By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Monday, May 11th, 2009 at 9:53 am in Oakland Raiders.
If you’re one of those people shaking their heads because three of Oakland’s first four draft picks ended up with sore hamstrings, watching their new teammates finish minicamp Sunday, just wait until next year.
That’s not to say it will be a year Darrius Heyward-Mike Mitchell and Louis Murphy won’t contribute anything. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not all that significant that they didn’t finish strong. Look at it as if they were thrown off the high-dive without knowing how to swim and their overprotective parents decided they’d be better off staying out of the pool on Sunday.
Meanwhile, players who were dog-paddling a year ago were making like Michael Phelps (minus the bong). Some of the best looking players at the three-day camp included running back Darren McFadden, wide receiver Chaz Schilens and defensive end Trevor Scott _ all rookies last season.
Tom Cable submitted Tyvon Branch, a first-team strong safety, as well, and he may well have been on film, athough nothing jumped out to my untrained eye.
Going back a year further, the Class of 2007 was well-represented with starting left tackle Mario Henderson, wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins and running back Michael Bush looking confident and effective, and that doesn’t even include the injured Zach Miller and what they hope and expect out of quarterback JaMarcus Russell.
“It’s good to see the guys in year two and year three starting to develop and make plays,” Cable said.
Defensive end Jay Richardson also flashed during the final two sessions with a pair of would-be sacks.
What that means is this _ through all the upheaval of his cat fight with Lane Kiffin that crippled the team on the field, Al Davis and Co. have picked and developed enough good young players over the past two years to serve as the core of something competitive.
That’s no small thing in a division which was won with a .500 record last year and a league which routinely sees dramatic turnarounds as Atlanta and Miami accomplished last year.
Schilens couldn’t help but think back to a year ago and his fish-out-of-water experience as a seventh-round draft pick out of San Diego State.
“I know what they feel like and they’re dealing with it well,” Schilens said. “They’re smart and they have a good knack for the game. They came out well prepared, and except for a little hamstring soreness I think they’re good. That’s something they’ll get used to.”
Watching Schilens operate over the weekend, aside from a dropped pass in the end zone, and the decision to take a pass on Michael Crabtree seems reasonable. Schilens is taller, was faster coming out of college, and looks comfortable on the deeper patterns the Raiders plan to run this season.
(They’re not necessarily connecting on a lot of them yet. Cable is promising that will come later).
Schilens said there is no real way to be prepared for the first weekend as a pro.
“You get thrown into it, you deal with it and adapt as bet you can,” Schilens said. “It’s a year later and I think I’m a better much better receiver mechanically.”
McFadden looked like the McFadden of training camp a year ago, consistently beating defenders to the corner even when it seemed to be strung out. He was as sure-handed as any receiver, and putting him in the slot, in motion or on swing passes out of the backfield make a touchdown-on-any-play capability.
It served as a reminder that McFadden, once the toe miseries began, was a shell of what he was in training camp.
“I’m eager to get going. I’ve got a steel toe in my shoe and I don’t even want to give that a chance to happen again,” McFadden said.
Like Schilens, McFadden, watched the rookie class struggle and had a flashback.
“You want to try and do everything perfect and you’re going to make mistakes,” McFadden said. “I’m sure not being able to go on the last day is going to play on their mind a little bit. You’ve got to let it roll off your shoulders.”
The way minicamp is set up, with no locker room, I never got a chance to talk to Scott, who spent a lot of time getting around offensive tackles and racing in to the backfield. If Scott has put on weight _ he played last year in the 240s _ visual evidence suggests he didn’t overdo it, and that’s a good thing.
– No word as to whether Samie Parker and Drisan James were signed to contracts. Both wide receivers were in on a tryout basis. James appeared to have the better tryout, while there were reports Parker had actually agreed to terms on a contract.
UPDATE: Raiders.com confirms Parker has signed a contract.
Expect one or both to be added before the next OTA with Javon Walker recovering from knee surgery and Arman Shields still not healthy. Shields it appears, simply can’t get over the hump physically. He’s had no additional surgeries in the past year yet can’t string practices together.
– Defensive end Derrick Burgess, who watched practices with towels draped over his head with what the team was calling a “stomach virus” never made it to the field Sunday. Even when Burgess watched, it was away from the position group, standing apart from the crowd, rather than talking to younger players.
In fairness, it could be he or the medical staff considered himself contageous. But it’s a situation that bears watching.
– One thing I forgot to note _ Friday was the day the music died.
No more music during warmups before practice, another departure from something instituted by Kiffin. In that regard, the atmosphere was more businesslike, but it also made for more interaction between the players as they stretched and got loose, giving them the chance to talk and joke with each other rather than relax and listen to the tunes.
– Yeah, I know. I’m too hard on Russell. I realize he had three different play-callers last year and finished the season playing well in a run-oriented offense. He kept mistakes to a minimum. That’s all been duly noted here to anyone paying attention.
He had only one interception that I can recall during the minicamp, and is still smart about avoiding mistakes, checking down to tight ends on many occasions.
You’ve never heard me call him a bust, or anything close to it. He seems to have the kind of personality where he’s not going to be overly concerned without outside criticism, always a good thing for a quarterback.
What shouldn’t be happening is this _ misfiring on a lot of routine passes. There were too many short throws, some less than 10 yards, that landed at the feet of receivers or running backs, with the nose of the ball turned downward on arrival. He was inaccurate on some medium and deep throws as well, which Cable attributed in part to receivers getting comortable with deeper routes.
You can talk about the change in systems all you want, but Russell has been throwing with Raiders receivers throughout the offseason and the timing should be better. He still looks inconsistent as a passer.
Both Cable and Jeff Garcia said Russell is going to be held to a higher standard because of his status as the starting quarterback and as a No. 1 overall draft choice.
That standard exists year-round, but it’s a lot more important to meet it in July and August than it is in May.
STRANGE BROWN QUOTE
Not sure what to make of this statement by Tim Brown on a recent appearance on WCNN radio in Atlanta, sent courtesy of sportsradiointerviews.com . . .
On meeting Al Davis for the first time . . .
“Meeting Al (Davis) was pretty unique. I found out five or ten minutes after my first practice there that he hated African-American athletes from Notre Dame. And they literally told me that. They literally told me that because we’re known for using our education more than our athletic ability that he thought that I would be one of these guys that would basically take the money and run. I don’t know if that was a ploy to get me amped up, but it certainly worked.”