NAPA — After four weeks of training camp in wine country, the Oakland Raiders have packed up and headed home with hopes that their work here will translate to the playing field when the season starts Sept. 8.
The Raiders held their final practice in Napa on Wednesday before moving back to their full-time headquarters in Alameda. They play their third exhibition game on Friday night against the Chicago Bears.
Coach Dennis Allen said he thought it was a successful camp that allowed him to evaluate the players he wants to keep for the regular season.
The Raiders endured a few injuries in the past month, with the most significant being a torn left triceps that is expected to sideline left tackle Jared Veldheer for at least half the season.
But despite that blow, the Raiders are leaving Napa with confidence.
"We're a different team now than we were at the start of camp on Day 1," quarterback Matt Flynn said. "We've made a lot of improvements, gotten used to each other, we've developed a lot of chemistry and I learned that there's a big passion for the game from everyone, from the top to the bottom. I like this team, and I like the work ethic and I have big expectations for us."
The Raiders got a little boost when second-round offensive tackle Menelik Watson went through his first complete practice in training camp. Watson had missed virtually all of camp because of a calf injury and is needed now more than ever with Veldheer out.
Watson first injured the calf in July and opened camp on the non-football injury list. He was cleared to practice on Aug. 7, but lasted less than 30 minutes before re-injuring the calf. That sidelined him for two more weeks, cutting short valuable learning time for Watson.
"It's been a long process," Watson said. "It took longer than I thought but it was good to get out there and get a couple of reps. It's been good though. I've been able to get into the playbook, get my head around that. Confident in all that stuff now. Just have to put a couple of days together and keep building on that."
Watson said it will take a few days to get back up to speed and he is expected to get significant playing time in the exhibition finale against Seattle on Aug. 29.
The Raiders drafted Watson in the second round in April knowing he was a bit raw having played just two years of football. A former basketball player from England, Watson played one year in junior college and one year at Florida State before being drafted.
He was supposed to challenge Khalif Barnes for the starting right tackle job but now might be needed on the more important left side with Veldheer injured.
Alex Barron, who has not played in the NFL the past two years, has replaced Veldheer but the Raiders are still figuring out who the starting five will be when the season starts.
"Every day we get a little closer to being able to sort it out," Allen said. "It's like having a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle and you're trying to fit those pieces together, and the longer you work at it, the longer you look at it, the easier it is to put those pieces into place. I think we're getting closer to figuring that out and I think the offensive line has responded positively."