If you’ve listened, you’ve heard it.
It’s the mantra that Raiders coach Dennis Allen has preached during minicamps and throughout the preseason, and one he hopes will be heeded once regular play starts.
“The biggest thing when you go to camp is, when you end camp, you want to be better than you were when you started camp,” Allen said. “And that’s the only reason why we do this is to get better. So I think we’ve done that.
We’re better than we were when we started camp. And we are going to continue to improve throughout the season.”
But with Oakland’s season opener — the second game of a “Monday Night Football” doubleheader Sept. 10 — against the San Diego Chargers looming, the young coach’s assertion of continued improvement will be tested.
He owns the responsibility of disciplining last year’s penalty-record-setting team. And while the flying yellow flags hurt, their injury riddled roster proved equally as devastating toward the end of the season.
But no loss proved more costly than that of running back Darren McFadden, who received minimal touches in August to ensure his health for the regular season.
“His ability to see the hole is exciting,” offensive coordinator Greg Knapp said of McFadden. “I have seen the growth in his vision in the run game where he identifies, ‘OK, here is my chance to do the one-cut downhill or the one-cut bounce move.’ That part has been exciting as well as his blitz pickups. He has got a better understanding of seeing the safety rotation identifying blitzes. That has made him a more well-rounded running back so that we can play him on all downs.”
After starting their 2011 campaign a solid 7-4, Oakland, under the tutelage of former coach Hue Jackson, dropped four games out of their final five, conceding the AFC West crown to the Denver Broncos — whose defensive coordinator at the time was Allen.
In short, Reggie McKenzie was hired as general manager after owner Al Davis died. Jackson was fired. Allen was hired. And quarterback Carson Palmer is still around.
“I feel very confident where I am right now, and really where we are as an offense, especially as banged-up as we are,” Palmer said, citing preseason injuries to his prominent wide receivers. “We have a lot of young guys playing. But I feel really good where we are right now.”
But while the offense is grasping Knapp’s new system, Oakland’s defense is attempting to do the same under defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, who had the same role at Stanford last season.
“No. 1 thing with this and with defense is you’ve got to control what you’re able to control,” Tarver said. “It’s not about where they start, it’s what they finished with on the drive.”
The Raiders defense ranked among the league’s worst last year, allowing 387.6 yards and 27.1 points per game.
And if Oakland hopes to win the division — and it’s a division that arguably has no clear favorite despite Denver’s signing of Peyton Manning — they’ll have to truly get better.
The Raiders’ leading tackler in 2011, Branch was slapped with the franchise tag in the offseason before eventually agreeing to a four-year deal. Along with his 109 tackles last season, Branch had an interception and a sack. He’s become an invaluable part of Oakland’s secondary.
The receiver’s rookie season had a little bit of everything. He flashed his big-play potential at times, tallying three 100-yard receiving games, but also disappeared in games, finishing the season with three games where he only caught one ball. If Moore can become more consistent, he can develop into a big-time star.
Laughing at the notion of a kicker being an impact player? Don’t. Janikowski can absolutely boom it. He only missed on four of his 35 field-goal tries last season. He was perfect from under 40 yards and connected on seven kicks from 50 yards or more. Once the Raiders cross midfield, it’s within Janikowski’s range.
The fullback possesses a unique skill set for his position. His athleticism and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield can be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. He caught 27 passes last year and with Michael Bush out of the picture, don’t be surprised to see Reece take on an even bigger role this year.
The 12-year veteran defensive lineman is as steady as they come. Seymour is solid against both the pass and run and he brings much-needed veteran leadership. His tackles took a dip last year as he only recorded 29, the second fewest in his career, but he was still able to wrestle the QB to the ground six times.
|Sept. 10||vs. San Diego||7:15 p.m.|
|Sept. 16||at Miami||10 a.m.|
|Sept. 23||vs. Pittsburgh||1:25 p.m.|
|Sept. 30||at Denver||1:05 p.m.|
|Oct. 14||at Atlanta||10 a.m.|
|Oct. 21||vs. Jacksonville||1:25 p.m.|
|Oct. 28||at Kansas City||1:05 p.m.|
|Nov. 4||vs. Tampa Bay||1:05 p.m.|
|Nov. 11||at Baltimore||10 a.m.|
|Nov. 18||vs. New Orleans||1:05 p.m.|
|Nov. 25||at Cincinnati||10 a.m.|
|Dec. 2||vs. Cleveland||1:25 p.m.|
|Dec. 6||vs. Denver||5:20 p.m.|
|Dec. 16||vs. Kansas City||1:25 p.m..|
|Dec. 23||at Carolina||10 a.m.|
|Dec. 30||at San Diego||1:25 p.m.|