NAPA — Going up? The Raiders seem to think they are, even though expectations from the outside world have never been lower as players report for training camp today at the Napa Valley Marriott.
After a 4-12 season and with salary-cap restraints weighing on them, general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen changed the offensive scheme and overhauled the defensive personnel.
They hope the Raiders will be leaner, meaner and more serious about what it takes to win when they hit the field for their first practice Friday at Redwood Middle School.
Allen hasn't spent a lot of time talking about the team's public perception, but he did address the critics when the club finished its mandatory minicamp in June.
"I know there's a lot of experts out there that might think differently, but I like this football team," he said.
Profootballtalk.com ranked the Raiders as the No. 32 team in the NFL. ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski rated presumptive starter Matt Flynn as the No. 32 quarterback in the NFL.
Although the Raiders haven't had a winning season since 2002 — a run of 10 non-winning seasons — the fan base might have been deluded into thinking victory was near in the two previous offseasons based on 8-8 records under Tom Cable and then Hue Jackson.
But instead of being playoffs contenders, the Raiders might not even have been as good as their 4-12 record in 2012, given that three wins came against Kansas City (twice) and Jacksonville, teams that finished 2-14.
Rebuilding the organization after owner Al Davis' death in October 2011 has turned out to be more difficult than McKenzie and Allen expected.
"It was Year 1 for all of us — for Coach Allen, for myself, for our owner, Mark Davis," McKenzie told the Raiders' flagship station, 95.7 The Game. "(Allen) went through some growing pains, as well as I. This year he's much more comfortable. The way he wants his team to look, his staff, his philosophies, is much smoother."