NAPA -- While general manager Reggie McKenzie has spent much of his time modernizing and upgrading the infrastructure of the Raiders, an Al Davis tradition will live on when the Raiders hold their first training-camp practice Monday at Redwood Middle School.
The annual retreat to the wine country continues in the face of many changes, the biggest being it will be the first training camp there without Davis' considerable influence.
"I think there's something to going off site, getting away from the city, where your families are," McKenzie said.
The Raiders are one of 14 teams that travel to training camp. The Napa Valley Marriott has been the training-camp home to the Raiders since 1996.
Former Raiders executive John Herrera said he investigated approximately 50 potential sites after the team moved back to Oakland, with Napa winning out over Morgan Hill.
"Thirty-one other teams could decide they were staying at their facility, and Al still would have wanted to get away for training camp," Herrera said. "It was a place where he was truly in his element. It was all football all the time, and he had everyone in one place -- a captive audience."
Davis left it up to Herrera to close the Napa deal and never set foot on the facility until he arrived for camp in 1996.
"I was holding my breath, because I'd put together this project and spent a lot of money," Herrera said. "He gets out of the car, looks around, looks at me
In failing health a year ago, Davis for the first time did not attend a single practice, although team officials said he was occasionally on site and poring over film daily.
McKenzie, the choice of Mark Davis to run the football operation after his father's death Oct. 8, has overseen a makeover that has included most of the coaching staff, offensive and defensive systems, as well as the scouting department.
Without Al Davis, camp will have a decidedly different feel, free safety Michael Huff said.
"The whole aura of practice changed when he got there," Huff said. "You'd turn around and see him in his cart, and word would spread throughout the entire team that he was there. Even last year, when he wasn't there, you knew he was watching every play and every drill on film."
No longer will Davis be around to greet players as they come off the field, giving them pointers and surprising even undrafted free agents with knowledge of their background.
"Most of the young guys that saw him for the first time were in awe of him," Herrera said. "For him to call them over and just give them the smallest amount of time was just a huge, huge thing for those guys."
While Davis gave his head coach considerable latitude in terms of the scheduling and pace of practices, Huff noticed one other difference when the boss was on the field.
"As soon as he was out there, we knew there would be nothing but man-to-man coverage for the rest of practice," Huff said.
First-time head coach Dennis Allen has no such concerns in terms of scheme. Allen, who was Denver's defensive coordinator last year, has brought in defensive coordinator Jason Tarver from Stanford. The two are remaking the Raiders defense in one of the most intriguing story lines of training camp.
Holdovers such as Huff and newcomers such as linebacker Philip Wheeler talked of a diverse, multiple defensive philosophy that mixes coverages and will blitz from all angles -- a radical departure from Davis' core beliefs of man-to-man coverage and mostly pressure from four pass rushers.
"You never know what we're going to hit you with," Wheeler said.
While Davis wore many hats and was heavily involved in every aspect of the operation, McKenzie promises to leave the coaching to Allen while he concentrates on player acquisition and other parts of the football operation.
Allen has not been available to the media since the close of the club's mandatory minicamp June 14, at which time he said, "I think for the most part we've installed really who we are and what we are."
The offense will be run by coordinator Greg Knapp, who held the same position under Lane Kiffin with the Raiders before moving to Seattle and Houston.
Knapp will orchestrate a West Coast offense around quarterback Carson Palmer and running back Darren McFadden, with Allen working closely with Tarver and promising accountability from the players for the overall product.
"From the standpoint of the big picture, he gets it," McKenzie said of Allen. "He's always a step ahead. He's all over that defense, which I like, but he's not all about defense. He's acting like a real head coach. You can't tell he hasn't been a head coach before."