NAPA — Coach Jack Del Rio walked off the field after the first training camp practice and was quickly asked about the “buzz” surrounding his Oakland Raiders team that might finally have the ingredients to end a 13-year playoff drought.
“We play a little buzz coverage,” Del Rio joked Friday before acknowledging and accepting the heightened expectations heading into his second year as Raiders coach.
“It’s a tough division but we come in expecting to win our division,” he said. “That’s our goal. That’s our goal every year. I started that last year. We certainly aren’t going to back away from anything like that.”
Talking tough and actually contending are far different but this year’s Raiders team appears to have the necessary pieces to help the franchise reverse a downward slide that has featured 13 straight years without a playoff berth or a winning record.
Quarterback Derek Carr took a major step forward in Year 2 in the NFL and has ended the revolving door at the position that had hindered Oakland ever since former MVP Rich Gannon left following the 2004 season.
Carr has a strong offensive line to protect him, a 1,000-yard back in Latavius Murray to relieve some pressure and most importantly a big-time receiver in Amari Cooper, who caught 72 passes for 1,070 yards as a rookie last year.
Carr has heard plenty about the hype surrounding his team as friends around the league spent the offseason praising moves like the additions of linebacker Bruce Irvin, cornerback Sean Smith, safety Reggie Nelson and guard Kelechi Osemele and told him the Raiders are a team to be feared.
As much as he appreciates those compliments after starting his career in 2014 on an overmatched team that lost its first 10 games and changed coaches before finishing 3-13, he mostly tunes them out.
“I put so much pressure on myself I don’t get caught up in ‘we expect this, we expect that,’” Carr said. “I already expect greatness and perfection.”
Carr said he keeps a close eye on the team to make sure that the outside praise doesn’t lead to complacency.
He is pleased with what he saw this offseason as players put in the same extra work and effort they did even when the team struggled his rookie season.
“When the extra stuff stops, when the hard work stops, that’s when you need to worry,” he said.
It helps that two of the hardest workers are the top players on both sides of the ball in Carr and edge rusher Khalil Mack. The team’s top two picks in the 2014 draft talked about changing the culture in Oakland soon after they were drafted and they have done a good job so far in their short time as pros.
They have produced as well.
Carr is coming off a 32-touchdown season and is now seeking to become more efficient and consistent as he hopes to take another step forward. Mack emerged as one the top defensive players in the league last year, recording 15 sacks to go along with stout run defense that helped him get named a first-team All Pro at both defensive end and linebacker.
Now they hope to contribute to some team success as well as the Raiders seek to improve on last year’s 7-9 record.
“I feel like we’re in the midst of a great turnaround,” Mack said.