Just plain and simple football.
Oakland has a laundry list of issues to address once the team gets to Napa, California for the start of training camp, the first under head coach Tom Cable who got passing grades after replacing Lane Kiffin early during the 2008 season.
To help get you prepared, Silver and Black Illustrated offers up our annual Training Camp TipSheet, our look ahead to the official start of football season and some of the decisions Oakland will face in the coming months.
When it starts: Players report on July 28th and will undergo a physical at some point shortly after checking in. After a full day of meetings on the 29th, the players will convene for their first practice on July 30th.
Where it goes down: Two practice fields along with a fully contained fieldhouse and weight room area sit between the Napa Valley Marriot Hotel and Redwood Junior High School.The team has practiced here since 1996, one year after returning to Oakland.
How to get there: From San Francisco, take Interstate-80 East to Highway 37. From Highway 37, get on Highway 29 North then take the Trancas Street/Redwood Street exit. Go left over the overpass then take the first right onto the frontage road. The Marriott Hotel is on your left.
Comforts of home: The entire team – players, coaches, equipment guys, video squad – is housed at the luxurious Marriott Hotel, which help make this one of the finest training camp facilities in the entire NFL. Players can use the hotel pool for rehab purposes, kick back in their air-conditioned rooms or enjoy a quick trip to wine country on a rare off day.
Head coach Tom Cable is ready to run his first NFL training camp.
Access: Slim and none. Outside of a few special promotions for suite holders and some season-ticket holders, practices are closed to the general public. On some days, though, fans are allowed behind the Marriott Hotel and can stand along a barricade to get autographs from players as the leave head inside after practicing.
Key additions: Quarterback Jeff Garcia, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, wide receiver Lloyd Murphy, tackle Khalif Barnes, tackle Erik Pears, center Samson Satele, defensive end Greg Ellis, safety Mike Mitchell.
Key losses: Wide receiver Ashley Lelie, wide receiver Drew Carter, tackle Kwame Harris, defensive end Kalimba Edwards, safety Gibril Wilson.
Cutdown to 75 players: Sept.1
Cutdown to 53 players: Sept.5
BATTLES TO WATCH
Mario Henderson vs. Khalif Barnes: There may be no more pivotal competition in training camp than the one for the starting left tackle spot and it's one that is likely to go down to the wire. Henderson is the leading contender on the merits of his final three games in 2008 when the young offensive lineman took over for Kwame Harris and played almost flawlessly. The Raiders believe Henderson is capable of handling the job full time but that didn't stop them from going after Barnes in the offseason. Barnes has the experience Henderson lacks but is still trying to pick up the nuances of the zone blocking schemes used by Oakland's offensive line. If Barnes manages to beat out Henderson, the Raiders might be tempted to try Henderson on the right side depending on how that situation plays out.
Mario Henderson has the early edge on the left tackle job.
John Wade vs. Samson Satele: Without question the decisions the team has to make at both tackle spots are the most important ones facing the offensive line, but there's a nice little sub-plot going on at center. Wade, the long-time starter in Tampa Bay who filled in as a backup in Oakland in 2008, against Satele, the former Miami Dolphin whom the Raiders traded a sixth-round draft pick for. Shoulder surgery kept Satele from getting on the field much in the offseason so Wade took all the reps with the starting offense, which gives him the lead in the race for the full-time job. But the Raiders won't name a starter yet and will instead let things play out through training camp.
Cornell Green vs. Erik Pears: So much attention has been focused on the left tackle situation that the right tackle competition has been somewhat overlooked. But there's no discounting the importance of getting some stability at the position. Green, the starter since 2007, has only been marginally effective which is why the Raiders signed Pears. With a speedy backfield like the one Oakland has, it's imperative the team get good play from the tackles so the backs can get around the corner. Pears didn't do anything in the offseason to move past Green on the depth chart but the Raiders are going to keep their options open and may even add another player at the spot before the end of camp.
Trevor Scott vs. Jay Richardson: If Derrick Burgess is dealt before the regular season, Greg Ellis will take over his spot on the left side of the defensive line while Scott and Richardson will go for the right side job. Scott is the better pass rusher of the two, having shared for the team lead in sacks during his rookie season last year, but Richardson is better against the run. While it wouldn't be surprising if the team opts to have the two share playing time there, the hope is that one of them will stand out enough to take the job full time.
ON THE HOT SEAT
JaMarcus Russell: Fairly or unfairly, the young QB is under a tremendous amount of pressure to get the Raiders' out of their six-year slump. Because he was the No. 1 draft pick two years ago, the expectations are understandably high and the natives are getting restless. Questions about his work ethic and desire only fuel the pressure but Russell, who was surrounded by controversy last year, should benefit by the coaching of Paul Hackett and Ted Tollner.
Kirk Morrison: While he led the team in tackles for a third straight year, Morrison hasn't made the game-turning plays the Raiders need him to make. Tackles can also be a misleading stat, just as interceptions are in some cases. While no one doubts Morrison's tenacity or effort, he has to improve his run defense and make plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage more frequently. It would help tremendously if Oakland got better play up front from its defensive line but Morrison also needs to do a better job at the point of contact.
Tommy Kelly was overweight during offseason workouts.
Darrius Heyward-Bey: It's tough to put a rookie on the hot seat but the Raiders did that themselves when they used the seventh overall pick in the draft to get DHB, when most prognosticators had the speedy receiver slotted much, much lower in the first round. A couple of dropped passes and a nagging hamstring injury during offseason workouts didn't help, either. And if San Francisco's Michael Crabtree, who was the top-rated receiver coming out of college and was there for the taking when Oakland went on the clock, has a big year it will get even tougher on Heyward-Bey.
Javon Walker: After what was essentially a lost season in 2008 due to injuries and an inability to get him involved in the offense, Walker has a lot of making up to do this year. He certainly didn't help his cause after undergoing knee surgery in the offseason without letting the team know. Walker was unable to participate in the offseason workout program as a result and it's uncertain whether he'll be ready by the start of camp. Could Al Davis' patience finally be wearing thin?