Minicamp concludes

Notes and quotes following the Raiders fifth and final minicamp practice:

The Raiders spent three days layering in system changes to their offense and defense, with the learning process far outweighing anything they accomplished in terms of actually making plays.

JaMarcus Russell, despite a forced interception to Stanford Routt while looking in the direction of Johnnie Lee Higgins, had his best overall practice and most consistent day in terms of passing. The same could be said of Jeff Garcia and Bruce Gradkowski.

“Today was better. Like in 7-on-7, team pass, both of those drills were probably the best they’ve been in the five practices,” Cable said. “There’s some improvement there. Some of that is the newer, deeper concepts, the timing of what that is, how to get into a deeper route, how to let it go on time. But I like it. I like where we’re at.”

— The quick pass out of the backfield to a running back, one that Russell has struggled with at times, looked better Sunday, particularly one throw that hit Darren McFadden in stride. It’s a play that could get big yards for the Raiders this year with McFadden’s speed and the power of Michael Bush.

— Three of their top four draft picks _ wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, safety Mike Mitchell and wide receiver Louis Murphy _ couldn’t make it into the fifth practice, needing to rest sore hamstrings.

“Just tightened up, my legs are a little too tight,” Heyward-Bey said with a chuckle. “Running too fast.”

Coach Tom Cable was not concerned.

“It’s the toughest transition for the rookies with all the running we do,” Cable said. “You just want to be smart with them, its precautionary.”

— Cable’s assessment of the rookie class: “(I was) impressed by their work ethic, impressed by their ability to learn. The guys who are playmakers, Mitchell, Murphy, Heyward-bey, obviously, made plays, but you could see at times they struggled a little bit. You just have to kind of get them through that. Now they have had a taste of it, they will be better prepared coming into OTA.”

— We’ll see how it plays out during full contact, but Cable confirmed what visual evidence seemed to suggest _ defensive tackle Terdell Sands has dropped some pounds.

“He’s absolutely a lot lighter,” Cable said, without divulging the amount. “He proved a couple years ago, three years ago now, that he was a real fine player at a certain weight. That kind of got away from him a little bit and now he’s back where he was before

“For him, it’s significant in that he realizes it’s time to get back being the kind of player I want to be. And we need him to. With the changes we’ve made on defense and all that, we can’t have him too big.”

— Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly continued to find himself on the other side of the line of scrimmage _ although too often before the ball was snapped. By conservative estimate, Kelly jumped offsides at least a half-dozen times in five practices.

On the positive side, he looks fit and active.

— Linebacker Ricky Brown, who opened the season as the starter on the strong side, spent his third consecutive day backing up Kirk Morrison in the middle. Brown doesn’t know if the move was temporary or more long-term.

“For this camp they wanted to put me in the middle, because they told me, `We already know you can play SAM,’ ” Brown said.

Brown began to go into detail regarding his groin problems, describing how muscle had torn from the pubic bone, and then delving into the specifics of a sports hernia, when I did something I don’t think I’ve ever done before.

“OK, please, stop,” I said.

Brown laughed.

“I know more about the anatomy down there then I ever wanted to know,” he said.

— Interesting to watch Cable operate as a head coach without the added responsibility of also being the line coach. He spent most of the five practices roaming from unit to unit, remaining fairly quiet and observing each position group, as opposed to exhorting his linemen on with equal parts enthusiasm and anger.

“I have a plan on what I want to do,” Cable said. “Part of my responsibility is coaching the coaches and making sure that what we’re planning to be and trying to do gets done.

“Having had experience, not just as a line coach but in other areas, I can help in a lot of places so I think it’s important that I’m doing that. I’m involved in everything and I see everything. As we get closer to the season the responsibility of calling plays will probably follow me more into that.”

— Cable said the two most impressive undrafted free agents in camp where Boise State tight end Chris O’Neal and Brigham Young linebacker David Nixon, although he’ll further evaluate on film.

— Judging from a first-hand look at drill-work where linebackers essentially ran a figure-eight around two oversized hoops as a test for speed and agility, Frantz Joseph, who saw only occasional time as a third team middle linebacker, is a step or three slower than the rest of the crew.

If Ricky Brown’s shift to the middle is any indicaiton, Joseph, the Florida Atlantic product with a boatload of tackles and a remarkable personal story, will have a difficult time cracking the roster.

— Cable’s end-of-camp review with the team: “I think we accomplished everything. That’s what I just talked to them about. We had a plan, we talked about Friday in that first team meeting, and you walk the field today and say we got everything done. We got the new stuff done, we wanted to set a work tempo and get the new players involved. Those were the three goals and we got that done.”

— Besides the three rookies, also missing practice were TE Zach Miller (sports hernia), DT Gerard Warren (pectoral muscle), DE Derrick Burgess (stomach virus), FB Oren O’Neal (knee), WR Javon Walker (knee), WR Arman Shields (knee), LG Robert Gallery (calf strain) and G Paul McQuistan (knee).

— I’ll have more on this as the date approaches, but Gallery is running a fundraiser called “Cruisin’ For Our Community” with all the proceeds going to to the children of four Oakland police officers killed in the line of duty on April 21.

The event will be held June 6, beginning in Dublin and ending in Livermore and will include a live auction, a silent auction, and possibily autograph sessions for donations with Raiders players at the ending point of the cruise at Los Vaqueros Restaurant at 1000 N. Vasco Road in Livermore.

Gallery, a car enthusiast (pre-1970 American made), had been planning on doing a benefit cruise for some time, and when he learned of the Oakland police fatalities, pulled out the card of an officer he had become friendly with at concerts and after Raiders games.

Gallery said his wife told him he’d better check to make sure the officer wasn’t one of the victims.

“It was Mark Dunekin, one of the bike cops that got killed,” Gallery said. “That was like a kick in the gut. I saw him all the time, talked to him after games. It hit home that much more.”


Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer