ALAMEDA, CA - A preview of the Oakland Raiders training camp, including team goals, players to watch, and those on the hot seat.
Training Camp Goals:
1. Establish accountability under the regime of coach Dennis Allen. Former coach Hue Jackson vowed to eradicate penalties, only to have the Raiders set NFL records with 163 penalties for 1,358 yards. Allen said the Raiders will be tough, smart and disciplined and that the penalty problem will be a big focus of training camp. It will be interesting to see if changes are made regarding players who jump offside or commit fouls during training camp practices. In the past, Raiders players have been extremely secure in their roles as starters, realizing the final say wasn't with the head coach but with owner Al Davis. No longer. Decisions on who plays and who doesn't will be Allen's call, by order of general manager Reggie McKenzie.
2. The other area where accountability will be paramount will be with the Raiders' weakness defending the run. Gap integrity has been missing for years - the Raiders were 29th against the run last year and that's about the area they've resided since 2002. Again, will Allen be quick to push aside players who fail to execute in the areas most in need of being shored up?
Quarterback Carson Palmer believes a new offensive system featuring moving pockets and precision passing will be the rebirth of his career. Palmer has already taken control of the offense in a leadership role. A year ago, showing up via trade after Jason Campbell broke his collarbone, Palmer did his best to be a leader but it was clear that in some quarters there was a bit of a hangover among some players with regard to Campbell, who was particularly tight with the receiving corps. Toward that end, Palmer has already had offseason workouts with wideouts including starters Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore. Palmer goes in to the season with more clout than any quarterback since Rich Gannon and he'll need to exercise it.
On the Hot Seat:
Middle linebacker Rolando McClain awaits appeal of misdemeanor convictions for assault, reckless endangerment, illegal discharge of a firearm and menacing. He could serve up to 180 days in jail, and lose a good portion if not all of the season if the justice system moves along quickly. More likely, McClain will play through the appeals process as it drags on and show the Raiders that he can be a good citizen and teammate. McClain's studious nature with regard to film has never been in doubt, but the Raiders are watching closely at his off-the-field behavior. They're solidly in his corner, with general manager Reggie McKenzie saying they won't hold him responsible for past sins.
The Raiders want to see the player they took No. 8 in the draft after two seasons where he wasn't particularly productive against the run or pass. They also want McClain dedicated and on board, and won't hesitate to act swiftly if he ends up the victim of his own questionable decision-making. Any more shots of McClain being put with a smile into a police cruiser could mean the instant elevation of third-year player Travis Goethel to middle linebacker and McClain being sent out of town as a bust similar to JaMarcus Russell.