NAPA, Calif. — Antonio Brown kicked off his first training camp as a member of the Oakland Raiders with a hot air balloon ride over wine country at dawn on Friday.
Raiders coach Jon Gruden shrugged.
“Is he OK? That’s all I want to know,” Gruden cracked at a news conference with first-year general manager Mike Mayock. “I expect a lot more drama from No. 84. I really do.
“I told Antonio, ‘Try not to yell at Derek [Carr] — yell at me when you have a problem.’ Then he started yelling at me. I said, ‘Don’t yell at me — yell at [Greg] Olson. He’s the offensive coordinator.’ He’s a fun guy to be around, man. I expected a little bit more than a hot air balloon; I thought he might jump out of an airplane and parachute here himself, but he’s going to add a lot of life to this organization at a position where, obviously, we need some explosive plays.”
AB takes the training camp arrival next level ?
— ESPN (@espn) July 26, 2019
Indeed, as the Raiders veterans began filtering into the Napa Valley Marriott and Spa (Brown actually arrived the night before), several themes began to emerge for a lame-duck team coming off a 4-12 season in Gruden’s return to the sideline and heading to Las Vegas in 2020. All of them are subject to the prying cameras of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” training camp reality series, which premiers Aug. 6.
“Jon and I are kind of old school, and the reason you go away to training camp is to get away from all the distractions, get together, bond, learn your assignments, no distractions, no intrusions,” Mayock said. “‘Hard Knocks’ is an intrusion. But it was handed to us. So it’s up to us to deal with it, and I think we’re really dealing with it in a professional way.
“I think we’ve come up with a plan where they feel like they can get what they need and we feel like we can get done what we need.”
That work includes resetting an offense with new weapons for Carr: Antonio Brown as the headliner at receiver, Trent Brown at right tackle and first-round draft pick Josh Jacobs at running back. In fact, all three 2019 first-rounders are expected to make immediate impacts, including defensive end Clelin Ferrell, taken No. 4 overall, and safety Johnathan Abram.
The Raiders had a league-low 13 sacks in 2018.
The rookies, and Carr, reported on Tuesday and have been participating in meetings and walk-throughs. They have impressed Mayock, who joined Oakland in January after a decade as a draft expert with the NFL Network.
“You see the fact that not only did they show up in shape, they also showed up [with] their heads in the frickin’ books,” Mayock said.
Jacobs, though, will have to win the starting job from veteran Doug Martin.
“You have to see how much the man can eat,” Gruden said of Jacobs. “How long can he stay at the table? He hasn’t been given anything. He won’t be the featured back until he earns it. He’s got to prove he can get up, time and time again. These are car crashes, some of these hits these guys take. You’ve got to be a tough guy. You’ve got to be able to do it down after down, when you are tired and sore and beat up. You’ve got to pick up a blitz. You’ve got to beat a linebacker on a route. Then you’ve got to make a third-and-1 to win a game.
“There’s a lot of maturity that is going to have to take place because he’s such a young and inexperienced player, but he’s a great kid and he’s got a lot of talent. And Kirby Wilson, our running back coach, has done an excellent job of putting the boat in the water and getting him started.”
With so many new pieces, and being in the same offensive system for the second year in a row, excuses will be in short supply for Carr.
“There’s never been any restrictions with Derek,” Gruden said. “I thought Derek was unbelievable last year in some really tough situations. We’ve got a brand-new receiving corps, we’ve got a new tight end, new feature back. We got a new right tackle, a new left guard. We’ve got a lot of change around him. Hopefully, for the better.
“He’s done a great job leading the group. He’s had those players at his place in Fresno. He’s clearly established himself as not only an excellent quarterback but a premier leader on this team.”
Two players will not be with Oakland as it begins the first practice of camp on Saturday, Mayock said. Fullback Keith Smith injured his left knee working out on his own recently and will be on the non‐football injury (NFI) list, giving undrafted rookie Alec Ingold an opportunity. Offensive lineman Denzelle Good will be on the physically unable to perform list after undergoing lower back surgery five weeks ago and is not expected to return for at least two months.
With Richie Incognito serving a two-game suspension to begin the season (he can participate in camp and preseason games), recently signed Jonathan Cooper could start at left guard.
Antonio Brown was officially placed on the NFI list on Friday, although a source told ESPN that the unspecified injury is not serious and “hopefully” the All-Pro wideout will be back soon.
Brown said it would be “exciting to switch it up” when it came to opening camp.
“Napa Valley, obviously, is known for hot air balloons,” Brown said on a video released by Raiders.com. “This camp is so important for this team because, you know, there’s a lot at stake. We kind of got to develop our identity. I think it all starts today, with the commitment from guys there and everyone there understanding the reason we’re there and why they’re putting their hand in the pile, and make the Raiders great again. It starts today.”
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