NAPA — The start of training camp is a time for optimism all around the NFL — even for a team that has gone 11 straight seasons without a winning season.
That was no different for the Oakland Raiders, who held their first training camp practice on Friday with the goal of ending the longest run of futility in franchise history.
To change that recent past that includes back-to-back four-win seasons under general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen, the Raiders spent much of their offseason adding veteran players with a winning pedigree.
While adding players in their 30s is not the usual path for a rebuilding team, the Raiders believe it can be a winning formula in Oakland where teaching players how to win was almost as needed as adding talent.
“We’ve got a lot of talent on this team,” defensive end Justin Tuck said. “We’ve got to put it together, obviously, and we’ve got to exorcise some demons that have been here, some thought processes of some guys that are used to having 4-12 seasons. The mindset has to change. We hear it. I hear all the things that people say and I’m in the business of proving people wrong.”
Tuck was one of the several newcomers who arrive with Super Bowl experience, joining defensive linemen LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith, cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown and receiver James Jones.
Along with adding Donald Penn, Austin Howard and Kevin Boothe to the offensive line and running back Maurice Jones-Drew to the backfield, the Raiders have more talent than they have had in the first two years of this regime.
“I feel as good as I’ve felt coming into a season,” Allen said. “I think we’ve got more depth on our football team than we’ve had at any point up to this point.”
But perhaps the most crucial newcomer will be quarterback Matt Schaub, who is getting a fresh start in Oakland after losing his job during a rough 2013 in Houston.
Schaub set an NFL record by having an interception returned for a touchdown in four straight games, lost the starting job to Case Keenum and was harassed by frustrated fans who went as far as burning his jersey.
“I think he’s very hungry,” Allen said. “I think he’s excited about the new opportunity.”
Schaub was anointed the starter when Oakland acquired him in a trade from Houston in March. Oakland then drafted Derek Carr in the second round but still plan to have Schaub as starter.
He welcomes the chance at a fresh start after seven seasons with the Texans and likes the upgrades the Raiders have made this offseason.
“It’s exciting to be a part of that,” he said. “It’s definitely an exciting time as a veteran to make this transition over here to this team to help get back to that Raider way. It’s exciting to see what they’ve done.”
WR Greg Little made a few highlight-reel catches along the sideline but also dropped one easy ball as he tries to shake the inconsistency label that dogged him when he was in Cleveland.
All 82 players on the active roster were able to practice. Oakland has five players on the PUP list, two on the non-football injury list and one open roster spot.