ALAMEDA – The Raiders began their offseason program Monday in a much different place. This time last year, they were integrating a new head coach and new schemes after a disastrous 3-13 campaign.
The Raiders are now a sexy pick to make playoffs. That’s what happens when you “win” free agency, a moniker bestowed following several high-priced pickups this offseason. The honor doesn’t always translate to on-field success, especially if players believe their own hype.
“On paper it looks great. We don’t want to be paper champs,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “We’ve got some good guys, but none of that matters unless we put the work in. Everything can look good in theory and in practice it all falls apart. As a leader of this team, I’m going to concentrate on pushing to get better every day.”
The Raiders earned respect in 2015, a 7-9 campaign that produced five Pro Bowlers and hope for the future. It took two previous years to win that many games. Now outsiders are saying double-digit wins and an AFC West title are distinct possibilities.
Signing cornerback Sean Smith, guard Kelechi Osemele, safety Reggie Nelson and edge defender Bruce Irvin in free agency, upgrading weaknesses and adding to a solid young foundation, generated excitement about this year's Raiders.
“It’s a great thing that people are talking about us in that light. When I first got there, they certainly weren’t doing that,” Carr said. “It’s a credit to where we’ve come from, but that’s about it.”
“What we did last year on the field was better, but we want the same kind of jump again this year. We want to be better than 7-9. Honestly, 7-9 is not going to cut it. It felt good last year, I think we were close to winning 10 games. We have to continue to push ourselves to do better than that.”
The Raiders understand improvement came through hard work, and plan to use the same methods in an attempt to take another step forward.
The offseason is time for dreamers, where fans and analysts discuss what could happen when new talent meets old. Khalil Mack wants nothing to do with that. He doesn’t want to fantasize about rushing the passer with Irvin and eventually Aldon Smith. He wants to pour focus into the effort itself, even with meaningful games still four-plus months away.
“I’m a doer. I want to see us do something real special,” Mack said. “The only way to do that is to put in the work. That’s what we’ve been talking about. We need to keep our heads down and grind. We can talk about what could or should happen, but I want to go out and put it on film. That’s what the offseason is based on, getting ready to show up when it matters most.”