The Raiders' hiring of Lamonte Winston as the team's director of player engagement is another sign of the culture change under way at 1220 Harbor Way Parkway.In layman's terms, Winston helps players, particularly the younger, more wayward players, find their way in the high-stakes, high-money, high-temptation world of the NFL. And prepare them for a return to a somewhat normal life.Someone like JaMarcus Russell could have used Winston's guidance a couple of years back. Someone like Rolando McClain might do well to take his advice now.
Now, this is not a shot at the Raiders' middle linebacker who was arrested last year for allegedly firing a gun near a man's head and then mugging for pictures as he was put in the police car, per se. But Winston's role is to get to the younglings and warn them of such perils and pitfalls.That Winston is an East Bay guy himself with more than 25 years experience "advising and consulting professional athletes in both life skills development and post-NFL career development," per the Raiders' release announcing his hiring, should only add to his gravitas.Consider: Winston went to Skyline High School in Oakland, Merritt Junior College and San Francisco State and coached at S.F. State and UNR before joining the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993 as an area scout and then moving into the life-skillslife-coaching role.He founded the Chiefs' executive director of player development and was a founding member of the NFL Player Development Steering Committee. He also helped create the NFLNCAA Champs Life Skills Program to "educate athletes on the business of the NFL and their preparation for life after football."Winston forged his own life-skills company, The Winston Group, where he has been the President and CEO the past two years.How respected is he throughout the NFL? The league's "WinstonShell Award" for the most outstanding player development directorprogram is named after him and former Pittsburgh Donnie Shell for their respective contributions to such endeavors.Yeah, the Raiders recognized a need, and they have addressed it.
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.”