The 2014 NFL Draft is behind us and it seems like the free agency frenzy started years ago. We have entered that no man’s land in the offseason where it seems as though there is nothing to look forward to before the Oakland Raiders officially take the field. For many fans, Organized Team Activities, which started for the Raiders this week, are not enough to whet the hearty appetite for Raiders Football. OTAs may be overlooked by some, but there are definitely positive things to take away from all these practices.
There will always be fans who look at OTAs and all these interviews and dismiss them saying that it’s not a good look for players to speak out with the harsh truth. That a player wouldn’t do a negative interview, but rather would say things to galvanize the fan base and get them excited for the upcoming season.
So what have players and head coach Dennis Allen had to say about OTAs so far? On the first day, Allen already talked about how it’s been “great to have the participation that we have, especially since it’s on a voluntary basis. I think it shows that our team is committed to trying to get better, and committed to trying to do the things that it takes to win.” Allen also talked about how DJ Hayden, the Raiders’ first round draft pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, is “light years ahead” of where he was last season and that not only applied to where he is physically, but also mentally.
When asked about Matt Schaub, Allen talked about how Schaub is constantly showing leadership on the team by being verbal and that “he is coaching up some of the younger guys and trying to get everybody on the same page.” Derek Carr had also talked about how Schaub had reached out to him. Schaub talked about how that is something that meant a great deal to him to do and that it’s “something that I’ve always like to do for rookies, whether they’re quarterbacks or on the offense or top picks, just to extend a hand. As the quarterback, leader in the huddle, you’re also the leader of the team and you want to reach out to those guys and let them know that you’re there for them. You’ve been in their shoes before at one point and there can be a lot to take in. I just wanted to call him and just welcome him.”
Lamarr Woodley was one of the free agents that the Raiders signed this offseason and that move has been criticized by some who think that Woodley doesn’t have anything left in the tank as a competitor. Woodley talked this week about how he views himself to be a leader on the team being that he is one of the veterans coming to the team with post season experience. He talked about how he’d still have to gauge the locker room saying, “You still have to do that even though you’ve put in work and people respect you for what you did, you still have to come here and prove yourself, at least that’s how I feel. Because the last few years for me haven’t been good. So I have to come here and I feel like I have to rebuild myself as well.”
Woodley clarifies that statement and says injuries had plagued him and that’s why his last few years weren’t that great, but he looks to the future with such optimism that it’s hard not to get swept up in it. Especially when he talks about Khalil Mack and his first impressions of the Raiders’ first round draft pick. After the first day of OTAs, Woodley said, “Just watching him today, he did a good job of pass rushing a few times. I feel like he’s a guy when he has the opportunity to get after the quarterback, it looks like he’s going to get after the quarterback. But not to downplay him or anybody on the defense, but you really can’t tell what anybody does until you get the pads on and we get out there in August.”
Raider Nation is getting more and more antsy by the minute waiting for the season to begin, licking their chops to hear that first “Touchdown Raiders”. OTAs might not be enough to quench that Raiders football thirst, but players are very accessible to the media and fans get that rare, casual peek into what their favorite players.
This has got to be one of my favorite things about the beginning of OTAs. It’s such a fun, somewhat relaxed time before the super serious work begins where fans get to see the camaraderie between players getting built. It’s also really cool to see the dedication that players have for the organization when nearly 100% of their team is in attendance despite the fact that it’s voluntary.