Raiders

Damien Woody applauds Raiders for taking rookie class to Google campus

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AP

Damien Woody applauds Raiders for taking rookie class to Google campus

When you were young, class field trips usually consisted of going to a water park, the beach, a museum or maybe even a baseball game.

For 23 member of the Oakland Raiders, they got a field trip to the Google campus in Mountain View on Friday.

Lucky guys.

“You see Google and you bring it up on the computer, and you’re like, ‘All right, that’s Google,’ ” fifth-round draft pick Hunter Renfrow told ESPN's Paul Gutierrez. “But you don’t realize there are actual bodies, there’s buildings, there’s people that work there. It’s not putting a face to name, but a building to a website, so that was cool."

The topic of the Raiders' Google campus tour came up during a recent episode of ESPN's "NFL Live," and former NFL offensive lineman Damien Woody liked the idea.

"Back in the day, it was frowned upon for players to look at other interests outside the game because a lot of people thought of it as a 'distraction,' " Woody said. "But I think what you're saying now from the modern-day player, these guys are thinking ahead. The average career is three years, or whatever it is. These guys are smarter, they're more informed, they're thinking about life after football.

"So, I applaud the Oakland Raiders for bringing these rookies into a different environment and showing them there are things outside of football as well."

[RELATED: Abram keeping ears, eyes open]

After back-to-back disappointing seasons, the Raiders are trying to change the culture in Oakland, so a trip to see how one of the most successful companies in the world operates seems like a great idea.

Johnathan Abram keeping ears, eyes open while learning Raiders way

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AP

Johnathan Abram keeping ears, eyes open while learning Raiders way

Johnathan Abram spent his first Raiders offseason program trying to listen, absorb and process as much as humanly possible. Picking up a somewhat complex defensive scheme would help him hit the ground running when training camp begins this summer.

The first-round safety is active in meetings, vocal in practices and was confident helping run the first unit in later OTAs and minicamp. All that has helped him put a solid foot forward.

“What I’m really impressed by is just how he has been able to get this defense down,” fellow safety Karl Joseph said. “For a young guy to come in and be able to understand all the stuff and rules in this defense, that’s pretty impressive. He’s been doing a great job.”

Abram will be the first to admit he hasn’t been perfect in this offseason. That’s odd coming from someone exuding confidence and a proportionate amount of swagger, but the Mississippi State alum is not afraid to be wrong. That, in itself, is an asset.

“I have a lot to learn,” Abram said. “I’m more so worried about what to expect from offenses. I do a very great job of going home, watching film, studying, I take a lot of mental reps. I put myself out there in meetings, making calls and if I’m wrong, then I’m wrong and coach will correct me as we go through it.”

Abram also is aware of a real possibility he’ll start right away. That’s no easy task for a rookie, even someone drafted as high as No. 27 overall. The Raiders have Erik Harris waiting in the wings, and Lamarcus Joyner can rotate in at safety after focusing on slot cornerback during the offseason program.

Abram has listened closely to Joyner, a player he studied in college and loves playing with as a professional even if they haven’t been next to each other at safety. He hangs on Joyner’s words in practice and meetings, and even pays attention to what the veteran says in public.

“Lamarcus can pretty much do it all,” Abram said. “He does a great job mentoring me, making sure I keep my feet where I am. I heard him say that once in the press conference over here and that’s the one thing I have been focusing on – just being where I’m at every single day and not looking so far ahead.”

The offseason program and the extra week of rookie orientation now are over, meaning players are free to relax until training camp starts for rookies first and then the full squad in late July.

[RELATED: On right life path, Raiders' Waller ready for breakout year]

Abram doesn’t plan on taking much time off, despite spending most of the offseason preparing for the NFL draft.

“I’m not nearly where I need to be, so I want to make sure I can try and get as close as I can going into training camp and be in the best shape possible,” Abram said. “Just making sure I’m super crisp with the playbook. That’s about it, just training.”

Darren Waller, on proper life and career path, poised for breakout year

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USATSI

Darren Waller, on proper life and career path, poised for breakout year

Darren Waller’s name came up a ton during this Raiders offseason program, always in a positive light.

The young receiving tight end flashed consistently during OTAs and minicamp, a mismatch that has dared fans to dream about another dominant skill player impacting this upcoming season.

Waller made a few big plays after joining the Raiders late last year the fan base certainly remembers, especially the 21-yard end around and the 44-yard catch-and-run in Cincinnati. The converted receiver from Georgia Tech has all the skills required to be a productive NFL player.

“We’ll we said, I think the last time we talked, since he’s been here he’s been one of our most impressive players,” head coach Jon Gruden said. “He played a key role last year when he got here. He’s got some big shoes to fill, I know he respects that, but he’s versatile, he’s smart, he’s fast. He wants to do good, he’s a great kid.”

Re-read last part: He wants to do good. That’s meaningful and a dead accurate for someone who squandered early portions of his NFL career. He was suspended twice for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, the second time for a full season. All those setbacks before age 26, all of them self inflicted

Waller isn’t wasting any more time. He’s dead set on maximizing a Raiders opportunity. This chance was set in motion late last year when the Raiders signed him off Baltimore’s practice squad. Then Gruden decided to let Jared Cook leave in free agency and didn’t draft a receiving tight end high, setting Waller up to be a featured player.

Waller absorbed all that but still didn’t dream big. This supreme athlete is the one-day-at-a-time type, an outlook that has blazed a trail for steady progress. That’s his recipe for potential maximization.

“I just tried to prepare myself to come back and contribute again,” Waller said. “I didn’t really look as far as how big my role would be. But if my work was there and I was staying clean and being consistent in what I was doing, that my role would increase at some point.”

Staying clean was a necessary element to Waller’s progress, the bedrock of all the good that’s coming from him these days. That allows him to avoid previous pratfalls and be on the right track to prepare for his 2019 role, one that could truly launch his career.

“That gives me a place to feel good about myself and respect myself when I look in the mirror because, before, I couldn’t really do that,” Waller said. “Those kinds of things translate to the field where you know you’re kind of hesitant out there. You may think, oh I don’t know, you’re not too sure of yourself.

“But now I wake up and I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing in my life and representing my family in a positive way. I feel like that goes a long way into me taking on a heavier load and having confidence in myself to carry it out.”

Confidence is warranted after an excellent offseason. He’s physically stronger and was as impressive as anyone not named Antonio Brown in OTAs and minicamp work. He’s proving a reliable receiver capable of moving around the formation like Cook did last year, searching for a mismatch. He’s too big for cornerbacks at 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, and too fast for linebackers and even some safeties.

Adding him to a receiving arsenal that includes Brown and Tyrell Williams could prove tough to defend. Raiders defensive backs have learned that the hard way this spring, proving optimism that Waller will thrive in 2019. He showed flashes after joining the Raiders last year, with a few big plays to his credit.

[RELATED: Raiders' Jacobs not sure he wants life story going Hollywood]

Gruden isn’t ready to anoint Waller just yet, but he sees great potential in someone stolen from a practice squad.

“When you put the pads on three, four, five days in a row up in Napa I think that will be a better indication,” Gruden said. “He’s got a lot to prove. He’s a young player who is a converted wide receiver; don’t forget that. He’s not been brought up as a tight end, but he has made a lot of progress.”

Gruden has given Waller great support bringing him to the Raiders and providing a golden opportunity to finally thrive as an NFL player. He has received such support before and wasted it. He doesn’t plan on repeating that pattern this time around.

“The thing with me is…I feel like people have always had faith in me, but it was like I didn’t really have faith in myself,” Waller said. “So it’s part of doing my part, doing my half because a lot of coaches have stuck their neck out for me and what I’ve given them in return isn’t what they deserve or what the team deserved. For Coach Gruden to say that, I feel like I’m at a place in my life where I can build off of that and make the most of my abilities and what God gave me. That’s just what I plan on doing.”