NFL: Raiders optimistic as they break from minicamp
By Steve Corkran
Contra Costa Times
ALAMEDA, Calif. — There's a sense that the Oakland Raiders are on to something this season, that they have learned from their missteps of the past and are primed for a turnaround after seven straight seasons of at least 11 losses.
Raiders coach Tom Cable credits a close working relationship with managing general partner Al Davis and a resolve to build through the draft, while avoiding overpaying for once-productive players in free agency.
"I've been involved in it for a couple of years now, and we've been working toward that (goal)," Cable said during the team's mandatory three-day minicamp. "In the beginning, I said it will be a process to turn it around. I just think we're working the process right now. I don't think it's anything magical or anything different or anything like that. It's just, maybe, some of those things are starting to work for us."
In years past, the Raiders went for the quick fix with free agents such as wide receiver Javon Walker, Kwame Harris and Gibril Wilson, and through high-profile trades for receiver Randy Moss and cornerback DeAngelo Hall. None of those panned out.
This year, the Raiders spent the bulk of their energy on re-signing their own free agents, cutting players deemed past their prime and addressing needs through the NFL draft last month.
Numerous players said that there's a vibe around the team that hasn't been present for as long as they have been with the Raiders.
For cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, that encompasses seven seasons.
"You can feel it," Asomugha said. "We thought we had it in Lane Kiffin's first year (2007) because we signed all those free agents, but it turned out to be misguided. There's no mistaking that we're making the right moves this year. It feels good to be a part of something like that."
Cable replaced Kiffin as the coach four games into the 2008 season. Upon doing so, he made a specific request to Davis.
"One of things I asked him to do was teach me that part of it," Cable said of the off-field aspects so vital to a team's success. "He's doing that. We're connecting that way, and it's a good thing."
Cable always has been comfortable working with the players. But he felt out of his element when it came time to handle personnel moves, salary cap and things that require a different skill set.
"The field stuff, the coaching, all that is easy for me," Cable said. "That's what I've always done. But there's another whole side of this that's just as important. That's where as an organization, we're able to do it together."
—Raiders second-round draft pick Lamarr Houston played running back in high school at 260 pounds. He grew up with visions of being the next Emmitt Smith.
At this point, the Raiders are hopeful they discovered the next Bruce Smith or Bubba Smith.
Houston received a heavy dose of action at the right defensive end spot manned by Greg Ellis last season during the mini camp.
Early indications are that the 6-foot-1, 303-pound Houston is going to be a handful for right offensive tackles this season.
Houston's high-intensity style of play has angered veteran running back Rock Cartwright and veteran offensive tackle Langston Walker, to name a few, though they probably would admit they are glad he is on their team.
On Saturday, Cartwright snapped at Houston after a run play in which Houston slammed into Cartwright at the line of scrimmage and then threw him to the ground.
"We ain't got no (expletive) pads on, man," Cartwright yelled as he walked back to the huddle. "Wait until practice."
A short time later, Walker shoved Houston to the ground after being pushed by Houston and then jumped atop him before teammates broke up the brief scuffle.
Houston said he has a bit of a nasty streak when he's on the field. That's one of the things the Raiders spotted watching video of Houston in college.
"It's just the relentless play time after time, and that's important," Cable said.
—The Raiders broke camp Sunday afternoon and won't reconvene until May 18, when the first of their four organized team activities sessions kicks off in Alameda.
The OTAs consist of four three-day practice sessions that conclude in the middle of June. Once those end, the Raiders take an extended break until training camp begins July 28 in Napa.
—Rookie middle linebacker Rolando McClain was "tight" Sunday as a result of four practices the previous two days. His workload was scaled back as a precautionary measure. ... Cable gave a B-plus for his players' performance during the three-day camp. A number of dropped passes hurt the grade, Cable said.