Experience: Fourth NFL season
We have to worry about Oakland football and make sure we’re sound in all three phases: offense, defense and special teams. Going out there and executing day in and day out at practice is step one.
We need to get turnovers. Last year, we were a top-three team as far as creating turnovers and they are a huge facet of the game. They not only allow you to get off the field on defense, but they allow your offense the opportunity to get more points. That’s what this league is about: creating more possessions.
It’s iron sharpening iron. Going against Derek Carr these last four years has been beneficial because he’s always picking [the secondary] apart or explaining why he’s picking us apart. It’s a good thing because we’re able to see what top-tier quarterbacks are like. It’s always interesting for me to ask Derek, “What did you see?” or “Every time you guys go against me, why do you do this or that?” Derek exploits your weaknesses in practice and that’s what you need practice for. You would rather have them exploited in practice than the game.
When we went to Mexico City last year, it was like we were playing at home. It’s a surreal experience and just being able to go to Mexico City and see that many passionate Raider fans there screaming, yelling and really rooting for us. That’s one of the biggest things that makes us feel at home when we go to that type of environment, where football to them is soccer, is they see us coming and they’re thrilled.
[There’s been] a big culture change. My first couple years [in Oakland], we were bottom of the league as far as wins and just the level of things we could achieve. Then, we had a great season and postseason last year. Now coming into this season, the expectation was high because everyone sees the value of what we have. It’s our job as players to go out there and perform in the game, practice and even off the field to become that team we need to be. I’ve experienced this from when we were 3-13 to 12-4 and now going onto this year, a time when we can still be great.
I played against Tom Brady my rookie year. He and coach [Bill] Belichick — and really their whole staff — have been together for so long. They’re always in tune with each other, and when you have an organization where everyone is as in tune as they are, it’s very hard to beat. They’re very comfortable with who they are. They know their identity, what they’re good at and what their weaknesses are. When you try to attack their weaknesses, they already have a counter plan because they know. Going against a player like that, you really have to be on your P’s and Q’s.
If it’s not me, I’m watching film on the old players I grew up watching, like Charles Woodson, Rod Woodson, Lester Hayes. All of those players that I feel brought tremendous value to the game, so I can emulate that in that instance. I try to take from the greats. Willie Brown is a Hall of Famer who we consistently see on the practice field, so grabbing little nuggets from him whenever I can is what I do.
Being able to play 18 years at the level [Charles Woodson] played with, he had to have an amazing work ethic. And he didn’t decline in his last couple of years. To see those things, that’s when I really started to notice, If he’s working like this in Year 17 and 18 and I’m not doing this in Year 3, there’s a big problem there. A lot of what I do as far as emulating his game is the work ethic, going nonstop and trying to become the best me.
The more reps you get, the more comfortable you are. I’ve learned something about being a pro every year. … This year, the coaches are putting us in tremendous position to make plays and we just need to capitalize. I’ve been around a lot of veterans with a lot of knowledge. Now it’s time for me to give that knowledge to other players.
You can never take any opponent for granted. It may be that one time that you overlook a receiver and he’ll take advantage of you. All of them are a challenge, so I can’t slight any of them.
Not a lot of players get to say they play in their hometown — for four years, at that. It’s bittersweet in some instances because there’s so much family that wants to support you and be there with you that sometimes you have to decipher who can come. I have to create a timeline of when people can come. It’s not a bad thing to have because it’s a lot of support.
[Through the NFL’s “My Cause My Cleats” initiative,] I’m raising money for heart disease. I had open heart surgery and the hospital I had my surgery at was in Oakland. A lot of times I go back and support the kids there. Sometimes I sit down and play games with them and bring them presents and give them encouragement. They’re in this situation right now where they’re seeing the dark of the tunnel, but at the end of the tunnel, there’s always light. I’m living proof of what they’re going through and it gives them joy.
I’m a big believer in faith. And a big part of what I’ve been able to accomplish is because of good family, good friends, good coaches, good mentors, and then, always working. The biggest thing in life is if you want something, you’re gonna have to put in the work. You have to make the sacrifices to get there and I’ve made a tremendous amount of sacrifices in order to be able to overcome the surgeries that I went through. Put all of those things together and you get to your dreams and your goals.
Being able to live this dream is still so surreal to me. You always hear the sayings that people wake up miserable because they hate their jobs. But what people consider work for me is something that I love doing. It’s something that I’ve played since I was a very young kid. Now being able to live this dream and share it with my family and my friends, who all put in a tremendous amount of work as well, is a lot of fun. I try and give them a little piece of it every day, whether that’s coming to games or coming with me to certain places where I have to maybe do autograph signings and all that. I’m still grateful for what I have.
One of the biggest things that Camp Taylor gives the kids is that everyone is going through the same struggle. One of the biggest things that I took away from that was the scars that these kids have. A lot of the time kids are afraid to swim at the pool or do other things because of the scar they have. It inhibits them from doing some of the things. Now what you start to see with Camp Taylor is they’ve raised the level of doctors who perform these surgeries. The doctors are making sure the scar is as perfect as possible.