NAPA, Calif. — The lack of offseason minicamps and OTAs and the new rules cutting down on contact in practice were supposed to make training camp easier on players this summer.
Oakland Raiders coach Hue Jackson is having none of that.
The Raiders put pads on for the first time Saturday and went right into the Oklahoma blocking drill, one-on-one battles between offensive and defensive linemen and other contact drills.
"I love that. That's the name of the game," Jackson said. "If we're going to be a team that's building a bully, I can't all of a sudden walk out there on Sunday, Monday or Thursday and say we are. We've got to become one, and I think our guys understand it's a contact sport, and we've got to line up every now and then and run into each other."
Linebacker Rolando McClain threw down running back Taiwan Jones and gave a hard hit to Rock Cartwright, cornerback Jeremy Ware delivered a big blow on running back Louis Rankin, and there were even a couple of minor scuffles.
The players seemed to enjoy all the contact after an offseason of waiting.
"It felt good to get back out there and bang around a little bit," linebacker Kamerion Wimbley said. "I think you get that feeling back probably with maybe a couple of practices under your belt with the pads on. But I would say for the first day, I felt pretty good. I think a lot of us felt pretty good."
A couple of players didn't have it so good. Rookie cornerback Chimdi Chekwa's left shoulder popped out after hitting a blocking sled early in practice and he did not return. Jones also sat out the last half of practice after getting nicked up.
The first padded practice was far from their first time hitting. Even without pads, the Raiders first camp under Jackson got off to a fast and physical start.
Cooper Carlisle flattened cornerback Stanford Routt on a lead block on one running play Friday and Richard Seymour flattened a couple of running backs with big hits the first two practices.
"This will definitely pay dividends," Routt said. "It's rapid fire. It's going to build our endurance and when preseason comes we'll be ready to go."
The start of practice has been a far cry to how things went here the past two years under former coach Tom Cable. The Raiders opened those camps with four straight days of two-a-day walkthroughs in which there was a bigger focus on learning than on wearing pads, physical contact and running actual plays.
Quarterbacks often dropped back but did not pass the ball in seven-on-seven drills. The QBs sometimes practiced barking out audibles in the corner of the field while their teammates did other drills. The whistle would blow almost as soon as the ball is handed off as coaches make sure each player is in the right spot. And then the process repeated itself.
"Totally different from last year," defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said. "I mean, he made that plain and clear in the meetings when he was talking about what we had to do. Cabes, he wanted us to learn the stuff. But Hue's not worrying about that. He just wants to go hard as you can. If you fall out, we'll put somebody else in there."
Making it even harder on the players is the decreased numbers of people eligible to practice early in camp. With veteran free agents unable to hit the practice field until Aug. 4, the Raiders have had fewer than 70 players for each of their practices so far.
That means less time off and plenty of more action for all of the players who can suit up.
"You feel it in the reps," Kelly said. "You got to take a whole bunch of more reps. But in the end of the day, it's going to get us in shape a little quicker, and we're going to be ready to play a little quicker, especially the practice coach is running. It's rough, but it's what we got to go through. We need that anyway."
Jackson said he doesn't want to go too hard on his players, knowing he will need them healthy for the long season ahead. So he keeps a close eye on his veterans to see how they are handling the grind to determine when to pull back.
"There's a process to it," he said. "I have to monitor it with the other coaches, make sure that we're getting enough work done, that we are doing the physical part of it, but also make sure that we have a healthy football team. I think we're doing a good job of that. There's always going to be minor nicks, bumps and bruises as you go, but nothing that's been out of the ordinary."