Things we learned about the 2009 Raiders from their mandatory minicamp through public organized team activity sessions as they go their separate ways until reporting to the Napa Marriott on July 29:
— JaMarcus Russell, passing struggles or not, is the starting quarterback. Never underestimate the ability of football fans to break into factions supporting one or the other _ Jeff Garcia already has his supporters.
A front line veteran even asked me if I thought there was a chance Garcia could end up starting.
The answer? Not unless Russell does a faceplant of major proportions. The Raiders passing game is still evolving with a new coordinator and quarterback coach, and Russell’s last six games of the 2008 season carry considerably more weight than some shaky non-contact practices.
— The deeper pass routes which Tom Cable said will be a part of the 2009 Raiders never manifested themselves in a public setting. Perhaps Russell and Co. were lighting it up at the other two-thirds of the OTAs where the media wasn’t present, but that’s not the way to bet.
— For the most part, the Darren McFadden who took the field for the Raiders as a rookie was a shell of himself. The explosion is back, and the things McFadden ought to be able to accomplish catching passes out of the backfield and in the slot should give the Raiders something to hang their hat on in the passing game until the deep game comes around.
McFadden and Michael Bush, who looks imposing and swift in no-contact situations, give the Raiders two backs who can do some real damage in the passing game.
— Darrius Heyward-Bey and Mike Mitchell are well behind the curve.
The two guys who needed the offseason the most accomplished the least through no fault of their own. For Heyward-Bey, it was a hamstring issue that’s gone on for some five weeks. If it’s any consolation for Raiders fans, the 49ers Michael Crabtree hasn’t practiced at all as a stress fracture heals.
For Mitchell, it’s the NFL rule which wouldn’t allow him to participate until school was out at Ohio University, as well as a hamstring issue.
— Many Raiders actually believe voluntary minicamps are voluntary. Derrick Burgess wasn’t around, of course, but at various times Raiders such as Nnamdi Asomugha, Chris Johnson, Tommy Kelly, Terdell Sands, Jeff Garcia and Michael Huff said thanks, but no thanks.
As for Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski . . . fore!
Garcia missed because of the birth of his son. Asomugha can be excused because he was the best player on the field every moment he was there.
— If Burgess isn’t traded, he ought to be prepared for fewer snaps as a pass rush specialist. Greg Ellis moved directly into the starting lineup at left end and according to the Dallas Morning News got a three-year contract worth $10 million.
This could be a good thing. A fresh Burgess looking for a big salary next season would produce double-digit sacks.
— Don’t worry about Zach Miller. Miller had sports hernia surgery in the offseason, but when he returned, he looked as good and as sure-handed as ever. He should catch 60-plus passes this season.
— Lane who?
Cable did his best to separate himself from the Kiffin regime. The first mandatory minicamp was the day the music died. No more stereo system playing rock, rap and the occasional country tunes. Cable talked up the signing of Lorenzo Neal a year or so after Kiffin said the veteran didn’t fit the zone blocking scheme. He stayed with the program, holding dear all things Raider.
— Cooper Carlisle will fight to regain his form of two years ago. The Raiders best lineman in 2007, Carlisle wasn’t nearly as good in 2008. He got in a pair of offseason scrapes, one with Ricky Brown and the other with Tyvon Branch.
— Chaz Schilens is the Raiders best wide receiver. Considering durability was an issue as a rookie, it’s at least a minor concern Schilens couldn’t participate in the final OTA, but he showed plenty in earlier sessions. He’s a go-up-and-get it receiver who should be the go-to guy should Russell get enough time to throw on third-and-long.
— Jon Alston is bigger, but apparently not any slower. Alston has been the strong side starter all offseason and weighs more than 230 pounds after finishing last season at 214.
— Cable wants to control the message as much as he does the playing field. Al Davis prefers but does not insist on assistant coaches refraining from talking to the media. His head coaches have done it both ways.
He hired two new coordinators, passing game coordinator Ted Tollner and defensive coordinator John Marshall, both who have long NFL resumes and have managed to avoid saying anything controversial for virtually their entire careers.
Neither man was approved to talk on the record to the media, which I assume will happen at training camp. That’s pretty much how it was handled in the late stages of the Bill Callahan regime as well as the Art Shell redux.
Works great for Bill Belichick, though.
Heck, even Cleveland’s Capt. Queeg, Eric Mangini, allowed Rob Ryan to talk with the media recently.
Coming soon: What we don’t know