Oakland dismissed Callahan after the team went 4-12 last season, one year after reaching the Super Bowl. Last season featured several injuries and turmoil between players and coaches. The Raiders hired Norv Turner as the replacement for Callahan, who bounced back rather quickly after being fired. The University of Nebraska hired Callahan nine days after the Raiders fired him.
"I'm feeling good, man. The devil is gone," The outspoken Middleton said of Callahan. "We've got a new coach here. The players are ready to go. It's just great to have a new year. Every year is a big year for me. I had a bad year. Everybody had a bad year. We've got a new coach. Callahan's in Nebraska. I'm here in Napa and I'm ready to play football."
Middleton did not stop there.
"I found the love of the game again," Middleton said. "I feel like I lost at least 260, 210 pounds quick. Once that left the rest of it came off too. Whenever you get happy, man, things happen to you. I'm happy, man. Callahan's gone. The evil demon is gone."
Middleton's banter aside, wide receiver Jerry Rice arrived for his 20th training camp as a player (16 as a San Francisco 49er and four as an Oakland Raider.
"I'm pretty much ready to go," Rice said. "I'm just glad to have the opportunity to be back. This is 20 years for me. I'm looking forward to good things. I think we made great moves during the offseason. Who knows? All you hope for is a good opportunity. I think we have one more run at it. I'm still here and looking forward to a great camp. I'm going to try to better myself and the team. Hopefully, we can get back to the Super Bowl again."
Pads the first day
Turner is also planning on something that is a departure from the Callahan and Jon Gruden era. Turner is planning on having the Raiders practice in pads for the afternoon session. Whereas under Callahan and Gruden, the team typically waited a few days.
"All coaches might want to do that," said newly acquired guard Ron Stone (San Francisco). "I'm not a believer in that. He's the coach. That's what he wants and that's what we're going to do."
No Woodson sighting
As expected, there is still no sign of cornerback Charles Woodson, whom the Raiders tagged as the franchise player. Woodson's insistence on a long-term contract and signing bonus approaching $20 million and the refusal to sign the one-year tender, which in Woodson's case is a healthy $8.8 million means he is a likely no-show at training camp.
"The way I play football is that you worry about whoever is here," said defensive tackle Warren Sapp, whom Oakland signed as a free agent from Tampa Bay. "You don't worry about another man's home, pockets or what he's doing. I can't worry about Charles."
Added Rice: "I just hope everything works out and that he can get in here. It's a business. That's the way you've got to look at it. The owners look at it that way."