December 27, 2018 - 7:18 pm
ALAMEDA, Calif. — A first-time visitor to the Raiders’ practice field on Thursday may have been confused.
This looked like the wrong team.
Sixty-two players, including 10 on the practice squad, completed an afternoon stretch. A rap song then began playing from on-field speakers. It was not loud enough, players decided, so many waved their arms to signal a volume adjustment. The request was granted. Some hollered. Others danced.
So began the second-to-last practice of the year.
The Raiders are on pace for the No. 4 draft pick in 2019 for a reason. This year has exposed several needs that will begin to be addressed when free agency starts in March followed by the draft in late April. But this season also revealed, the club believes, a foundation in place.
Attitude is part of that. This was a losing season, not a quitting one.
Here in December, the energy before Sunday’s finale at the Kansas City Chiefs resembles what might be expected from an 11-4 team, not a 4-11 one. And that is a culture off which it can build.
“There’s always a military comparison with us (football players), right?” tight end Lee Smith said Thursday. “Although I’m not big on using that because those guys, they make mistakes, they lose their lives. We make mistakes, we come back to work. But at the same time, one thing I’ve learned from the people in the military that I’ve spoken to over the years is their refusal to let their brother down. It’s just been a true testament to this locker room of all these men’s refusal to let each other down. …
“If I take a play off, Derek (Carr) gets affected. If Jordy (Nelson) decides not to run his route — there’s just so many things that can go wrong if one person takes a play off, and that’s just what we refuse to do. It’s been a lot of fun to play for each other this year while Coach (Jon) Gruden and everyone upstairs puts a plan in place to get this thing right, get it built back, and get the Raiders back to what they’re supposed to be.”
There was outside talk earlier this season the team might be tanking.
That wasn’t true, time proved. The team just wasn’t very good.
Injuries mounted on the offensive line. The wide receiver corps, be it due to injuries or the Amari Cooper trade, dealt with turnover and a lack of someone who truly scares opponents. The Raiders still were acclimating to Gruden’s scheme on offense and coordinator Paul Guenther’s system on defense. Their pass rush was borderline nonexistent.
A 34-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 1 was a low.
The team is 3-3 since. Its effort hasn’t waned.
“I feel like, in any season, you’re going to come to a point where there’s some adversity,” defensive end Frostee Rucker, 35, said. “But we had the lion’s share of adversity this year from trades and releases and whatnot, injuries. The character of this team was resilient all year. We’ve had good leadership here, and it’s only gotten stronger. We’ve got a lot of guys that buy in.
“If you look around, there are a lot of guys who were here when we took our team photo. They weren’t here in training camp. They put their hand in the pile with us to keep pushing. I think the character of this team is in the right place. We’d like to send this season off with one more win before 2018 is up and propel this to what we know this team will be in the next few years.”