Dave Ziegler didn’t mince words during his introductory press conference when he was named Las Vegas Raiders general manager back in January. He was crystal clear then about the expectations and new MO for the Silver & Black.
“The fabric of our culture will be to evaluate and evolve consistently and constantly our processes and our people to make sure that we are always operating at a championship level,” Ziegler said in his introductory news conference in January. “Being committed to the standard of excellence is going to occur from the top down, and it’s what it will take to build this organization into an organization that consistently competes for championships.”
Here we are five months later and that emphatic statement Ziegler made when he was introduced as GM not only rings true, the message continues to be a stern one.
“The message is to make continued progress,” Ziegler told Eddie Paskal during an interview for Upon Further Review on the Raiders official website. “Don’t take a step back. What we’re not looking for is guys to return and they’ve digressed in their strength training or in their diet and nutrition or their conditioning. These are building blocks and the expectations is for those guys to come into camp ready to roll and made progress throughout this time off. And that’s what we’re going to be looking for. That tells a lot about their commitment to this team, their commitment to getting better, their commitment to winning — you can tell that by how people come into training camp and how ready they are to go.
“Hopefully, everybody comes back (and) has that mindset, and comes back better than they were when they left.”
There’s a new Silver & Black standard — no doubt. It wasn’t just big talk in front of a microphone and the assembled media. Regression, or digression as Ziegler put it, from what the Raiders did during mandatory minicamp to upcoming training camp won’t be taken kindly.
When the Raiders convened for mandatory camp, the tone was set, the message sent. The foundations for what the team will be doing going forward was laid. The goals laid out. As Ziegler noted above, it’s a true test of commitment. “Commitment to Excellence” was a phrase emblazoned on all things Raider. That message, that standard, has since lost its luster but the new Raiders regime of Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels want it to return — with a vengeance.
The power duo assembled personnel and coaching staffs determined as hell to bring back excellence. Ziegler and McDaniels also built a roster geared towards bringing back the once dominant Raiders championship culture. Only this time it will be under the watchful eye of Mark Davis. Players have only dipped their toes in the new standard and are learning what needs to be done going forward. Ziegler himself noted he’s learning, too.
“It’s been a learning process. It’s been a good process,” Ziegler said. “I think when you look at the roster, what we’ve tried to do — and we talked about this from the beginning — is try to build competition throughout the roster. And I think we’ve done that. When you look at the roster, there’s a lot of guys competing for spots, and that was the idea. We wanted to build a competitive roster where everyone felt they were being pushed to earn a spot and and be their best. And I think we’ve done that through free agency, through the draft and through college free agency.”
Competition does tend to breed excellence and if players are fighting for jobs, they’ll push one another to a different level. Which will make the roster, from top to bottom, that much better. And when players show they’ve improved and are on an upward trajectory, Ziegler has no qualms rewarding them with long-term financial security. Quarterback Derek Carr got it. As did wide receiver Davante Adams. And most recently, so did slot extraordinaire Hunter Renfrow.
“Part of the process of understanding him being a long term fit was understanding the person,” Ziegler said. “And Hunter is a low maintenance player who’s an incredibly hard worker, very smart, diligent about his craft ... Very good route runner, good short area quickness, has the ability to get open in tight spaces and in the past has been very productive on third down. He’s worked really hard to learn our system and understand our route concepts and learn the intricacies of what he needs to do in this offensive system.
“Highly productive young player that we’re excited to work with in the future and continue to see that progress be made.”
Renfrow, Carr and Adams each share a common trait: Commitment. It’s of the unbridled kind, really. That’s the kind of attitude and mentality that’s a beacon, a shining example for the rest of the Raiders roster. Defenders Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones exemplify the same nature. Young players Nate Hobbs, Tre’von Moehrig, and Alex Leatherwood exhibit it, too. The more the roster gets of that, marinates in it, the better of they’ll be.
I’ll be writing about these during training camp, but here are the intriguing items that bear watching:
- The Carr-Adams Connection: They’ve worked together in the summer in season’s past but now the dominant Fresno State Bulldogs duo are together as Raiders. Will they be as fluid and as seamless as they were in college?
- Who lines up where in the 4-2-5 alignment: Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is keen on saying the days of base alignments are all but over. So which defenders line up on the first-team unit in Vegas’ nickel formation is going to be interesting.
- The Outsiders: Adams and Renfrow have their spots locked in, but who claims the spot opposite DA17 on the perimeter? The fight for the other outside wide receiver spot should be heated. Flip to defense and the battle for the two starting outside cornerbacks spots should be equally as hotly contested.
- Tackle to Tackle: Kolton Miller is a rock at left tackle but the rest of the group to his right could see some changes. The Raiders offensive line group in training camp will be a solid barometer of which grouping we’ll see Week 1.
- By Committee: Will Josh Jacobs continue to be the bell cow or will there be snaps for other running backs on the roster?