Hue Jackson hugged players as they came off the team bus, challenged a few of them even before they hit the practice field and brought the same enthusiasm as head coach of the Oakland Raiders as he had a year ago as offensive coordinator.
More than six months after being hired as Raiders coach, Jackson got the chance to put his imprint on his players as his first training camp began Wednesday.
“It was so exciting to see them, I couldn’t stop from going around and shaking all their hands when they first got here because I’m so happy to see a player,” Jackson said. “I’m tired of seeing our coaches. I’m tired of seeing everybody else. I got to see my players, and now it’s truly about me giving them my vision and them going out and executing this plan.”
The first day of camp featured physicals, meetings and a reunion of sorts as players and coaches got back together for the first time since last season. The Raiders will begin practice on Thursday, although without any hitting the first two days under new NFL rules.
But the players should expect to hear plenty from Jackson, whose voice provided a soundtrack to practices last summer as he urged on his offense and challenged the defense at every opportunity in his first training camp with the Raiders.
“A lot of enthusiasm, a lot of charisma, that’s what he brings to the table,” safety Tyvon Branch said. “He has that spark, that energy, so it’s going to be a pretty intense training camp.”
That enthusiasm from Jackson helped Oakland more than double its scoring output from 2009 to last season. The Raiders finished sixth in the league in scoring with 410 points, the sixth-most points in franchise history.
That offensive resurgence helped Oakland sweep all six games in the division and end a string of seven straight losing seasons with an 8-8 record. But the Raiders still missed the playoffs and did not bring Tom Cable back, making Jackson the sixth coach in the past nine seasons.
“I am not interested in being good. I am interested in being great, and the only way I know to do that is challenge people,” Jackson said. “I get challenged each and every week, well why can’t everybody else get challenged each and every day. And that’s the name of the game. And that’s how we’re going to go about it.”
While camp has opened, the Raiders are still putting their roster together. Jackson expected all 50 players under contract to be in Napa before the first practice.
The Raiders have signed three of their draft picks and Jackson said the team is close to getting the five other draft picks signed before practice starts Thursday afternoon.
Third-round cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke and fourth-round running back Taiwan Jones signed undisclosed deals. Fifth-round receiver Denarius Moore got a $2.2 million, four-year deal, according to the Allegiant Athletic Agency that represents him.
Oakland also signed 14 undrafted free agents, but there are still plenty of training camp roster spots that won’t be filled until after free agents can sign starting Friday.
“You expect a little chaos with such a short time frame to do the free agency and everything like that,” linebacker Kamerion Wimbley said. “I’m just open for whatever and I expect whatever.”
Wimbley got his status settled before the lockout when he signed an $11.3 million franchise tender. He said his agent has begun discussions with the Raiders about a long-term deal, which would give the team more room under the salary cap this season.
Wimbley was one of eight potential free agents the Raiders signed before the lockout, giving them a head start this summer. Oakland has already locked up one of its free agents, agreeing to a $1.25 million, one-year deal with linebacker Jarvis Moss. ESPN reported that Oakland also reached a deal with long snapper Jon Condo.
There are still plenty of other free agents whose fates are unknown, most notably Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. With Stanford Routt getting a $31.5 million, three-year deal in February and Oakland drafting cornerbacks Chimdi Chekwa and DeMarcus Van Dyke in April, Asomugha is not expected back.
The Raiders also could be without last year’s starting free safety, Michael Huff, creating potential for big change in the secondary.
“I definitely hope those guys come back,” Branch said. “If not, I wish them the best. We’ve got to start building with what we have right now. That’s part of the game. You’ve got to use what you have and we have to start building right now.”
The biggest question will be whether the Raiders can retain free agent tight end Zach Miller, who has led the team in receiving each of the past three seasons. He had 60 catches for 685 yards and five touchdowns last season and was selected to the Pro Bowl as an alternate.