Except for a man on a tractor mowing the two and a half practice fields, all was quiet late last week at the Redwood Middle School site that the Oakland Raiders use for their summer training camp.
The tarp surrounding one side of the complex was up. The fieldhouse that is used daily by players, coaches, staff and other team personnel was locked. The gate leading from the Napa Valley Marriott to the fields was also locked.
The camp will come to life this week, with players arriving in Napa on Saturday and checking into the Marriott, their home for almost a full month. After physicals and administrative meetings on Sunday, first-year head coach Dennis Allen and his assistants will lead the Silver and Black through their first practice on July 30, from 8:50 to 11:35 a.m.
The Raiders will be practicing on Tiff 2 hybrid Bermuda grass fields that are cut at just under one inch in height.
The fields, which run north and south, have a beautiful look. The Raiders have Tom Howe, the lead grounds supervisor for the Napa Valley Unified School District, to thank. It’s Howe who maintains the Raider fields throughout the year, making them usable for school and community use, and for the Raiders.
“The more work you put into it, the better it is,” said Howe. “You get to see the results of what you’re doing. It’s been a lot of fun over the years. It’s really enjoyable.”
Howe has been in charge of caring for the Raider fields since the organization selected Napa for its camp. This year marks the Raiders’ 17th summer in Napa.
Situated on five acres, it’s one of the top facilities in the NFL. With the fields and hotel in such close proximity, players don’t have to walk far at all, whether to the meeting room, their hotel room or the fieldhouse. Weightlifting apparatus will soon be on the porch of the fieldhouse. The fields will soon be lined and blocking sleds, tackling dummies and other football equipment will be set up on the field, all ready to go for specific drills and workouts.
The Bermuda fields are in great shape and thrive in warm weather, said Howe.
“The hotter it gets, the better it is,” he said. “When we get our warmer days once the end of school comes, it just starts growing more and gets tougher.”
An arrangement between the Napa Valley Unified School District, city of Napa, Napa Valley Marriott and the Redwood Raiders Field Project Coalition has resulted in one of the NFL’s top facilities for summer camp.
The Raiders trained at the El Rancho Tropicana in Santa Rosa for 22 years (1963-1984) and also in Oxnard.
Allen and Reggie McKenzie, the Raiders’ general manager, were in town to tour the facilities in the late spring, said Howe.
The team will break camp on Aug. 23. After that, the fields are turned over to Redwood Middle School and are also used by the Napa Valley Soccer Club and Napa Youth Soccer League.
Clubs around the NFL will begin their on-field preparations for the 2012 season this week, starting with the Arizona Cardinals when their veterans and rookies report today. By Sunday, every NFL team will be in camp.
The Green Bay Packers are in their 55th year of training at Saint Norbert College in De Pere, Wis. The Minnesota Vikings are in their 47th year at Minnesota State in Mankato. The Pittsburgh Steelers are in their 47th year at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.
This year marks a new era for the Raiders. McKenzie was introduced as the team’s new GM at a press conference on Jan. 10. Allen was introduced as the team’s new head coach on Jan. 30.
McKenzie is entering his 26th year in the NFL and first with the Raiders in an executive capacity after 18 years as a member of Green Bay’s personnel department. McKenzie joined the Green Bay front office in 1994 and during his tenure the Packers captured eight division titles, three conference championships and won Super Bowls XXXI and XLV.
“Coach Allen is extremely bright, extremely intense,” McKenzie said on the team’s website, Raiders.com. “He’s focused on one thing and that’s what we are all focused on, and that is winning championships. That is our number one goal is winning championships.”
Before joining the Raiders, Allen was the Denver Broncos’ defensive coordinator last year. He was an assistant with the New Orleans Saints (2006-10) and Atlanta Falcons (2002-05).
“To take over such a historic program, be a part of that tradition there with the Raiders, is obviously exciting for all of us,” Allen said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to put our stamp on the program. It’s an exciting opportunity for all of us that are involved.
“I think with every great program in the National Football League, I think you really have to respect the history and tradition within the organization. The Oakland Raiders ... it’s one of the most storied franchises in all of sport, not just the NFL. We want to embrace those, embrace the past, and the history of the organization. But yet, we want to do it our way. Reggie and I are going to work together to do it the way we want to do it, and put the best team out on the field we can put out there.”
Having an identity is a big thing in football.
“Our deal is, we want to foster an organization that’s based on trust, honesty, integrity, doing the right things, doing it the right way,” said Allen. “Those are things that both Reggie and I believe in. That’s the way we’re going to run that organization. We’re going to do things the right way. We’re going to do things in a first-class manner. We’re going to build a team that’s going to be tough, smart, disciplined.”