TAMPA, Fla -- The Oakland Raiders have been the NFL's best road team this season, already with four road wins on the way to a 5-2 record, and they are spending a full week on the road with consecutive games in Florida.
Jack Del Rio's team gave him a win Sunday in Jacksonville against his old team, and the Raiders are training at IMG Academy in Bradenton this week to prepare Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"We've got a process and they've adhered to the process," Del Rio said of his team's success away from home. "They've embraced it and really focused on just playing good football regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the weather, regardless of the time of day - just to get excited to get out and play good football whenever they put the ball down for us and we tee it up and kick off."
IMG's facility is so impressive that Jim Harbaugh brought Michigan down for a week of practice this spring and Del Rio's goal has been to make a week spent on the opposite side of the country feel like a typical game week for his players.
"We're just focusing on trying to keep it as normal as possible for the guys, for the coaches, for the players," he said. "We have a tremendous support staff that is providing everything we need, so that we can go about just a typical game week of preparation. So, all of our focus is there. Our workouts, our meetings, the structure, what we eat, everything is basically kind of staying within the normal flow of a game week."
The week also allows Del Rio to spend Saturday afternoon back in Jacksonville, where he can watch his son Luke play as the University of Florida's starting quarterback against Georgia in their annual rivalry game.
Sunday will be a reunion of sorts, as Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith were coordinators together on Del Rio's Jaguars staff in 2007, part of a team that won 11 games and a playoff game as well.
"I learned a ton from Jack," Koetter said Wednesday. "Both Jack and Mike Smith came out of the Brian Billick tree when they won the Super Bowl up in Baltimore and just organization. I was a pretty organized guy when I was a college coach, but NFL-style, I learned a lot about that from Jack. I was fortunate to come out of college and get with a guy like that."
There are other reunions to watch as well -- Raiders receiver Amari Cooper played once against Bucs rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves in college, and had 10 catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns in an easy 42-21 victory for the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Hargreaves has played well in his first six games, with no touchdowns allowed and no accepted penalties against him. He and Pro Bowl veteran Brent Grimes will be tasked not only with stopping Cooper but also Michael Crabtree, whose six touchdowns tie him for the NFL lead, with the Bucs' Mike Evans.
The Bucs, in turn, will try to exploit a Raiders defense that ranks last in the NFL in total defense and passing defense, and has given up a league-high nine pass plays of 40 yards or more. Evans is on pace to break the Tampa Bay's single-season records for catches, receiving yards and touchdown receptions.
While the Raiders are seeking their fifth road win, the Bucs are still seeking their first home win, having spent four of their first six on the road, with home losses to the Broncos and Rams. Koetter has lobbied for fans to limit the number of Raiders jerseys in the lower bowl, trying to get back a home-field advantage in a stadium where the Bucs have lost 15 of their last 18 games.
"We've got to learn how to win some games at home," Koetter said. "We need to. Let's keep those Raiders jerseys out of the lower bowl. Let's get some Bucs jerseys in there. Let's rock that place next week. I think we've got three in a row at home. We've got to do our part. We've got to learn how to win at home."