During my quick stint to the Oakland Raiders training camp, there were a few players I made a point of noticing and some that made themselves noticed. I wanted to pick up as much on these guys as I could. Not just the results of plays, but also all the things that fall into the gray and subjective area of perception and judgement. I was looking for anything and everything that became apparent by watching these guys up close and personal.
So get ready. I am going to share the insight I tired to acquire. Keep in mind, that I only saw these guys on the practice field for two days, and that is way too small of sample size to become an authority on anything. But if I wasn't afraid to speak on things with authority that I am not qualified to do so—I never would have gotten there in the first place. Jump over....
It is easy to sense that Jacoby Ford can't stand being injured. There is just way too much energy bouncing around in his compact body for him to sit idle.
He almost always had a ball in his non-broken hand. On Wednesday he must have flipped a football, with his right hand, behind his back and over his head before catching it with the same hand 500 times. On Thursday he replaced the football with a tennis ball, and this time he was going with the bounce off the ground catch. The only time I saw him sit still was when the offense was running plays against the defense. He would perch down and focus his abundant energy on watching every motion and nuance of the play.
After Thursday's practice he was answering a few questions for a small pack of reporters. After watching him almost vibrate into combustion, while containing his body to inactivity, I expected him to talk a mile a minute. He is not that way at all. He is intense, but he is calm and poised.
I asked him if he was worried that his injury was going to set him back into what is supposed to be a larger role in the offense. He was anything but worried. He let it be known that he is ready, and that he has and is studying the playbook, and I absolutely believe him.
Defensive Line and Richard Seymour
The Raiders defensive line is double take large. That pretty much goes in the captain obvious category, right? But I had no comprehension of just how massive this group is until I was standing on level ground with them. Matt Shaughnessy looks like a safety next to his line mates, and he is 6'5" and 270 pounds.
John Henderson is the giant among giants. I don't even understand how John Henderson fits through doorways. I'm not even sure how people reach to slap this giant in the face for his pregame ritual.
Richard Seymour is by far the most visually impressive though. He is not as big as Henderson, but as soon as they start moving he cuts the most imposing figure. When I watch John Henderson move my joints hurt, and this is understandably the same with a lot of the bigger than human players on the team. They always seems to be favoring one side or the other as their body tries to handle the stress of their crazy mass.
That is not the case with Seymour. He stands with a slight arch to his back and with his broad shoulders stretched back. His head is always up and his eyes are always looking forward. His movements roll fluid like a whip. He is never in a hurry, but he is far from laboring. Every movement of Seymour's feels like it is done with a purpose.
Everything about Seymour screams that this is a man you do not want to mess with. He brings his own gravitational pull with him. He will pull eyes towards him when the owner of the eyes didn't even know they were looking for him. On the practice field, he is talkative, but he is not a shouter or a big rah, rah type. He doesn't have to be. There is no doubt he is the on-field leader of this team.
You can see his calm confidence rubbing off on players. You can hear it in their speech and see it in there demeanor. This guy is a true captain of this team in every sense of the word.
Jason Campbell is very relaxed at practice, and very attentive. When the coaches talk to Jason he gives them his full attention. He moves with confidence, but he doesn't possess the same charisma as Seymour.
I didn't get to see him in many live scrimmage situations, but he looked to be in control and accurate in passing drills.
I think we all know that Jason isn't going to be a fiery leader, but there are signs of leadership emerging in Jason. He seems too affable to be the guy that is going to chew a guy out. However, he seems to have the respect of his teammates.
In a post practice interview, Campbell's former teammate in Washington, Stephon Heyer, said that noticed right away that Campbell's leadership had improved leaps and bounds.
"-" hardly practiced while I was there. And if I hadn't made it a point to watch him, I never would've known he was there. He did some of the drills, and he looked like the same ol' DHB. He caught some with his hands, but he still lets the ball get into his body. He is relaxed and friendly around the players, but there is nothing about DHB that screams No. 1 receiver.
I didn't get to see a lot of McClain either. He participated in a few drills and was put on the shelf with an undisclosed injury. This guy has a little of the Seymour poise and aura about him. It's like you can almost sense an intensity brewing under his calm and fluid movement.
If Rolando improves from his rookie year, there is no doubt that this can set the tone and lead this defense for the next decade.
Van Dyke didn't make any plays on the ball in the limited amount of times I saw him in one-on-one coverage. If he wants to be a great corner, this is something he is going to have to with great regularity. If he can do that, I have no doubt he can be No. 1 corner material.
He is amazingly quick and fluid on the field. He can explode out of a backpedal and he changes directions like he isn't changing directions at all.
Wisniewski had his good moments and his bad moments. In other words, he looked like a rookie. I didn't get a read on him other than that. I get the feeling that he is not interested in anything other than being the best lineman he can be. He didn't walk out when the media were hanging around to ask questions. When he is on the field, he is all business. He seems to be a hard-worker and eager student.
SeaBass has an awesome job. I didn't see him kick one ball. I did see him stretch for a bit, but I guess that was just so he could stroll around the field without pulling a hammy.
Kickers wear red jerseys in practice. I have no idea why. They are not put in a position where they were ever in danger of being tackled. I have come to the conclusion that this is just so people don't mistake them for real football players.
I already gushed about Lechler's leg. But what I didn't mention was he has a decent arm. Lechler was throwing to DBs on an interception drill. The drill was going on right in front of me. So I got ready, thinking that at least one of his passes would go off target and I could retrieve it, and then show off my arm with a beautiful pass back to the field. Lechler ruined my dreams. Every pass he threw was right on the money.
Heyer is huge! He's not fat either. He is just a big man. Being a free agent he was only on the practice field for one of the day's I was there, and I have nothing to offer on his chances to contribute. But I do know that I hope he makes the team. The guy is a walking sound-byte.
He was entertaining the writers with a post practice interview, and he stopped mid sentence as he got an interested and perplexed look on his face and his eyes started to follow something moving to his right. Everyone turned to see Samson Satele walking off the field with his long curly black hair. "I thought that was Polamalu for a second," Heyer told us and then screamed, "Polamalu," to Satele.
Hue Jackson breeds competition with trash talk. He stokes the fires of his players' competitive desire by challenging. If a defensive player gets stuffed in a blocking drill you can hear Hue yelling "Oh you don't want any of that." This goes on pretty much all practice. He loves to see his practices move at a crisp pace, and if the offense is too slow getting out of the huddle they hear it from coach and are forced to re-huddle.
Saunders is a very hands-on coach. He is constantly jogging around the field. Any time he sees an opportunity to give a player some extra coaching he takes it. If Saunders notices a misstep by a receiver he will run down field put his arm around him and coach 'em up.
Bob Wylie and Steve Wisniewski
Wiz is very active in practice. He is loud, energetic and he pulls people aside. Bob Wylie is also in the trenches teaching these guys, but in a much more subdued manner. And that is not at all surprising. Wylie is the picture of an aging retired lineman. He has a little too much around the belly, an uneven gait, and every finger points in a different direction.
The Waufle Iron doesn't talk a lot, but when he does you know it. The guy's voice could explode boulders.
Woodson is laid back. If I wasn't trying to catch glimpses of the him, I would have missed him. He seems completely focused on his current job, and he is constantly talking to the DBs. I guess when you are in the Hall of Fame, you don't have to yell.
This is a relaxed, confident and fun loving group. They are respectful and mindful of their coaches. There seems to be a strong sense of team. Ultimately, these seeds of positive attitude and chemistry won't amount to much if they aren't talented enough to win. In my far too brief time watching them, my biggest concern with a lack of talent stems from the offensive line.
We already know this team has the running backs, and the passing offense showed enough bright spots to get giddy, but that isn't going to amount to much if the O-line can't block. If this team wants to take the next step, than this offensive line is going to have to progress on an accelerated learning curve.