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Sparano meets with Raiders before bye
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ALAMEDA (AP) — Oakland Raiders interim coach Tony Sparano met with his players for the first time since replacing the fired Dennis Allen, then sent them off for a four-day weekend.

The Raiders (0-4) held a team meeting Wednesday, a day after Sparano was hired to finish the season. The players then were given the rest of the week off for their bye as mandated by the collective bargaining agreement. They will have their first practice under their new coach next Monday.

The handful of players available in the locker room said Sparano did not get into many details about the philosophy change he talked about Tuesday. But they expected some changes next week and hoped a new coach could provide a needed spark for a team that has lost 10 straight games dating to last season.

“It can actually go either way, but I believe that we have the guys on this team who can turn things around,” right guard Austin Howard said. “Obviously things haven’t gone our way so far. We’ve been anxious to figure out what we can do to change things and how we can get better, so we’re all in this. We’re ready to get things changed right now.”

Howard is one of the players who knows Sparano best, having also spent a year with him on the New York Jets in 2012. Sparano’s presence as offensive line coach in Oakland played a role in Howard signing here as a free agent this offseason.

Howard said the rest of the team will appreciate the type of coach Sparano is.

“He’s one of the best coaches I’ve had in my career,” Howard said. “The guy really understands how to get the players motivated, get us all on the same page. He knows how to win games. He’s turned a lot of programs around. It’s kind of crazy what’s going on right now, but we’re excited to have him and we’re ready to follow his lead.”

While the Raiders are excited for the change, the players also took responsibility for the poor start that led to Allen’s firing. After adding playoff-tested veterans Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Maurice Jones-Drew, James Jones, Matt Schaub, Antonio Smith, Donald Penn, Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown in the offseason, Oakland was looking for improvement after back-to-back four-win seasons.

Instead the Raiders lost their first four games and weren’t even competitive in lopsided losses to Houston and Miami which ultimately led to the coaching change.

“It’s one of the things that you don’t look forward to as a player,” safety Usama Young said. “I take accountability in my actions and in my play on the field. I’m like, ‘dadgum, what about this play right here? I could have fixed this, I could have fixed that.’ Several guys feel the same way. Coaches feel the same way. We could have done better. We could have changed the situation, possibly, but when it’s all said and done, it’s been done. And we got to continue on and try to get this thing going in the right direction.”

Young has one of the longest relationships with Allen, the two having spent four seasons together in New Orleans when Allen was a defensive assistant. Young said he talked with Allen after the firing.

“He’s always been a great coach, always been a great guy,” Young said. “I respect him to the fullest. At the same token, it’s just a tough conversation to have.”

Other questions that will have to wait until next week for answers include the health of rookie quarterback Derek Carr, who sprained a ligament in his left knee and left ankle in the loss to the Dolphins. Carr walked around the locker room without a noticeable limp and said he is feeling much better three days after leaving the game with the injury.

“We’re taking it day at a time, but knowing myself, I’ll be ready — that’s my answer, that’s my goal,” Carr said. “I’ve just got to continue to work hard to get ready.”