The first week of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) typically provides the first trickle of information from the Oakland Raiders’ Alameda training facility. This year the trickle has slowed to a drip thanks to the team’s tightening of restrictions on the media.
Here, via Jerry McDonald, is the list of permissible topics: 1) which players are practicing as well as those who are not; 2) non-strategy and non-game plan observations; 3) that is all. And to me, the pair looks more like 1A and 1B than two separate items. (The example given for the second is “[w]ide receiver made a nice catch on the sideline,” which would presumably be an illustration of the receiver practicing well, too.)
At non-public practices, media members may only blog and tweet – and any other quirkily-named forms of information distribution – during the Orwellian sounding “designated viewing window.”
Now, I understand fully well that this policy exists to benefit the team rather than to deprive the fans. Neither you nor I would welcome a swarm of onlookers at our workplace scrutinizing every detail. (Imagine that. “Ben Greenberg looked a bit tentative at the keyboard, and was extremely inconsistent in answering his phone.” Or “(your name) had a couple of textbook customer relations encounters, but his (or her) lunch choice left something to be desired.”)
Moreover, the Raiders do not want various aspects of their playbook utilized in practice leaked to other teams they face during the season. It’s hard to argue with any steps the organization takes to optimize performance. But the diehard heart will always scream, “more, more,” even as the diehard head says, “shut up, stupid heart, and let me do the wishing.”
The head knows that even under the most liberal media regulations, OTAs are really just glorified practices. We are not apt to learn much of importance from them. Perhaps Allen Iverson said it best in his press conference/lecture entitled “Toward a Hierarchy of Values in Athletic Endeavors.”
And the first few OTAs did feature a number of developing storylines, though the accounts of them from different media sources feature a fair amount of redundancy, given the limitations imposed. Therefore, in honor of last week’s National Spelling Bee – part of ESPN’s ongoing attempt to prove that American audiences will embrace any type of competition, no matter the participants’ age nor the excitement factor inherent to the activity – I’d like to rehash some of those developments using a key word for each taken from the Bee that I can guarantee does not appear in any other coverage.
Plus, next time you’re at a sports bar, if you whip out one of these words, you may just impress some people, though it’s far more likely that you’ll get smacked in the mouth for being a pretentious jerk. Yeah, you should probably not do that.
1) Key Word: suscitate
Definition: stir up; kindle to intensity
Sentence: Reports indicate that QB Matt Schaub has taken a strong leadership role, offering advice off the field and suscitating players on it.
After a turbulent 2013 season for Schaub with the Houston Texans that featured reports of team discord, a string of pick sixes, and an injury that incited cheers from the team’s own fans, it seems Schaub is determined to begin his stint with the Raiders on a more positive note. McDonald reports that “Schaub has spent the first five weeks of the offseason program learning everything he can about his teammates,” while the Chronicle’s Vic Tafur notes that Schaub has been “lifting weights and watching film with his new teammates, taking them out to dinner, going on field trips to the bowling lanes or to an A’s game.”
Schaub insists that the array of weapons around him includes “six or seven number one guys,” an astronomically hyperbolic statement that is nevertheless sure to boost confidence among a youthful group of skill players.
Schaub delivered an equally uplifting message to the man being groomed to replace him. Derek Carr said that one of the first pieces of congratulations that he received during the draft came from Schaub.
“He just said he’s here to help me with whatever I needed,” Carr said, according to ESPN. “He said, ‘Hey, man, I know you have your brother, who has played 13 years … [but] we’re teammates. I’m here for you every day. Whatever you need, I’m here to help you.’ That meant a lot.”
Finally, I’m sure we’ve all heard that Schuab threw a pick six in his first practice session. The new X-Men movie also debuted in theaters a few days before. Both have approximately the same bearing on how Schaub will perform this coming season.
2) Key Word: fustigate
Definition: criticize severely
Sentence: Kevin Burnett has drawn some heat for his absence from OTAs, as a segment of the fans feel the need to fustigate him for it.
Yes, it seems that Burnett, an eight-year veteran of the league did not report to the introductory, voluntary practice sessions. This could be indicative of an indolent, spoiled nature, as some have speculated. Or maybe this is simply the case of a thirty-one year old guy with thousands of snaps and hundreds of vicious hits under his belt.
Hell, if we’re going to play the imagination game, there’s a chance that Burnett is preoccupied with some sort of mad scientist tinkering with human reanimation or perhaps advanced killer robot technology. Aliens may or may not be involved.
Back in Realityville, odds are that everything is hunky-dory, and Burnett will rejoin his teammates for mandatory minicamp. The only non-fantastic alternative is that Burnett is miffed at the almost certain reduction in playing time he will receive this season with Khalil Mack (Truck) the presumptive starter on the strong side, leaving Sio Moore (Tal Threat) to slide over to Burnett’s weak-side spot.
This latter possibility is fairly remote, but if Burnett is truly dissatisfied, it would not be out of the question to see the Raiders to shop a trade for a late-round future draft pick. This would also likely precipitate the release of Kaelin Burnett, Kevin’s twin brother, who came to Oakland as a nonnegotiable term of Kevin’s acquisition last season, freeing up an additional roster spot for one of the young’uns.
Ok, I think I am beginning to drift into fantasyland here myself. Burnett should be on the field by the time mandatory camp begins on June 17. And if not, then we can let our imaginations run wild.
3) Key Word: plausive
Definition: manifesting praise or approval
Sentence: The coaching staff has been unstintingly plausive about DJ Hayden’s offseason progress.
Hayden, the twelfth overall pick in last year’s draft, was Reggie McKenzie’s first first-round selection. McKenzie insists that he would have taken Hayden with the team’s original number three pick had Miami not been so eager to trade up for Dion Jordan – presumably the Dolphins thought it essential to bring in a top pass rusher to watch the offensive line implode.
Hayden’s selection was something of a surprise, given his slightly undersized frame and the small matter of his near fatal collision in practice six months earlier. It was miraculous that Hayden survived, much less was lining up against NFL receivers inside of a year removed from such an horrific injury. To expect his return to full form as well seemed a bridge too far, and alas, so it turned out to be.
Hayden showed glimpses of his abilities, but only sporadically. His rookie season ended with a groin injury suffered one year to the day after he was rushed to a Houston emergency room.
It seems Hayden needed only a little more time to regain his strength, a process that now appears complete. Defensive Coordinator Jason Tarver raved about Hayden during a recent radio appearance. Words like “faster,” “aggressive,” and “explosive” were used. Other reports have been similarly effusive, praising Hayden’s noticeably increased size and muscle from last season.
I find it virtually impossible to temper the high hopes I have for Hayden that such glowing words inspire. Honestly, who wouldn’t root for this guy? Well, besides Broncos and Chiefs fans, of course, but they are emotionless zombies who don’t really count as people. (I’d rib Chargers fans too, but I think all thirty-eight of them have already migrated north for the summer.)
Hayden should also benefit considerably from the other ten guys on the field. Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers replace Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins as his coverage compatriots. Porter was adequate-to-good much of the time last season – two disastrous games against San Diego and Denver to close out the season being the glaring exceptions.
Jenkins had his moments; unfortunately, they were usually of the WWE variety. Jenkins’ hyper-aggressive, river-boat-gambler style of play resulted in far too many costly pass interference penalties and several personal fouls that can only be described by the noise they induced in Raider Nation: “WWHHHHAAAGRRRRRFUUUUHUUUHAAAAAAAHHH!” Brown and Rogers, in addition to sounding like a 70’s soft rock duo, quietly played vital roles in the Forty-Niners’ defensive juggernaut.
Charles Woodson, ageless wonder of the ancient world, will return at free safety alongside a healthy Tyvon Branch. Prior to last season’s injury-plagued campaign, Branch was consistently among the top strong safeties in the league. His replacement by an undrafted, untested free agent in 2013 went pretty much as you’d expect it to, which is to say, horrendously.
Finally, the various permutations of Khalil Mack, Justin Tuck, Antonio Smith, and Lamarr Woodley flying around the field should provide a far more imposing pass rush than the previous, often comically ineffective unit. A reduction in opposing quarterbacks’ time to throw will make Hayden’s job that much easier.
The bottom line for Hayden is that if his overall play this season undergoes anything near the improvement that his fitness seems to have, the other members of the pass-happy AFC West will find their joy seriously diminished.