There were no autograph-seeking fans hanging outside the hotel, and only a police convoy around a couple buses indicated something major was brewing nearby.
But, indeed, there was.
The Oakland Raiders are in town, staying at a team hotel in Sarasota and traveling to Bradenton’s IMG Academy for workouts this week in preparation for Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay. The workouts, which began Wednesday, are not open to the public.
Oakland head coach Jack Del Rio said the team’s operations staff coordinated the visit to the area, which was dictated by the NFL scheduling the team for back-to-back road games in the Sunshine State. The Raiders defeated the Jaguars, 33-16, in Jacksonville last Sunday.
“The benefit is us not having to fly back and forth,” Del Rio said. “As far as us being here and acclimating, I don’t know if you ever acclimate in the short time we’re here. We know what we’re up against.”
It’s the fourth time since 2012 that IMG has played host to an NFL team preparing for a regular-season game. The Bucs trained there during the 2011 lockout. The Carolina Panthers ended up at IMG Academy when the Democratic National Convention displaced them in 2012. And in 2013,the Arizona Cardinals trained there ahead of beating the Bucs 13-10.
For the Raiders, it’s not a social visit. Oakland is 5-2 and unbeaten in four road games this season. That has the Raiders tied with defending Super Bowl champion Denver for the lead in the AFC West.
“Our focus this entire week is winning this football game,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “I can see it from Monday and Tuesday night watching these guys, stopping by their rooms and guys are watching film instead of being outside.”
Wide receiver Amari Cooper, who played high school football in Miami (Northwestern H.S.) before starring at the University of Alabama, said IMG has a nice facility based off the Tuesday walkthrough experience.
The team’s first practice was Wednesday.
“IMG, I’ve never seen anything like that. That’s pretty nice,” said wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who leads Oakland with 39 receptions. “I just don’t know when those guys go to school. It seems like it’s sports year-round. I mean, that’s a nice facility, man. That’s nice.”
Compared to Oakland’s practice facility in Alameda, Calif., Crabtree said: “Our facility is coming along, but IMG is IMG, you know?”
The Raiders are exploring a move to Las Vegas, but they will require 75 percent of the 32 NFL owners to approve any move.
“It’s just a change in scenery and I feel like we’re just enjoying it,” Crabtree said. “Being in Sarasota, this is nice. We’re taking it all in and at the same time, we’re working every day. We can’t beat this weather, can’t beat this scenery. The Ritz? Can’t beat none of this. Just taking it all in, enjoying it and playing ball.”
Del Rio said he plans on heading back to Jacksonville for Saturday’s Florida-Georgia football game, where his son Luke is the Gators’ starting quarterback.
“The weather’s nice and there’s no state tax here and that’s always a good thing for the people who live here,” Carr said. “But it’s been awesome. The people here have been great.”