Khalil Mack, after his first day of Raiders camp, seemed certain of one thing.

"I know I've got to get a lot better," Mack said.

How does the rookie linebacker know that? While training camp onlookers in Napa drooled at his combination of size and speed, what made him conclude he's "starting from the bottom"?

That's what veteran presence brings. The influx of accomplished ol' heads the Raiders accumulated this offseason is already paying dividends. How? The bar has been raised.

The first step of doing better is knowing better. And the Raiders certainly don't lack in knowledge. Or shyness.

Justin Tuck, after Day 1 of camp, was talking about the need for a mindset change. Charles Woodson has never been shy.

But the Raiders also can be expected to do better. One of the big questions heading into this season is how much the team's veterans have left in the tank. But the relief for the Raiders is that the bar is not high. None of the new acquisitions needs to carry this team. That makes it all the more sensible to expect they can produce enough.

That's why this route -- grabbing these accomplished players on the down side of their careers with something to prove, and not overspending -- was the right call. The reasonable call.

Keep in mind, 8-8 would be a 100 percent improvement on last season. Playoffs? That would require a rather historic turnaround. Success for the Raiders during this rebuilding period would be breaking even.


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And with what they have, that isn't a lofty goal.

The Raiders defense ranked 18th in the league last year in sacks (38) and 28th in passing yards allowed (4,092).

Tuck had 11 sacks last season. LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith had five each. All three newcomers can improve the Raiders pass rush in their sleep.

Nobody's asking them to get 15 sacks apiece. But if they combine for 21 again, that's a major difference.

Nick Roach, who led the Raiders in tackles last season and was second with 51/2 sacks, has a young stud in Mack, a healthy Miles Burris and promising second-year man Sio Moore competing to start alongside of him.

That's a notably better front seven without an All-Pro season being required.

The same philosophy of just-give-me-solid-production figures to improve the offense, which ranked 23rd in yards per game and 24th in points last season.

Marcel Reece, Rashad Jennings and Darren McFadden led a respectable rushing game last year. Jennings' 733 yards led the Raiders.

New back Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 803 last season and has a low of 768 when playing at least 14 games in a season. He doesn't have to be great.

If he can just hit his average from the last three seasons -- 941 yards on 221 carries -- that would be a boon to the running game.

And perhaps the only thing that can stop him from getting enough touches is production from McFadden or Latavius Murray.

On top of that, the offensive line has much more talent and depth with the addition of free agents Austin Howard, Donald Penn and Keith Booth. Now the Raiders have options and combinations to put around Stefen Wisniewski and Khalif Barnes.

And all this figures to help new starting quarterback Matt Schaub.

Certainly, Schaub had a rough season last year for Houston. And it wouldn't be a stretch to say that was a sign of things to come. But with lower team expectations than what he faced with the Texans, it's reasonable to expect an average season from him -- and that would be markedly better than what the Raiders had at quarterback last season.

Schaub has started all 16 games in three of his last five seasons. In those three seasons, he averaged 4,382 yards, 25 touchdowns and 13 picks. Anything close to that, and the Raiders are in business.

He doesn't have great receivers to throw to. But Rod Streater and San Jose State product James Jones both caught more than 50 balls for more than 800 yards last season.

That's good enough to relegate Denarius Moore, Andre Holmes and Greg Little to a battle for No. 3 receiver. And that's if Holmes -- the player to keep an eye on from this receiving corps -- doesn't prove to be ready for an increased role.

All of this is reasonable. The Raiders aren't relying on miraculous play to be better on offense. They don't need a breakout star to carry them on defense.

They only need proven players to perform at a percentage of their peak. This is a dramatically better position in which to be than hoping players do what they've never done before.

Read Marcus Thompson II's blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/thompson.

Inside
Raiders rookie cornerback TJ Carrie, a seventh-round pick, making strong impression in camp. PAGE 2

James Jones
Pos.: WR Age: 30 Yrs: 8
Key number: 59 catches, 817 yards in 2013
JUSTIN TUCK
Pos.: DE Age: 31 Yrs: 10
Key number: 11 sacks in 2013 , 60� career.
maurice Jones-DREW
Pos.: RB Age: 29 Yrs: 9
Key number: 1,606 yards rushing in 2011, 803 in 2013.
AUstin Howard
Pos.: OT Age: 27 Yrs: 5
Key number: Started 33 of his 36 NFL games.
LaMARR WOODLEY
Pos.: LB Age: 29 Yrs: 8
Key number: 13� sacks in 2009, 5 in 2013.
matt SchAUB
Pos.: QB Age: 33 Yrs: 11
Key number: 10 TD passes, 14 interceptions in 2013.