The Oakland Raiders open training camp July 29 at the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa in Napa, California. Here's a closer look at the Raiders' camp, which ends Aug. 16.
Top storyline: The Raiders have not been in the playoffs since the 2002 season, the second-longest current streak in the NFL. They have not had a winning record since that season, either, giving them the longest current streak of futility. But the optimistic mood permeating Silver and Blackdom this offseason is unlike any since that Black Sunday of Super Bowl XXXVII in January 2003, when Oakland was thumped by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 48-21. "The state of this team is unbelievable, something that I, personally, have never been around and only dreamed of," said All-Pro fullback Marcel Reece, who is entering his ninth season. Indeed, optimism abounds. Will the Raiders believe the hype or use it as fuel in camp?
If the Derek Carr can stay cool under pressure, the offense will thrive: Car has been compared to gunslinger Brett Favre. With that in mind, if Carr does not come unhinged in the pocket he should be able to help the Raiders take the next step. He has the utmost trust in his receivers, and the feeling seems mutual. That's a must, even if Carr's 53 touchdown passes through his first two seasons rank second in NFL history, behind only Dan Marino's 68 TDs in his first two years.
Player who will have the fans buzzing: Khalil Mack made history when he was named first-team All-Pro at two positions, outside linebacker and defensive end, after nearly quadrupling his sack total from 4.0 as a rookie to 15.0 last season. Many observers foresee Mack taking another massive leap forward, especially with Bruce Irvin now playing opposite him. Yes, Mack could have fans debating the merits of his play versus that of league MVP candidate J.J. Watt, rightly or not.
Position battle worth watching: Menelik Watson appeared to have the upper hand on Austin Howard at right tackle in offseason workouts, but both players are coming off injuries; Watson went down last preseason with a ruptured Achilles tendon, and Howard missed the final three games after suffering a knee injury. Still, the Raiders revamped their O-line by bringing in Kelechi Osemele to play left guard and switched Gabe Jackson to right guard. Including Howard, the Raiders' projected starting O-line averages 6-foot-4 and 325 pounds.
That rookie should start: Karl Joseph was not drafted 14th overall to sit while the Raiders rebuild their secondary. He is expected to man the strong safety spot for seasons to come. A hard hitter despite being just 5-foot-10, 205 pounds, Joseph missed all but four games at West Virginia last season and did not practice in rookie camp, organized team activities (OTAs) or minicamp, but Joseph is expected to be a full-go on Day 1 of training camp.
Veteran whose job is in jeopardy: Three names come to mind in cornerback DJ Hayden, the aforementioned Howard and running back Roy Helu Jr. Let's go with Helu, though. Pro Bowler Latavius Murray is the unquestioned starter, and Taiwan Jones should have a roster spot as a kick returner. Plus, the Raiders drafted DeAndre Washington and signed undrafted free agent Jalen Richard, both of whom have similar skill sets to Helu, who, by the way, missed all of the offseason practices recovering from injury.
AC/DC connection: Amari Cooper and Carr formed a unique bond in their first season together in 2015, even if Cooper struggled with dropped passes. Despite becoming the first Raiders rookie with a 1,000-yard receiving season and the first Oakland receiver to go for 1,000 yards since Randy Moss in 2005, Cooper had 10 drops last season, second-most in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Info, and Pro Football Focus had him leading the league with 18 drops on 90 catchable passes. Expect Cooper and Carr to work on gaining more familiarity in camp.
Replacing team leadership: Charles Woodson and Justin Tuck took 29 combined seasons of NFL experience with them into retirement. So how does that void get addressed in the dog days of camp? Carr and Mack, along with 2014 draft classmate Jackson, made a pledge when they were selected by Oakland two years ago to be part of a new era and assume the mantle of leadership. Training camp in Napa's wine country will be that first test.
What fans will be saying after camp: In keeping with Reece's optimistic theme, the denizens of Raider Nation will be dreaming of the playoffs after "winning" free agency with the additions of Osemele, Irvin, cornerback Sean Smith and free safety Reggie Nelson, who did not practice in any offseason program. And why not? With so much turnover on the offensive side of the ball in Denver and the Raiders making a jump from three victories in 2014 to seven last season, the AFC West seems up for grabs -- as long as the Raiders emerge from camp without any major injuries.
For daily updates at camp, check out the Raiders clubhouse page.