Highlights from Thursday’s organized team activity session, the last time the media will see the Raiders as a group until they convene at the Napa Marriott on July 25, with practice starting the following day:
— Cornerback Michael Waddell intercepted an Andrew Walter pass on the dead run and returned it for a touchdown on the final play of the session.
The first-team offense avoided a turnover, but didn’t manage to move into position for even a field goal attempt during their two-minute drill. A JaMarcus Russell pass bounced off the hands of running back Justin Fargas on fourth down.
— Midway through the two-minute drill, defensive tackle Terdell Sands was looking for shade and bent over at the waist near the hydraulic lift machine, gasping for air. Sands was back at practice after missing last week’s OTA due to a personal matter.
— Free safety Gibril Wilson missed practice for the second straight week with another personal matter, which arose Monday, Kiffin said.
Wilson’s absence gave rookie fourth-round draft pick Tyvon Branch work with the first team.
“ It’s been great for him and he’s really seized the opportunity,” Kiffin said. “That’s what happens and we don’t look at when somebody’s not here as that guy not being here. We look at it as more reps for someone else and more guys to seize the opportunity at different positions. Tyvon’s done a great job.”
Although there were no major gaffes Wednesday, this quote has the earmarks of Kiffin talking up a rookie’s confidence. Branch has struggled in coverage during most media sessions. Known as a big hitter and a sure tackler, Branch’s true worth will become more apparent during training camp.
— During one team session, Russell saw an opening and ran up the middle up for a 12-yard gain, prompting an exasperated Keith Millard to chastize his defensive linemen.
“C’mon, guys,” Milllard urged.
Kiffin agreed with the assessment that people don’t realize how mobile Russell truly is and noted, “I think they’ll forget how hard he is to bring down, too. There’s a lot of plays in college where guys are draped on him and they can’t bring him down because of his size and strength.”
— Rookie Trevor Scott was getting work with the first team at right end, although it should be noted the Raiders were substituting liberally.
— Fourth-round draft pick Arman Shields is not practicing with a hamstring pull _ he’s been out since the rookie minicamp _ and it has put him behind fellow rookie Chaz Schilens, a seventh-round pick of similar size who has had some solid moments.
“It puts him in a hard situation,” Kiffin said. “It puts him behind right away. It’s a lot of work. Those other guys have gotten a lot of work and a lot of work with these quarterbacks. But the first day of training camp isn’t the first thing he can do. He’ll be in there this offseason so he can throw, he can work with our coaching staff at certain times. It’s up to him how fast he catches up.”
— With both Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard missing practice with previous engagements, it meant a lot of practice time for Ricky Brown and Jon Alston, both hoping to remain as reserve linebackers/special teams players.
Alston prompted a brief sideline scuffle with a hit on Drew Carter on the sideline which was clearly beyond the bounds of the “no contact” limitations.
— Chris McFoy beat Chris Johnson in a seven-on-seven drill and hauled in a perfectly thrown corner route from Walter, prompting a playful headslap by Johnson to McFoy after the play.
— Tight end Tony Stewart, who was active for 16 games but did not catch a pass last season, made several catches Wednesday, including one difficult, juggling grab.
— Free safety Hiram Eugene made a nice break on Walter pass intended for McFoy and broke up the play.
— Jarrod Cooper, apparently fully recovered from ACL surgery, was back on the field with no restrictions and was getting lots of defensive work. Always quick to apply the needle to a teammate, Cooper’s target Wednesday was Johnnie Lee Higgins.
“Hey Higgins, make a play,” Cooper said.
Later, Cooper urged Russell, “Throw it to Higgins. He hasn’t made a play in two weeks.”
— Center Jake Grove, who hasn’t practiced through minicamps and OTAs following offseason surgery, looks more bulky, but Kiffin believes the weight is well distributed.
“Jake’s doing extremely well with what he can do as far as the weight room and rehab,” Kiffin said. “We’ve got a lot of expectations for Jake to come in and battle for the starting spot at center.”
Chris Morris was back working with the first team at center after giving way to John Wade last week.
— Justin Griffith missed practice to run a youth sports camp, with Tony Jackson getting most of the work at fullback. Oren O’Neal remained sidelined with a hamstring pull, watching from the sidelines.
— Marques Tuiasosopo looks as if he could challenge Walter for the starting job, operating in an offense more suited to his skill set than the systems run by Norv Turner and then Art Shell/Tom Walsh.
“He’s done a real good job, especially in the move-the-ball situations, moving the ball around and getting it to the right people,” Kiffin said. “It feels like he’s been here a long time.”
That must of been the problem with Shell and Walsh. Not enough “move-the-ball” situations and too many instances of “drop back and look for a soft place to land.”
— Kiffin continues to laud Russell’s preparation and work ethic, and Russell said he is working as hard mentally as he is physically.
“I have everything on DVD and I watch it at home myself,” Russell said. “Everything _ runs, steps or pass settings _ anything that I can become good at _ I go home and look it over myself.”
— Russell said he planned on getting some R&R time, but wouldn’t overdo it, joking that stories would surface that he is “back up to” 300 pounds.
— The Raiders opted to make Wednesday’s session open, keeping their final session out of the prying eyes of the media.
“Tomorrow we’ll go to more of a team format, kind of have fun with guys, divide them up, let them play a little bit,” Kiffin said.
A Raiders spokesman confirmed there would be no confirmation of Javon Walker getting into town Wednesday night and that Walker would not be available for interviews Thursday.