SARASOTA, Fla. – The Raiders hope central Florida is a home away from home. They’re treating this week in picturesque Sarasota as a normal practice week, with freedom to roam after practice and meetings and meals.
While that makes it sound like Raiders can take advantage of this beautiful beach town and the Ritz Carlton amenities, that isn’t exactly true. While there have been dinners and trips to the hotel’s beach club, most have become familiar with the quarantined event space housing most non-practice activities.
“I looked out this morning and realized there was actually water close by,” head coach Jack Del Rio said with a smile. “It only took me three days to realize that. We’re just going about our business really. Happens to be a beautiful city, but the work’s the same. Put the last game behind you, get ready for the next. Understand what they like, what they’re good at, who their strong players are. Who are some guys that are not as strong? We want to make sure we attack them, things like that. It’s very normal in terms of the preparation and the way we’re going about our business.”
The Raiders have a fixed routine through the heart of his practice week. They have morning meetings as always, with a walk thru conducted in a hotel ballroom. Then they eat and head out to the famous IMG Academy, located 16 miles north in Bradenton. Their first full practice was conducted Wednesday afternoon.
The school/training space has some famous alumni and trainees including Cam Newton, Tim Howard, Andre Agassi and Amar’e Stoudemire.
A few Raiders have trained there as well. Amari Cooper participated in a national 7-on-7 tournament there, and three offensive linemen did pre-NFL draft work at a massive facility that also acts as a school for athletic children.
“I’ve never seen anything like that. It’s pretty nice,” Crabtree said. “I just don’t when all those guys go to school. It seems like it’s sports year round. That’s a nice facility and that’s good.”
The Raiders hope to mimic a typical game week, but it’s not always easy. This still feels like a road trip, though it’s a pretty nice one with perfect weather and a postcard’s backdrop.
“It’s just a change of scenery. I feel like we’re just enjoying it,” Crabtree said. “It’s beautiful. Sarasota, this is nice. Taking it all in and at the same time, we’re working every day. You can’t beat this weather. You can’t beat this scenery, the Ritz, you can’t beat none of this. I’m just taking it all in, enjoying it and playing ball.”
Raiders linebacker Malcolm Smith compared this experience to training camp in Napa where a team really comes together, though it comes with a bit less stress.
“As far as team bonding goes, this has been a great experience,” he said. “It’s better than camp because we’re not fighting for jobs and things like that. This is our group, and we’re focused on getting ready to play.
There are ancillary benefits to a long Florida trip as well.
“I love it, man. The weather’s nice and there’s no state tax here,” Carr said with a laugh. “That’s always a good thing for the people that live here. (laughter) It’s been awesome. The people here have been great.”