In the wide-open AFC West, an up-and-coming restored regime is laying the foundation for great things to soon come to fruition.
While injuries weren't the biggest reason the Oakland Raiders fell short of postseason play in 2011, the return of defensive end Matt Shaughnessy and running back Darren McFadden is only more reason for optimism for Oakland in the upcoming season.
Veteran players are excited to be back and it's a good sign to have everyone at minicamp present and/or participating.
Richard Seymour, 32, knows what it takes to win, having spent eight of his 11 seasons in New England.
When the 6-6, 310-pound former first-round pick (sixth overall in 2001) made his first appearance on the opening days of the 2012 mandatory minicamp, he expressed praise for new head coach Dennis Allen and his staff, in addition to his teammates and promoted an attitude change that is sweeping across the team.
"I think he's the best in the NFL against the run," Seymour said of teammate Matt Shaughnessy. "I can't say that against the pass now for all the sacks a lot of the other defensive ends have. In terms of the run I'll put him out there with anyone.
"He's definitely developed into a complete player," he continued. "It was a big blow for us when he went down. It messed up our rotation a lot. Guys that weren't normally in there were trying to understand what we were trying to do. To get him back healthy this year is big for us.”
With a healthy Shaughnessy, the Silver and Black will feature one of the better defensive lines in the league with Lamarr Houston lining up on the left side and Tommy Kelly and Seymour manning the middle.
"Once we learn this defense and start playing together, I think it's going to be tough to stop because there's so many different things we can do,'' Shaughnessy said. "And if we're all on the same page, we're just going to be working faster."
The 6-5, 270-pound Shaughnessy, 25, has appeared in 35 contests (13 starts) and forced a total of 92 tackles, 12.0 sacks, one pass defensed and two forced fumbles.
"It felt good being out there," Shaughnessy continued. "You got to get used to the tempo, but as soon as that happens, should be smooth. It's one thing to sit and read it in a book, then it's another thing to come out here and do it. And I think actually doing it physically helps me learn it better.''
Seymour said the defense is “definitely going to be disciplined” under Dennis Allen but will maintain its aggressiveness.
“We don't want to lead the league in penalties or anything like that,” Seymour said. “But we definitely want to be aggressive. “That's one thing that since I came here, as a defensive lineman, you think of tough, physical, aggressive-style defenses. We're definitely going to keep that, but (eliminate) the penalties and things that aren't helping us win.”
Allen will bring his new strategies and schemes to the defense to instill discipline and the key players on the defense squad will become the strength that will make the difference.
"The key to playing football in the National Football League is to find ways to affect the quarterback and you do that by rush or coverage,'' Allen said. "So when you got guys that have the ability to get after the passer, it allows you to do some things in the back end in the coverage aspect.''
Having a head coach with a defensive background is "obviously a good thing," Seymour said, "but if you mess up, they know what you did wrong as well," he added with a smile.