NAPA -- The field is still 100 yards long and 53 13 yards wide. The end zones are still 10 yards deep and, of course, the colors remain Silver and Black.So yes, the more some things change, the more they stay the same when it comes to the Raiders. But make no mistake, there is a decidedly different feel in these parts.After all, the Raiders enter the first practice of training camp Monday without Al Davis for the first time since the Kennedy Administration and, as Associated Press pointed out, only one-third of the 89 players on the camp roster have played a single game with the Raiders before Davis passed away last Oct. 8.There's still a Davis in the owner's box, Al's son Mark, but he has bequeathed all football-related decisions to new general manager Reggie McKenzie, and McKenzie wants the new coach, 39-year-old Dennis Allen, to become the face of the team."See, Reggie got his guy," Mark Davis said upon Allen's hiring, "I got my guy -- I got Reggie."Allen is the Raiders' first defensive-minded head coach since John Madden was hired in 1969 and as he embarks on a new era in Oakland, he is mindful to pay heed to the more successful past of the late owner, who came to Oakland in 1963 as coach and general manager."I think what he did here with the Raiders organization and how he built the organization, the loyalty that he's created within the organization, makes this one of the best organizations in sports to get an opportunity to work for," Allen said."I'm excited about trying to meet the standards that are here in the Bay Area for the Raiders. We won't do everything exactly the way it (was) done before. We'll put our own stamp on it, but I'm excited about working for the Raiders."McKenzie, who played linebacker for the Raiders in Los Angeles from 1985 through 1988 and cut his personnel teeth in Green Bay, has slowly but surely retooled the organization from within, from updating the organization's computer systems to revamping the scouting department.Both men, though, have their sights set on making the Raiders a more disciplined team in the wake of setting league records with 163 penalties for 1,358 yards last season.In fact, players now have to sign in for meals at camp."They're (trying) to change the discipline factor, I guess," said strong safety Tyvon Branch."With the new G.M. and the whole new regime coming in with a new mindset, the coaching change, that's what they're preaching right now -- we're changing the culture. So we're just going along for the ride, following the leaders."But can added accountability and punctuality make a difference between the hash marks?"I think it will," said running back Darren McFadden. "Just knowing where to be, and being there at the right time and being there on time, that is one main thing for us. And I feel like by tightening things down is going to help guys and translate onto the field."A healthy McFadden -- he is coming off missing basically 10 games with a Lis Franc injury to his right foot and has missed at least three due to injury in all four of his seasons -- will be a boon to the offense, as well as quarterback Carson Palmer -- the two have yet to take a single in-game snap together in the same backfield -- having a full offseason with the team as the Raiders return to offensive coordinator Greg Knapp's version of the West Coast Offense with a zone-blocking scheme."Seeing Carson before, I knew he was going to be a good quarterback," McFadden said. "And I had seen him play several times before, so it was not a big deal. It was just a matter of him getting back into the groove of things, I think."Said Palmer: "I love all the boots and play-actions and all the nakeds and keepers. I'm real excited to do that and really, those are the things that are going to help the run game."The late Davis, while always professing his affinity for the vertical passing game, seemed to take more of an interest in the defense in his later years, insisting the Raiders play a 4-3 scheme with few, if any, blitzes, and man-to-man coverage sensibilities.Now? Free safety Michael Huff may have ruffled feathers earlier this summer by saying he was looking forward to playing in a "real defense" under the new regime."Well, nothing personal but, obviously, before with Al, rest in peace, he had his hands in all the defense," Huff said. "He had all his little things he liked to do. Now, with D.A. out there, we've got all kinds of blitzes. We've got 3-4, 4-3 fronts. Just a lot of different variety and a lot of different things going on."So, I'm going to love it."Coming off a pair of 8-8 seasons in which they just missed the playoffs, the Raiders have not had a winning year since the 2002 Super Bowl season and had a record run of seven straight years with at least 11 losses. Expecting a return to greatness after a decade of despair might be asking for too much, what with so many new and moving parts at the top of the food chain.But the future looks promising and there is stability at the top as the McKenzie-Allen Era begins anew."Yeah, jacked up about it," Allen said. "We're ready. It's a start of a long journey and we'll take it. I know this is cliche, but we'll take it one day at a time and we'll attack whatever challenges come up on a day-by-day basis and deal with them and keep pushing forward."
The Raiders were pretty darn good last season. A 12-4 record proved that point. There was plenty of talent on a team with a penchant for high-wire acts in victory that masked the fact there were holes on the roster.
They need to be filled for the Raiders to improve in 2017, and new players will be imported through free agency and the draft.
Left tackle Donald Penn is excited to see who gets added, but said there’s no doubt talent is coming to Oakland. He speaks for Raiders players, who have faith that general manager Reggie McKenzie will make the right moves.
“Things that Reggie has done in past drafts have been great, and we’re looking forward to seeing what he brings back towards us,” Penn said recently during an in-studio appearance on NFL Network. “We can’t wait to get back out there healthy. We’re ready to hit the football world with a storm.”
While new guys are coming, a few might head out. The Raiders have several unrestricted free agents. Penn wants to keep his guys around – he mentioned running back Latavius Murray by name -- though he has some ideas for McKenzie’s checklist.
The Raiders don’t need much with most key players under contract – the Raiders should be less active in free agency over past offseasons – but a few key components could put this team over the top.
“If we stick to Reggie’s plan, we’ll be great,” Penn said. “I know he’s going to have a great draft, add a couple little pieces here and there – maybe somebody in the secondary to help out a little bit.
"On offense, you could always use a weapon. Maybe we get another receiver to take (pressure off Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper), but we have a good nucleus right now.”
Derek Carr is on the mend. The Raiders franchise quarterback had surgery to repair his fibula shortly after he broke it in a Week 16 victory over Indianapolis, and is recovering well during the offseason.
Carr insisted on intense rehab this winter in an attempt – however unlikely it may have been – to return should the Raiders have played in the Super Bowl. It slowed to a normal pace after the Raiders' loss at Houston in the postseason’s opening round, but those in contact with him say he’s making strides.
Left tackle Donald Penn was recently in contact with Carr, and provided an update on Monday during an in-studio appearance on NFL Network.
“I texted Derek (a few) days ago checking in,” Penn said, “and he said he’s almost 100 percent.”
Surgically-repaired broken filbulas take significant time to heal, and the Raiders plan to be conservative with their MVP candidate during the offseason. Derek Carr’s brother and NFL Network analyst David Carr, who was on set with Penn on Monday, said Derek could be back for offseason work.
“He’s doing good,” David Carr said. “He’s walking around already, stretching it out. You can’t do a lot for the bone, right? But he’s going to be back. He’s going to get a whole full offseason in. That’s going to be the best part.”