Training camp practice wasn’t in the usual place Saturday. To accommodate a large fan presence as well as over a hundred Raiders legends as part of Alumni Weekend, the Raiders moved camp practice today to Memorial Stadium in Napa.
The last time I saw the Raiders practice in Memorial Stadium in 2001. Gruden liked to hold what was called “Community Day” and it was the only chance many fans had to see the team in the training camp. Tickets for the event were $10 and the proceeds would go to the Boys and Girls Club.
We know Gruden is all about the fans. He held the fan event at Ricky’s Sports Bar a couple weeks ago and it was clear he wanted as many as he could fit into the place for a day of camp.
There were some 6000 fans in attendance. Their invitation was as season ticket holders, just like the other days of camp in which there is usually around 1000 fans on hand. Those fans got to watch the Raiders practice, sitting amongst Raider Legends, and even got a couple footballs intentionally thrown into the stands.
The alumni got to see Jon Gruden back with the team. Many of those alumni were on Gruden’s team the first go round. Others go back much farther. And from what I can gather, they were all pretty impressed with what he brings to the team.
“[H]is energy, the juice . . . he’s just phenomenal,” Jerry Robinson said of Gruden.
“The other day at Ricky’s [Sports Bar], Lord have mercy, we were at Ricky’s and for three hours Jon Gruden was just on it, man. He was just rolling. I told him I said ‘coach, you know what I just had hip surgery, total hip replacement a couple months ago, and listening to you I feel like I can go down and make a couple tackles.’ He just fires everybody up and his passion is real. He’s real and I’m glad he’s back because this is what we need.”
“Having Chucky back is a big thing. . . it’s exciting to me. I’m getting excited up here talking about it. I feel like I’m ready to go out and practice.”
One guy who needs no help getting excited is Phil Villapiano. He liked the hands-on approach he saw from Gruden today with regard to Derek Carr.
“I saw Jon talking to Derek every play. Every play,” said Villapiano. “That’s good, I like that stuff.”
No one tells more stories with more vigor than Villapiano. He has stories for days. Most of those stories are best told with his Raiders brethren. Making these Alumni get togethers a real treat for him.
“How cool is what we’re doing?” Villapiano said of the Alumni weekend. “This doesn’t happen in any other setting or any other group than this group here, the Raiders. . . who’s invited? Everybody. How cool is that? Everybody. I love it. There’s guys in there... There’s a guy in there that’s 80 years old. I feel young, man. It’s very fun, it’s very special.”
When Villapiano was approached the podium to speak, he had a beer in his hand. And many of his stories involve him having had a few beers and a few too many. Including what he says led to his being released — an interview in which he said he wouldn’t go to Los Angeles when the team moved, leading him to be traded to Buffalo for Bob Chandler.
So, it may be best to consider his next statement in the context of his state of mind partying with all his old Raider buddies.
“The whole league gets a collective bargaining agreement,” Villapiano said after wondering how players can practice without hitting. “We don’t hit anymore. We don’t get a concussion anymore. A good concussion every once in a while is fun. Yeah, go around not knowing where you’re at for a few hours. That’s kinda cool.”
There were some wide eyes and uncomfortable laughs at that statement in light of the problems former NFL players have had with CTE and other disorders brought on by head trauma. It’s only fitting he went on to talk about how hard Jack Tatum used to hit and that his only request was that he not hit his own teammates.
Tatum, of course, passed away back in 2010, so he was never able to experience Alumni Day, which has been held the past four years. But there was a pretty strong contingent of legends. From the 83-year-old Tom Louderback to Miles Burris and Usama Young who were both on the team as recently as 2014.
From local Bob Rosenstiel to those who traveled from across the country including Zack Crockett, Doug Gabriel, Willie Jones, Henry Lawrence, Duane Starks, Willie Jones, and Fabian Washington — all of whom came out from Florida to be here.
There was quite a bit of Super Bowl ring bling among the legends including Cliff Branch, Willie Brown, Tom Flores, Ted Hendricks, and Henry Lawrence, each of whom sported all three of the Raiders Super Bowl rings either as players, coaches, or both.
Injuries: Gareon Conley was not practicing today. No word yet on why, but usually absences from camp are injury related. He looked fine on day one, so this is either a new injury or an aggravation of either his previous shin injury or the groin injury he suffered in minicamp. Cameron Hunt was also not on the field.
Donald Penn, Eddie Vanderdoes, and PJ Hall remain on the PUP list.
Additions: With Vadal Alexander not reporting for camp, the team placed him on Reserve/Did not report list and signed Guard Oday Aboushi. No player was signed to fill the roster spot open with Khalil Mack not reporting to camp, so the team sits at 89 players currently.
With Conley out, Daryl Worley ran with the first team at cornerback across from Rashaan Melvin.
Derrick Johnson was back with the first team at middle linebacker after Marquel Lee had worked first time on the first day of camp.
Newly signed G Oday Aboushi stepped in as the third team right guard.
There wasn’t much of a practice today. It was mostly walk-thrus and seven-on-sevens.
The best play was one in which Carr left the pocket and directed Martavis Bryant to get open. Bryant was running up the right sideline at the time, so he made a move inside to bait Antonio Hamilton while Carr threw the ball toward the sideline. Bryant then stretche for the ball, keeping his feet inbounds for the catch. Hamilton had no chance.
Jordy Nelson also put some moves on Worley to get behind him and Carr put the ball up high for Nelson to go up and get it.
At one point, the offense lined up at their own one-yard line with the entire team on the field. Derek Carr took the snap and launched the ball into the stands. Then Gruden called for the second team, so EJ Manuel came on, dropped back and did the exact same thing, gifting the fans with two NFL regulation footballs. A couple went into the other stands earlier as well.
There were no turnovers on the day. Marshawn had one come out of his hands, but it was after the play was basically over, so it doesn’t really count.
Pads go on tomorrow, so the recap portion will start getting a lot more interesting from here on out.