Richard Seymour wanted the guys to feel like they were at home.
So to ensure a solid turnout from the Raiders football family in the Atlanta suburb of Buford, Ga. for an organized team workout set up by he and QB Jason Campbell, Seymour dipped into his considerable savings to cover room and board for any teammates who wanted to come out and play.
And come they have.
Though far from their collective home in Oakland, the Raiders have made themselves quite comfortable on the sunny fields of Buford High this past week. Over 30 Raiders, many starters in addition to the majority of the 2011 draft class, descended on the lush fields on Monday and have been working all week.
Workouts have ranged from light, fun drills such as tossing the ball around and playing touch, to intense and focused, such as positional drills, strength and agility training and even 7-on-7 scrimmages.
According to Steve Wyche in his article on NFL.com, second-year linebacker Rolando McClain was heard to remark, "What the *bleep* did we get ourselves into?" implying that the workouts are far more structured and intense than expected for a friendly get together.
Many NFL teams are having organized practices, but in a twist, it appears the Raiders have had the strongest turnout of any NFL team for team activities and workouts thus far. This is an encouraging sign for a team that was once more dysfunctional than the Ma-Sheen when he's off his meds.
The impressive Raider turnout has encouraged more and more NFL players from around the league to descend on Buford this week, from the out of work Javon Walker to stars like Santonio Holmes and James Farrior. Most players were working out at the Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World in Florida; the rest, at Competitive Edge Sports in Atlanta. The chance to get together and have some real, live NFL competition, even if it's watered down, was too much to pass up for many players.
As Ramone Brown, a fellow Raider writer, so astutely pointed out in this article here, this would be an ideal time for Seymour, Campbell and other Raider leaders to get in the ear of prospective free agents regarding the exciting things happening in Oakland. This used to be the last place anyone wanted to come, and as such we had to overpay for mediocre players. But seeing the leadership of Seymour and Campbell firsthand coupled with buy-in to their program from teammates is a major boon for Raider PR and goes a long way to erasing the impression of dysfunction and ludicrousness this franchise had begun to cultivate.
Although the action is limited to mitigate injury risk, and although some players don't have their playbooks, it is extremely important for them to get together for team building purposes. I am proud that my team is so focused and intent on having a great season that the majority of the starting lineup made their way to Buford to work their butts off in anticipation of the upcoming season.
This team is full of promise, and with 81 percent of their players under 30 and an average age of 26, one of the youngest in the league. That is another reason it's great to see so many guys in Buford; with all this time on their hands and all this money, they instead are intent on being professional and getting better.
Beginning with Tom Cable, continuing with Hue Jackson and through the personal efforts of Campbell and Seymour this offseason, the Raiders are fostering an impressive environment of trust, solidarity, and teamwork. These guys now know they have each others' backs, and the overall feeling surrounding this franchise is one of excellence and professionalism once again.
This is a far cry from the state of affairs of the last decade or so.
Although they had struggled the previous five years, Raider dysfunction and ugliness hit it's nadir point in the 2008 season. From the beginnings of a messy public divorce between "Lance" Kiffin and Al Davis to questions of JaMarcus Russell's desire to play football to trading away draft picks for DeAngelo Hall and then cutting him eight games later, the entire season was a debacle; mistrust and backstabbing were the norm, and double-digit losses seemed to be ingrained in the mindset of each and every player.
This team hated each other and hated itself. It was in the middle of a major identity crisis, despite being historically one of the most successful franchises in all of sports. Al Davis cauterized the mid-life crisis by getting rid of Kiffin, Hall and other cancerous elements to the team and getting back to basics. He brought in strong leaders like Seymour and Hue Jackson and has given them carte blanche to change to environment.
Change it they have, no question.
It's impossible to imagine JaMarcus Russell and Tommy Kelly circa 2008 rallying the troops if the circumstances were similar. Tommy Kelly circa 2011? Sure, I could see that. But only because he's learned how to be a leader. To practice with focus. That he's a talented guy but he still needs to work hard to get the most out of that talent.
How did he learn all this? From listening to and watching Richard Seymour on and off the field. The younger players, Kelly especially, speak about Seymour with the reverence reserved for an awe-inspiring father they respect and don't want to disappoint. Seymour has taken this role to heart, become the father of the defence and been as valuable off the field as he has on since his arrival in Oakland. Winning is always primary in Oakland, and that couldn't happen until the losing mentality was eradicated.
Then there's Jason Campbell. Despite having 11 different offensive coordinators since his freshman year at Auburn, he has never wavered in his commitment to his craft, his desire to improve or his need to lead his teammates. He's actually quite excited for this season because he'll be in the same offence two years in a row, and the Raiders new OC, Al Saunders, worked with Campbell in the same capacity in Washington.
So Campbell is actually able to practice real Raider plays that he KNOWS will still be in place when the season starts. The fact that he's always tweeting his teammates and that he frequently has them for dinner and just to hang out is huge. He actually likes his guys, wants to get close with them and initiates throwing and practice sessions with Louis Murphy and DHB all the time.
The guy has embraced his role as leader and is showing he very much deserves the title. It's about time we had a proper QB who knows and embraces his role. He's been a huge part of getting the players to Buford.
These two men have proven that even though the coaches aren't around nobody on the Raiders will be given a free pass. They are staying on top of everyone, even those who aren't in Buford, reminding them to stay in shape and stay focused for the upcoming season. Seymour messages his teammates almost daily reminding them to eat well and work out and to do it for the team.
I'm sure the players are listening, because not only is something exciting happening in Oakland, and not only would everyone want to ensure they maintained the respect of Seymour and Campbell, but....
Would YOU want to piss Richard Seymour off?
*Props to Raider Nationer DARK KUSH for correcting my oversight regarding the fact that Hue Jackson got playbooks to most of the players during the allotted window. I apologize for the mistake and thank DARK KUSH for pointing it out politely, yet firmly.