Notes and quotes from Wednesday’s OTA and interview sessions:
— Quarterback JaMarcus Russell had his best day of practice, or at least his best day in the presence of reporters.
In another day heavy with red zone drills, Russell at one point threw four consecutive touchdown passes, including one on a play in the back of the end zone when he broke to his right and found a leaping Marcel Reece against Tyvon Branch in the back of the end zone.
He also had a strike for a touchdown in what the Raiders expect to be a familiar sight, finding Zach Miller in a seam before the defense could react.
“I think earlier coach kind of emphasized giving the guys a chance,” Russell said. “If they give you a chance to put it in the end zone as far as pass rush, you’ve got to put somewhere in that location where they can catch it. Just give them a chance. We can run the ball all day. Once you get inside the 20, we’re going to take shots at the end zone and that’s what we were lacking.
“We’d get down there sometimes and try to run the ball all three downs and had to kick a field goal. If you don’t take a chance at the end zone, how are you going to get there?”
— A cynic would suggest not to read too much into it _ Michael Huff was playing free safety while Hiram Eugene sat out with a back injury. Eugene joined the team on the field late, then after being stretched extensively by the training staff, did not return for team sessions.
— Flashbacks from 2008 training camp _ wide receiver Todd Watkins making some impressive catches, including one touchdown from Russell in a red zone drill.
— Once again the Raiders did very little in terms of throwing the ball downfield, something coach Tom Cable promises will be a big part of the offense. To be fair, the media days seem to be heavy in the red zone, where there are few deep opportunities.
— Overheard from defensive coordinator John Marshall . . . ‘
“Get the hell out of our drill,” Marshall to offensive linemen who had finished their drill session and straggled through a defensive session en route to the other side of the field.
“Run to the ball black shirts, that’s what you do . . . you run,” Marshall exhorting a faster pace during a team session.
“You guys have got to stiffen it up inside too soft, too soft,” Marshall after Michael Bush ran unimpeded through the middle.
— Overheard from passing game coordintator Ted Tollner . . .
“You’ve got to sell that `go’ better,’ ” Tollner to rookie wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey after he telegraphed a red zone route which was broken up by two defenders.
— Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who missed the last OTA, isn’t counting on the defensive philosophy being much different under Marshall.
“We know the game plan, pretty much know how to play,” Asomugha said. “On defense, it’s going to be the same stuff.”
— Asomugha may get his wish and shadow the opposition’s best receiver on occasion, although he reiterated change isn’t going to be a big in terms of scheme with the Oakland defense.
“Yeah, we talked about that, me and Lionel (Washington) whether it’s shadowing or doing what we’ve done, where we’ll double another guy if he goes to a different side, we’ll be open to mixing it up pretty much,” Asomugha said. “It should be a different feel a little bit but it’s kind of going to be what we had last year and the years before.”
— Players aside from Eugene who were limited included wide reciever Chaz Schilens (hamstring) and lineman Paul McQuistan (knee). Those who did not attend because of what Cable termed “personal” business were defensive tackle Terdell Sands, running back Justin Fargas, defensive end Derrick Burgess, quarterback Jeff Garcia, quarterback Andrew Walter, defensive end Jay Richardson and wide receiver Will Franklin.
— Cable seemed to soften his optimism somewhat on the chance that fullback Oren O’Neal would be ready to go by the start of training camp.
“The injury he has needs a lot of work and a lot of time,” Cable said. “He’ll just continue to do what he’s doing, and he’s progressing. The hope is that he’s ready to go when camp comes.”
— Fullback Lorenzo Neal continued to get plenty of work and even caught two passes out of the backfield in which he turned the corner and rumbled up field. While things could change during training camp, the Raiders don’t appear to be employing a lot of lead man-blocking plays within their zone blocking format to integrate Neal’s biggest strength.
— Cable sees OTAs as a time to play it smart.
“The biggest thing I’m judging right now is how they’re picking it up and are we eliminating the mental errors part of it,” Cable said. “The physical part of it, without pads you can’t judge anything that way. What I want to see is the mental errors, the execution mentally, can we get to a high level and sustain it through practice and eliminate mental errors. That’s really what this whole thing is about.
— Speaking of mental errors, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly jumped offsides at least three more times, a recurring theme this offseason. Kelly also has been quick to penetrate when he guesses right, although Cable doesn’t sound enthused about the possibility of having someone who picks up occasional penalties on gambles.
“Tommy’s a good player, and as I talk to the defense every day, the one common thing they keep hearing from me is more discipline, more discipline, so that kind of fits what you’re saying,” Cable said. “Staying onside, not giving up free yards, free plays, that kind of thing.”
— Khalif Barnes was seen getting reps in place of Mario Henderson for the first time with the first team at left tackle, although Cable said it first happened last Wednesday. He said it was simply a matter of evening out reps.
“Read nothing into that, believe me,” Cable said.
— The Raiders report to training camp July 29, with the first practice the following day. Cable said the Raiders were changing up the format, although he was non-specific. There likely won’t be as many night practices, he said. The club is also working on having the 49ers to Napa for a second straight year, the days and times to be determined.
— Quarterback Charlie Frye was on hand, wearing No. 3, but got no work in seven-on-sevens or team drills as Russell and Bruce Gradkowski got all the snaps.
Frye said he is fine with entering into a situation where Russell is the quarterback of the future and Garcia is counted on as the veteran backup.
“I think I’m a competitor. I think competition brings out the best in me,” Frye said. “With what happened in Cleveland, when me and Derek (Anderson) battled, with Brady Quinn, for that one year, I thought it really brought the best out of my game. So I like competition. That’s why you play the game – to have a chance to compete.”