If there’s a tone, a theme, a mindset or an identity that Dennis Allen is working to create as head coach of the Oakland Raiders, it just may have been revealed during a sequence of plays during the first day of training camp on Friday at Redwood Middle School.
Defensive back Corey Nelms, safety Reggie Smith and cornerback Joselio Hanson each intercepted a pass during a series of three straight plays, highlighting the performance of an athletic and energized defense in a non-padded practice that lasted for two hours.
There were a few other big plays as well. Defensive backs Brandian Ross and Phillip Adams each broke up a pass.
“We want to be a really good defensive football team,” Allen said after the first practice, which had players in helmets, jerseys, shorts and cleats. “We want to fly around, we want to be aggressive, and today was the first step in that direction.
“When you look at training camp, what you hope you see is some balance. You hope you see the defense make a few plays. You hope you see the offense make a few plays, because that’s when you know you’ve got a good football team.”
The Raiders — in Napa for their 18th summer — are looking to bounce back after a 4-12 record in Allen’s first season as coach. They have not had a winning season since 2002.
Allen said he has talked to his team about competing in everything that you do and the importance of winning. You create good habits or bad habits every day that you come out to the practice field, the coach said.
“We’ve got to understand how to play this game at a championship level and how to win,” said Allen. “I’m not talking about just on Sundays in games. I’m talking about out here on the practice field. It’s about winning your matchup on every single play.
“I want these guys to come out here and work their tail off to be the best football players that they can be. We’ll deal with the evaluation process when that’s all said and done. Our focus right now is, how can we be the best football team that we can be this year?”
Allen said the Raiders — who will pad up on Sunday following two days of an acclimation period — ran the ball well Friday, with the offensive line doing a nice job.
“I thought the backs did an excellent job of being able to run the football. That’s something that we’re going to have to be able to do,” said Allen.
There is a new look to the Raiders, who have Matt Flynn working at quarterback with Terrelle Pryor, Tyler Wilson and Matt McGloin. The roster has been overhauled by Reggie McKenzie, the team’s general manager.
The Raiders acquired Flynn in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks this past spring. Flynn spent the 2012 season with Seattle after playing his first four seasons in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers. In exchange for Flynn, the Raiders traded their fifth-round selection in the 2014 draft, as well as a conditional undisclosed 2015 selection, to the Seahawks.
“There were some good things that he did,” Allen said, in assessing Flynn’s first practice. “We’ve still got to be more consistent in all aspects of our football team. But really specifically in the passing game, we’ve got to continue to improve. He made some nice reads, made a couple of really good throws today.”
Flynn, entering his sixth year out of LSU, backed up NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers from 2008-11, then backed up standout rookie Russell Wilson in Seattle last season.
Flynn has not had a lot of playing time in his early professional career.
In two career starts, both in place of Rodgers, Flynn completed a combined 55 of 81 passes (67.9 percent) for 731 yards, with nine touchdowns and two interceptions.
Raiders have 87 players on roster
There are 87 players on the roster, with 26 of those being rookies. Allen said that he has been pleased with the progress of the rookie class, which has gone through an offseason conditioning program, organized team activities, mini camp, and now the first day of training camp.
The team has signed all of 10 of its selections from the 2013 NFL Draft.
“They’re rookies, there’s a long way to go and we’ve got a lot of work that we’ve got to get done,” said Allen. “They’re working extremely hard to get those things accomplished. We’ve got some young players on this team and training camp is a time to develop those players. I’m looking forward to seeing how they come along as we go through the next six weeks getting ready for the upcoming season.”
DJ Hayden, a cornerback and the team’s first-round pick out of Houston, was cleared Friday to come off the non-football injury list. Hayden, who signed on Thursday, wore a red jersey at practice. The red jerseys are usually reserved for quarterbacks, kickers and punters.
“He seemed active. He can run around and do all those things,” said Allen. “He’s really not limited from a physical standpoint. We’re going to limit some of the contact drills that we do with him. We’re not just going to throw him into the fire right away.
“When you draft a guy like that, that has the talent that he has — and we expect him to be able to help our football team — we want to make sure we’re smart and do the right things in bringing him along and let him get acclimated.”
Hayden was selected 12th overall by the Raiders in April. He played two seasons at the University of Houston, garnering All-Conference USA honors in both campaigns after transferring from Navarro Junior College. Hayden played in 22 career games with 21 starts at Houston, recording six interceptions, 127 tackles (90 solo), one sack, six forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and 19 passes defensed.
The Houston native’s senior season was limited to just nine games due to an injury to his inferior vena cava, suffered in a practice collision. He had offseason surgery to remove scar tissue from the abdominal area.
“We’re going to evaluate him as he goes along and we’ll see how cautious we need to be,” said Allen. “From a medical standpoint, we really don’t see any challenges. He’s ready to roll.”
Allen said he would not comment on injuries, other than the fact that three players — Menelik Watson (tackle), Miles Burris (linebacker) and Pat Sims (defensive tackle) — did not practice Friday due to injury.
The Raiders are in Napa for 4 1/2 weeks. The team stays at the Napa Valley Marriott.
Fans cheered Allen after he addressed the team following a play that he did not like.
The play of the day may have been a catch by wide receiver Rod Streater, who was defended by cornerback Tracy Porter.
“I thought for the first practice, I was pleased with what we were able to get done today,” said Allen. “We’re excited about being out here, excited about the first day of training camp.
“Obviously, it’s the first step in a long journey, and we’ve got a lot of progress that we’ve got to make and we’ve got a short time to get it done. Guys are working extremely hard to get that done.
“I think all of us have a long way to go. We’re not ready to go yet, but that’s why you have training camp, to get ourselves ready to go — everybody on the football team.”