The Raiders broke from their off-season practices Thursday which means today is the start of their longest off-season break before training camp starts and the NFL season picks up. Now is the time they take some time away from football, but they also must not let themselves slip out of football shape or forget what they've learned thus far.
It's a delicate balance for these players as well as coaches. They have to get away and spend some time with their families to refresh their minds and bodies but if they get out of football shape they risk injuring themselves come training camp in a month. They also must stay up on their playbooks or risk falling behind.
For most of them, camp doesn't begin on July 24 when the team reports to Napa. While we won't see them on the field again for over a month, their vacation actually only lasts a couple weeks.
"I'm gonna spend a couple of weeks down in Florida," said Dennis Allen. "It will be a good time just me and the family hang out a little bit and then get back and be ready to go."
"It's tough because everybody's got to get away," said Matt Schaub. "You have to get your mind mentally away and decompress a little bit mentally. But physically and stuff, you still have to stay in it because you can't go from what we've been doing the past three months to taking four or five weeks off and then expect to come to training camp and be ready to go. . . I'll still have time after a little bit of vacation to come back and throw with guys as well as where I go, try and at least get together with somebody to try and run some routes."
Veterans like Schaub understand this process as they have been through it several times. The many veteran addition to this team eases Dennis Allen's mind about their preparation over the next month.
"Every year is a new year and every team is a different team. So you always try to tailor your message towards what your team is and what type of football team that you have," said Dennis Allen. "We have a lot of veteran players here, so I expect those guys are going to do the things we need to do to be ready for camp."
It is the young players Allen and the Raiders should be most worried as they are most at risk of complacency. Last year both of the Raiders' top picks were injured for training camp. First round pick D.J. Hayden's situation was out of his control but second round pick, Menelik Watson, showed up to training camp having injured his calf and was sidelined all but one day in Napa.
The Raiders had high expectations for Watson that would have to wait. He could never get going because he couldn't stay healthy, reinjuring himself three times after the initial injury. He once again has expectation placed upon him as the team's projected starting right tackle.
"I don't think there's any question I've seen a difference in his approach," Allen said of Watson. "I think he was very disappointed in last year. I think he's even said this, that he didn't come into this fully prepared for what he was getting into and I think he understands what it takes to play in the National Football League. Nothing's given to anybody in this league, you've got to go out and earn it. He's come out here every day and worked to earn the reps that he's been able to get and I've seen a lot of improvement. The biggest thing I've seen from him, really is just his mental approach to what we're trying to get done."
Watson learned from his experience, but other young players must listen to the veterans on this team about how to get through this time off and return healthy and ready to work. The Raiders' top two draft picks this year were Khalil Mack and Derek Carr, both have plenty of experience and character which ease the minds of their coaches about how they plan to spend their time away.
"For the next month, I'm obviously going to go home to Florida for a little while and spend some time with my family," said Mack. "but while I'm down there I'm going to be working out, in Orlando probably, with Tom Shaw maybe. Even then, I'm going to be working my techniques and different things that I've learned here throughout this time I've been here with Coach Bob [Sanders] and JT [Jason Tarver]. Just going over different things, maybe even meeting up with some of the veterans and doing some off the field training."
"I want to do what I can to prepare myself, especially for training camp, and come in and be that immediate-impact player."
"Just making sure you stay in it," said Carr. "You can't just take in all these things that I've learned so far and throw it out the door and not think about it, you gotta take time every day in the playbook, watching film, you gotta take time every day doing those things. So, that's my mindset this coming July, doing those things. Making sure every day I'm planning my time out, doing those things."
There is a lot of competition on this team. If any of these young players think they can kick back over this time off, they are very likely to find themselves left behind. And if the veterans have fallen into a comfort zone, they may find a young, hungry player will come up and unseat them.
These guys will take some time away, but resting on their laurels or anything else is not an option. It's take a breather, get their minds right, and back to the grind. Training camp will be here before you know it.