With veterans scheduled to report Thursday to Raiders training camp in Napa, the franchise kicks off what it hopes will be a breakthrough season.
After advancing to 7-9 in 2015 under first-year head coach Jack Del Rio from the 3-13 record of 2014, the Raiders have been tagged by many national analysts as a contender in the AFC West and a possible playoff team for the first time since the 2002 season.
This week, Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks predicted Oakland will break its long playoff drought.
“Clearly the bar of expectation has been raised in Oakland and, for once, the Raiders’ hopes don’t feel like false bravado,” wrote Banks. “There’s a nice blend of youth and experience on hand, and (GM Reggie) McKenzie senses a new vibe when he assesses a roster that he openly admits is ‘the best team I’ve ever taken to training camp.’ ”
But Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio is trying to pump the brakes on all the playoff talk right now as he welcomes his veterans back to begin their 2016 quest.
He loves his team and is excited by its potential, but told Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback that, “I’ve seen potential come and go.”
He wants to see how hard his team will work this summer to improve from last season.
“We’re focused on the work and the commitment level and the drive that we’ll need to have in camp,” he told Breer. “Words like potential, like I said, I’ve seen potential come and go.”
Rookies, quarterbacks and returning injured players have been at the Raiders’ Napa training facility since Sunday. The first full practice is set for Friday, with the first exhibition game Aug. 12 vs. the Arizona Cardinals.
Del Rio told Breer that this team will have to bond and form a winning chemistry while learning how to win. That, he said, is the key to going from 7-9 to a contending team.
“All of these games are one-score games,” he said. “It comes down to who makes plays, executes and performs in those situations. Those are the things that separate the 12-4 teams and the teams that are 7-9 or 4-12.”