ALAMEDA -- In their renegade days, the Raiders once hired former running back Arthur Whittington to keep track of what players were doing in the offseason.

Tim Brown, a star wide receiver from 1988 through 2003, said then-owner Al Davis wasn't too concerned with character. Whittington's job was "literally chasing guys around, making sure they were OK ... the guys could play, but they had a few issues and sometimes they needed to make sure their driveway was blocked in the middle of the night so they couldn't get out," Brown said.

Now, the Raiders' director of player engagement is Lamonte Winston, one of the leaders in a growing movement to help NFL players avoid legal trouble.

Since Reggie McKenzie arrived in 2012, the Raiders have been free of the kind of off-field drama that has been a big part of their history. Part of the reason is signing players who take themselves and their sport seriously. The other is Wilson, brought aboard in 2012.

Winston replaced Willie Brown, who was involved in player issues but also had other roles.

"My role is I have to be accessible 24/7," Winston said. "If things happen that are adverse, they know who to call and we have resources to help them."

Working with players off the field has expanded and evolved over the years with a number of services currently available through the NFL, including mentoring programs, job shadowing programs, continuing education, counseling and career transition assistance.

Winston, who went to Oakland's Skyline High, helped define the concept. The Winston/Shell Award is given annually to the team with the most outstanding player engagement program. It's named after Winston and former Steelers defensive back Donnie Shell, considered pioneers in the field.

Given collective bargaining agreement restrictions that limit the amount of interaction between players and coaches, Winston is able to talk with players who are otherwise out of touch.

"As long as I don't get involved in X's and O's, I'm fine," Winston said. "I stay in my lane in terms of player engagement."

Before coming to the Raiders, Winston, 55, spent 17 seasons working with players for the Kansas City Chiefs. His direct approach impressed Rich Gannon, a former Chiefs and Raiders quarterback.

"He's one of the best in the business," Gannon said. "He's a no-nonsense guy. Players can relate to him. At the core of his being, he's about doing the right thing, and he has a way of getting across to players what he needs to hear."

Said Dick Vermeil, who was the Chiefs head coach for five seasons, "It's a hell of a responsibility and no one in the league does it better than he does. He'll challenge them and take them on and they know he's a strong-minded guy."

Winston must strike a delicate balance in that he must earn the respect of his players while at the same time serving the organization, management and the coaching staff.

"The way I've operated for 20 years is simple," Winston said. "What's said to me, stays with me. There are two areas where all bets are off -- if that player is going to hurt himself or the organization, or if he's going to hurt someone else."

Every team has player engagement personnel, but not all of them operate the same way.

"Some teams just take it more seriously than others," said NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly, a former general manager with the Houston Texans and Washington Redskins.

Vermeil said, "It's one thing to give someone the responsibility, the other is giving him the authority and power to do it."

NFL Executive Vice President of Operations Troy Vincent, who served as the league's player engagement director from 2010 through 2013, said one of his mandates was to "stabilize and create a degree of consistency" from team to team.