict on discipline now as far as showing up to meetings, they’re even making us check in for lunches and dinners now,” safety Tyvon Branch said. “They’re trying to change the discipline factor.”
It was definitely needed after a season when the Raiders set NFL records with 163 penalties for 1,358 yards and too often missed defensive assignments because of a lack of focus.
That played a big role in the team missing the playoffs for a ninth straight season as the team blew late leads to Buffalo and Detroit that ended up costing the Raiders a shot at the AFC West title.
“To win in the National Football League you’ve got to learn how to not beat yourselves,” Allen said. “That’s one of the things that causes you to lose football games. It’s my job to get them to understand that, and then at the end of the day it’s the players’ jobs to make sure they get it corrected.”
That process was evident throughout the offseason program and again at the start of training camp. Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly jumped offside on one play and immediately got a talking to from Allen.
Kelly, who committed eight penalties last season, said it’s not easy to break old habits but believes the constant chirping by Allen to remind him to watch the ball instead of listening to the quarterback’s cadence will help him succeed.
“It’s definitely different how things are run,” Kelly said. “With the old man, he had been in place for so long he had stuff just how he wanted. With the new GM and Coach Allen they’re going in a different direction. Just get in line and do what they ask you to do.”
The first practice ran longer than almost all training camp sessions went last season and Kelly said the first-team players got more plays than he can ever remember on a first day. A few looked winded at times as they try to get back into football condition.
The players welcome the change, saying they are willing to do anything they need to win more games. They have even started to do a better job of policing themselves, cracking down on teammates who show signs of a lack of focus.
But star running back Darren McFadden said tough coaching and peer pressure will only go so far when it comes to changing the culture of the Raiders.
“It’s got to come from within yourself,” he said. “You can’t have anybody go out there and change, you have to change yourself. Just guys being more mentally prepared and going out there and knowing what to do. I feel like if you know what to do and knowing your job you’re not going to be as hesitant, as tempted to jump offsides or something.”
Richard Seymour, who spent his first eight years with Bill Belichick’s no-nonsense New England Patriots, said it shouldn’t take much of an adjustment to learn how to follow the rules.
But he said it’s too early to tell if the new lessons are connecting with players and if the changes will translate to a better performance on the field.
“We’re definitely headed in the right direction,” Seymour said. “I’m optimistic about the team of guys we have in here, the new regime in terms of management and coaching staff. When everyone is on the same page, you can get a lot accomplished. But we’re here at training camp just laying the foundation for what we want to be. There is still a lot of work to be done.”
NOTES: LB Aaron Curry opened camp on the physically unable to perform list because of a knee injury. … The only other players not to practice on day one were P Shane Lechler (knee), CB Ron Bartell (hamstring) and DL Travis Ivey (conditioning). … C Stefen Wisniewski, who missed all the offseason workouts while recovering from shoulder surgery, was back anchoring the first-team offensive line. … WR Jacoby Ford went down clutching his left knee after trying to make a cut up field. He was attended by trainers for a bit before resuming practice. “I am fine. I was scared more than anything,” Ford said. … Practice ended when QB Terrelle Pryor was intercepted by rookie DL Christo Bilukidi on a screen pass. “I just backed up and then just had to make a play,” Bilukidi said.
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