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Raiders look to form identity as training camp begins

Updated July 26, 2019 - 8:23 pm

NAPA, Calif. — Just Win, Baby, sure becomes more and more difficult to promote without the winning part.

“To oversimplify,” Mike Mayock said Friday, “the Oakland Raiders have been to one playoff game in 16 years.

“That’s not a good identity.”

Just Exist, Baby.

They have returned to prepare for another NFL season in the heart of a wine region with a riverfront promenade of cheese shops and restaurants, where hot air balloon rides over striking scenery happened to deliver an All-Pro wide receiver to his first silver and black training camp.

No one ever accused Antonio Brown of making a discreet entrance.

“I expected a little bit more than a hot air balloon,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “I thought he might jump out of an airplane and parachute here himself, but he’s going to add a lot of life to this organization.”

I suppose that’s one way of putting it.

The Raiders have returned to find themselves, whatever final portrait that might resemble.

Gruden and Mayock, the latter at his first training camp as general manager, addressed the media on the eve of the team’s first full-squad practice, when the seeds of characteristics both men hope define the 2019 team can begin being planted.

Such path to discovery — who are these Raiders, anyway, a year away from moving to Las Vegas? — will include a lot more eyeballs during the process, those from the HBO series “Hard Knocks” already in filming mode of countless cameras and boom mics following the every move of those who might provide interesting storylines.

The Raiders never wanted to invite drama beyond what a roster including Brown and offensive lineman Richie Incognito might already invite, but they were chosen to be featured on the show all the same.

So, for the most part, you frown and bear it.

“(Gruden) and I are old school in that the reason you go away for training camp is to get away from all the distractions,” Mayock said. “Get together, bond, learn your assignments, no distractions, no intrusions. (“Hard Knocks”) was handed to us, so it’s up to us to handle it.

“Jon came here with an intent to change (the identity), and he’s one of the most talented men I’ve met in any industry in my life. He has a vision, and we’ve talked a lot of fricking football over the years. We have a joint vision.”

It would, perhaps, make sense that a second training camp under a head coach offer a boatload of familiarity that might hasten progress. But the Raiders have a collection of news faces strewn throughout the two-deep, meaning learning The Gruden Way will be a chore for rookies and some veterans.

The Raiders are younger than last season, bigger than last season, faster than last season, certainly on paper more capable and explosive offensively than last season. And yet protecting and rushing the quarterback remain issues that they must prove close to a competent level.

Finding the commitment

A rookie (Josh Jacobs) has every chance to be the featured running back, and another (safety Johnathan Abram) had Gruden gushing with praise Friday. Nobody knows what the tight end spot might produce, and there is already concern at a suddenly thin right guard position. It’s camp. There are questions to be answered.

But things also begin without any contractual holdouts, a change from recent years that took focus off more important matters, such as trying to improve a product whose nonexistence once the playoffs commence has become far more anticipated than not.

Gruden wants the Raiders to be tough and smart and versatile, able to adapt to any situation, prideful in the details of work. In other words, he wants them to have the traits of the NFL’s best teams, which for a side coming off a 4-12 season is an awful lot of yeast to fermentate in the time allowed.

“Hopefully, at the end of the Napa experience, we have come together and formed an identity,” Gruden said. “We have some of our alumni running around here this weekend, and we’d like to get back to the Oakland Raiders of years past. Hopefully, our players can learn what it means to be a Raider and the commitment it takes to be an excellent football team.

“We have to get relationships formed. That’s the goal. That’s why we’re here.”

To, well, Just Identify, Baby.

More Raiders: Follow at reviewjournal.com/Raiders and @NFLinVegas on Twitter.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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