While taking a family break after a Raiders training camp practice in Napa, first-year coach Dennis Allen was instructing his 6-year-old daughter, Layla, on the finer points of form tackling.
With an assist from her father, Layla managed to push the tackling dummy over on its side. Then came the gentle reminder about going for the strip.
"Now get it out, you've got to get the ball out," Allen said as he helped Layla reach in and force a fumble of an imaginary football.
It's been that way for the Raiders as they enter their self-proclaimed "new era of excellence." No lesson is too small to address. Nothing is ever perfect. Everything can be done better.
Looking good coming off the bus is fine, but the Raiders also want to appear smart, organized and disciplined -- qualities not normally associated with the colors silver and black for the last decade.
Allen, 39, is like the customer at a carwash who finds a speck of dirt on the bumper and says, "You missed a spot."
There are, of course, more than a few specks to clean up in an organization that last finished better than .500 in 2002 and is coming off back-to-back 8-8 seasons. Two important areas Allen has targeted since being hired by general manager Reggie McKenzie: penalties and tackling.
The 2011 Raiders set NFL records with 163 penalties and 1,358 yards, and their tackling was shoddy enough to cough up 5.1 yards per carry against the run. Allen considers "mindset"
Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, working under his sixth head coach since joining the Raiders in 2004, said lessons are never-ending.
"D.A., he harps on it all day long, man," Kelly said. "It's everywhere. You could be walking down the hall on your way somewhere and he's going to remind you of something. We can fix technique, and if we can also cut down on the mental errors and penalties, man, people are going to have a hard time dealing with us."
There is a proper amount of deference to Al Davis, the late owner who built the organization in his own image. At the same time, McKenzie and Allen have made it clear they're doing things their own way.
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result," Allen said. "So we've got to do something different. We've got to change, and if we don't change we'll see the same results. So that's the message we've preached, and we're going to continue preaching it until the end of the season."
The trick is changing the habits of players already on the roster. With a limited cache of draft picks and McKenzie's belief in salary capeconomics -- an area Davis considered a nuisance -- the 2012 Raiders will have many of the same faces.
The Raiders spent their limited free-agent dollars on "mindset" players such as guard Mike Brisiel and defensive end Dave Tollefson, whose attitudes and toughness appeal to the new regime.
They also brought in cornerbacks Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer, two relative bargains who were cut elsewhere but have the reputation of serious students of the game.
The atmosphere in the post-Davis era is one that leaves nothing to chance. Rather than tread water and wait until the owner makes a decision on a matter of personnel or scheme, the Raiders are learning to operate with a sense of order.
"It's different. Everything is detailed," Kelly said. "Everything's got a plan. It ain't, 'Wait a minute and we'll find out.' You know everything, and you know what you've got to do, down to the second."
With Allen having been given complete control of the on-field operation, there are no gray areas. In past years, Raiders coaches were accustomed to being overruled, which could undercut authority.
When the Raiders arrived at training camp on July 28, they were required to sign in for all meals. Punctuality became a demand, rather than a loose concept. Players were challenged mentally as well as physically in meetings and film sessions.
In terms of style, Allen coaches in the manner of Bill Belichick and Nick Saban, overseeing and believing in a specific process in how to go about business on a daily basis.
"You know where you need to be at every moment, every day," safety Michael Huff said. "It's all lined up, what everybody expects from you, and if you stray from that, you really can't argue about it because it's been set up since Day 1."
Said quarterback Carson Palmer: "Coach is a stickler. He's been all over us, he's a fundamental guy. He wants us to understand every facet of the game and every possible situation you could be in a game. We cover a lot on the field, we cover a lot in meetings, and he's been on top of us so far."
Allen overhauled the Raiders systems of offense and defense. He brought in Greg Knapp to implement a West Coast style system with bootlegs, rollouts and a pure zone running scheme.
In conjunction with defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, Allen installed a multiple defense with mixtures in alignments and coverages that are radically different from the natural rush, man-to-man systems favored by Davis.
In contrast to the bombastic approach of 2011 coach Hue Jackson, Allen's demeanor is simple and direct, in part because he doesn't have to sell anyone on the notion that he is in charge.
There were no grand proclamations of making the playoffs or the Super Bowl. Allen, the 10th head coach since the Raiders returned to Oakland in 1995, reportedly got a four-year contract, lending a sense of stability.
Oakland was 1-3 in the preseason, and Allen has stressed on a daily basis that the team is far from a finished product.
"I think we're a tough team and we do have tough-minded people," Allen said. "We've played smart in situations and executed some situational football really well. I do think some of that discipline is showing up. It's still not the final product we're looking for."
The promise, according to Allen, is daily improvement and a constant education on what it will take to be a Raider in the new era.
"This is a complex game, and we throw a lot of things at them," Allen said. "What we're looking for is every day you want to see them improve a little bit. We don't want what we call repeat-mistake offenders. We don't want to see guys that make the same mistake over and over.
"I'm never going to be satisfied with where we're at. We're always going to be looking to improve, so it's an ongoing process."
A quartet of teams the 49ers and Raiders must watch out for in their Super Bowl hunt
2011 record: 13-3
Even with a tattered defense (31st a year ago) and a ramshackle offensive line, the Patriots will find a way. They always do. Over the past 10 years, New England is 123-37 with eight playoff berths and two Super Bowl titles. "(Bill Belichick) is the greatest coach of his generation, there is no doubting that," CBS analyst Boomer Esiason said. "He certainly belongs on the Mount Rushmore of head coaches in the NFL." Tom Brady has plenty of targets -- including former 49ers receiver Brandon Lloyd -- but no one keeps defensive coordinators up at night more than tight end Rob Gronkowski (1,327 yards, 17 TDs).
2011 record: 12-4
Like his brother's team, John Harbaugh's Ravens came within a miscue or two of the Super Bowl. In the Ravens' case, it was a dropped potential game-winning touchdown (Lee Evans) and a missed game-tying field goal (Billy Cundiff). Now, the annually formidable Ravens can break through behind MVP candidate Ray Rice. The do-it-all running back can join Marshall Faulk as the only NFL players to record at least 1,000 rushing yards and 700 receiving yards in at least three different seasons.
2011 record: 15-1
In his MVP season a year ago, Aaron Rodgers had a single-season record 13 games with at least a 100 passer rating. "If I'm playing consistently and doing things I know I'm supposed to do, we'll be able to have some success because of it," Rodgers said. Now, if only the Packers defense could do the same. Green Bay gave up a league-worst 411.6 yards per game last season while serving up 22.4 points per game. Any wonder that the Packers used their first-round pick on USC linebacker Nick Perry?
2011 record: 10-6
No player in the NFL last season was targeted more than Roddy White, who caught 100 of the 180 passes thrown his way. "I've got a great bond with my quarterback," White said of Matt Ryan. "We've been on the same page since he started here, and our bond has gotten closer and closer each year." Just don't expect White's "most-targeted" figure to be duplicated, not with fellow WR Julio Jones poised for a breakout season. Led by that explosive duo, the Falcons might finally shake their 0-3 playoff record under coach Mike Smith.