Walker ascends, DHB struggles


Quick hits from the final practice of the “learning phase” of Raiders training camp:

— What went on in the workout area Sunday evening was more interesting than anything that was taking place on the field.

Wide receiver Javon Walker, who two days before talked talked with unbridled optimism about his health and claimed to be in the prime of his career, looked to be at least something approaching that as he put on a show with a member of the Raiders athletic training staff.

Walker ran at what looked to be full speed with an effortless glide. He ran short and intermediate patterns, at one point reaching back on a short crossing route and snatching a pass with his left hand without slowing down.

He ran patterns 25 to 30-yard downfield, reaching out and catching the ball at his highest point with good acceleration. Walker dropped exactly one pass that I saw during a drill in which he ran directly forward at the passer on a controlled run.

After the pass-catching was done, Walker was jumping over a series of obstacles set in his path with explosive leaps, showing no sign of a limp. He then jumped and twisted over each obstacle, a drill which would surely cause some pain to a defective knee.

Instead, Walker appeared buoyant as his session concluded, taking off on a run to join his teammates on the field for the end of practice.

When it comes to Walker, I’ve been one of the biggest skeptics since the moment he signed during free agency last year. Now I’m curious and cautiously optimistic.

If the Raiders suddenly have a physical veteran receiver who could get 50-plus catches, 800-plus yards and get in the end zone, it’s a huge bonus. And frankly, a bargain, considering he renegotiated his contact downward to $4.6 million over the next two years.

From free agent bust to Comeback Player of the Year?

Not so fast, but Walker’s progress is suddenly a story worth watching closely. Walker said as camp opened he thought he’d be out two weeks.

Depending on how he feels, the Raiders might consider moving that up and could always keep Walker out of padded practices and easing him in to no-contact sessions.

— Meanwhile, rookie No. 7 overall pick Darrius Heyward-Bey struggled to catch the ball, at one point leaving three catchable passes on the ground, one time punting a drop into the air in frustration. Keep in mind none of these plays came against defenders. That won’t happen until Monday’s first padded practice at 3:30 p.m.

Heyward-Bey gave his Rickey Dudley impression in the presence of Al Davis, who was driven over in a golf cart to talk to Heyward-Bey afterward. Also present was wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal.

Rest assured, the more Heyward-Bey struggles, the more Lal will be held responsible.

Heyward-Bey had looked more fluid and sure-handed in the morning session.

— Heyward-Bey wasn’t alone. Will Franklin has struggled catching the ball, and even sure-handed Darren McFadden had a deep throw from Russell fall to the ground.

— Also getting an audience with Davis following practice were linemen Greg Ellis, Trevor Scott and Jay Richardson, with Ellis sticking around for an extended conversation.

— While waiting to see if Davis had anything to say to the media regarding Derrick Burgess or anything else (he didn’t _ reporters were ushered out before he left the practice area) coach Tom Cable walked past and said, “Why don’t you guys go out and have some fun. Or come and watch some film _ your choice.”

I’m going to assume he was kidding about the film.

I’m passing on the morning walkthrough and will file again following the padded practice. I’ll file occasional updates on my Twitter page.


Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer