By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009 at 1:12 pm in Oakland Raiders.
News and notes from Wednesday’s organized team actiivty session open to the media:
– Those who were panic-stricken over JaMarcus Russell’s uneven performances through the mandatory minicamp and first organized activity session open to the media can come in off the ledge.
Russell was better Wednesday. There were few, if any, of the real deep strikes coach Tom Cable said will be part of the offense this year in the limited amount of snaps where there was a lot of field to work with. However, the simple, fundamental throws Russell had struggled with earlier came much easier.
Russell continued to work the tight end position, hitting Tony Stewart with a slant on his opening 7-on-7 throw and then throwing short of rookie free agent Chris O’Neill.
He rallied with a throw to Stewart in the right flat and a dumpoff to Gary Russell, passes which Russell often missed in prevoius public practices.
During a red zone session, Russell threw a hot-read wobbler to Todd Watkins for a short completion, a dumpoff to Louis Rankin for a short gain (quickly diagnosed by linebacker Jon Alston), then was late on a pass to Stewart with Thomas Howard covering.
Justin Fargas gathered in a short pass with a one-handed grab to which Isaiah Ekejiuba reacted with astonishment, given Fargas’ below-average pass-catching skills.
– For what it’s worth, Cable said afterward Russell had upgraded his performance from 2-for-32 to 11-for-32 in the red zone from the last OTA to Wednesday’s session.
(I’ll be honest _ I’m not sure what that means. As poor as Russell was, he completed more than two passes last time. And he sure didn’t appear to have 11 touchdown passes Wednesday. Didn’t get a chance to ask Cable about it because I was involved in another interview at the beginning of the coach’s session. Eleven positive plays, perhaps? Or properly executed plays or reads? If I remember, I’ll try and clear that up next week).
“We’ve got tomorrow and then two more weeks so I hope we can make a good amount of progress as we get ready for camp,” Cable said.
– Among those players who did not attend the voluntary workout or were out because of injuries included backup quarterback Jeff Garcia, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, defensive tackle Gerard Warren (pectoral), defensive end Derrick Burgess, running back Darren McFadden, defensive end Jay Richardson, guard-tackle Mark Wilson, fullback Oren O’Neal (knee) and wide receivers Arman Shields (knee) and Javon Walker (knee).
Tight end Zach Miller, who had sports hernia surgery, was in uniform and on the field but did not participate in team sessions. He said he could be on the field next week.
Burgess does not attend voluntary sessions. Kelly and McFadden had other business to attend to, and Cable said he expects Kelly next week. Garcia practiced Tuesday, according to one team source.
Cable said he didn’t know when Asomugha would be here before camp.
“I don’t know that. I’m hoping he’ll be here the last two,” Cable said. “If not the last two, the last one.”
– Cornerback Chris Johnson, who did not attend the last OTA, was present and worked with the starters.
– Pass protection seemed to be an issue, with Russell spinning into a certain sack from rookie end Stryker Sulak and unloading another throw incomplete in the face of a Kirk Morrison blitz.
– With Garcia not around, Bruce Gradkowski got additional work and had a solid day after previously struggling with most passes which went beyond 15 yards.
Gradkowski had two of the day’s bigger gains on a deep out to Samie Parker and a perfect sideline pass to Marcel Reece. He also found Florida rookie Louis Murphy all alone behind Jason Horton _ except Murphy let the ball hit him in the stomach and drop to the ground.
“Yesterday I caught one the same way. Today, I guess I lost my focus on it,” Murphy said. “That’s what I’m here for.
– Gradkowski threw the day’s only interception, a deflection gathered in by rookie free agent Frantz Joseph.
– No depth chart changes evident from the previous minicamp, although there were some changes because of absences. The first team defensive line was Trevor Scott, Terdell Sands (for Warren), William Joseph (for Kelly) and Greyson Gunheim. Linebackers were Thomas Howard, Morrison and Alston.
Cornerbacks were Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson, with Hiram Eugene (free) and Tyvon Branch (strong).
– Mario Henderson continued to take first-team reps at left tackle, and often also worked with the second team as Khalif Barnes got less work.
– Satele, acquired from the Miami Dolphins in the offseason and expected to replace Jake Grove as the starting center, went through warmups and drills for the first time but did not particpate in team sessions.
“The training staff they have is unbelievable,” Satele said. “Like I said, they did everything and anything to get me out here early. So I’m out here. Which I’m not supposed to, but they got me ready, so I’m ready to practice.”
Satele is eager to prove he can be a zone blocking center after two years as a man blocker in Miami.
“It fits me. I can run and be athletic,” Satele said. “And the guys around me, like Robert (Gallery) and Cooper (Carlisle), they’re made for this system. They can run, and I’m just trying to catch up to them.”
– The Raiders continue to play it safe with Heyward-Bey and his “sore” right hamstring. He hasn’t been on the field in a team setting since the second day of the mandatory minicamp. However he was running patterns following practice at what he said was “95 percent.”
It has robbed the rookie of the chance to lay the groundwork of a pass-catch relationship with Russell, although Heyward-Bey believes he can make up for lost time.
“You want to be out there with the quarterback all the time,” Heyward-Bey said. “But you’ve got to understand, we’ve got two more weeks of OTAs, we got training camp, we got preseason, it’s a lot of time but you don’t want to be too relaxed. You would like to be out there with your quarterback.”
– Heyward-Bey said he is not aware of any negotiations going on for a contract, which isn’t unusual since the starting point for rookies is usually around July 4. Last year was the exception, as McFadden signed June 6.
– A strong day for strong side linebacker Jon Alston, who said he finished last season at 214 pounds and has bulked up as high as 235 and is now 232. Judging from the way Alston is defending the pass and moving on the field, he hasn’t lost any quickness.