By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Monday, August 3rd, 2009 at 9:05 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Except for the absence of Jeff Garcia, everything went according to plan.
Training camp is like the draft in that way. If there are no serious injuries, the spin as put forth by players and coaches is positive.
The Raiders went to school for four days and as a result went out and had a crisp, error free padded practice Monday.
“I noticed there weren’t too many repeats. I didn’t see too many blown assignments when we were going on hard cadences and things like that,” running back Justin Fargas said. “Nobody was flinching, jumping offsides, things like that. Things that have killed us in the past.”
The sentiment was echoed several times by several players. Mission accomplished.
It was indeed a far cry from Raiders practices of the past when confusion reigned. Not sure the tempo was all that much different, and Tom Cable’s warning about keeping players upright and avoiding injury was followed closely.
It was controlled physicality, the kind that makes it hard to determine exactly what you’re seeing.
Some random observations from the first padded practice:
– On Sunday, Cable said Garcia’s missed practice was merely part of the plan. It was the way he went about training camp as a 39-year-old quarterback. Garcia said he was merely staying fresh for Monday, which had a brief morning walkthrough before the padded practice.
Must have been a tough walkthrough, because Garcia missed the first practice with a calf strain.
“It doesn’t look serious at all,” Cable said. “We’ve got to be smart on this one.”
– Nick Miller lined up at wide receiver, was on special teams and even went with the running backs to carry the ball a few times during drills.
He made the biggest play of the first practice when he somehow got between Hiram Eugene and Chris Johnson and came down with a 50-yard rainbow from JaMarcus Russell.
Miller’s a Tim Dwight-type who claims to have run 4.28 and 4.30 at his Pro Day.
– Russell had one interception during team drills, a forced pass intended for Zach Miller which was picked off by Eugene.
But the throw to Nick Miller, and at least two medium-to-deep range seam bullets to Chaz Schilens, were impressive.
The Raiders have taken the training wheels off their offense. There are “tags” on pass routes which can alter the play after the snap. Fargas believes the players have been given more responsibility in making it work.
Russell credited the work of passing game coach Ted Tollner and quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett.
“I think those guys are some of the best coaches,” Russell said. “They been around for quite some years. I think you guys see that. And what they’re doing is putting us in a place for success. Everything’s a process, and right now we’re working on it.”
– As the Raiders usually do in training camp, they blitzed often and as a result the pass protection was an issue. Or was it? Cable didn’t seem to think so.
“No, not at all. What I liked about today is they’re seeing so much. We have had a lot in. We need that for how to blitz properly,” Cable said. “We have not been really a pressure team but when we do pressure, we want to be right.
“For the offensive line and the quarterback, in particular, being able to handle it and getting us in the right play if we need to. That stuff it’s always kind of up and down early and then it just progressively gets better.”
Asomugha, for one, will believe in more regular-season pressure when he sees it.
“That’s like a wait-and-see type of thing because even in camps previously we were doing a lot of blitzing and doing multiple things defensively and then we got into games and we were pretty basic,” Asomugha said.
– One blitzer who came in unimpeded was veteran Sam Williams, with new line acquisition Erik Pears failing to cut him off.
– The protection issues weren’t all about blitzing, with Greg Ellis getting past Cornell Green and Tommy Kelly (who hasn’t jumped offsides in two days) shedding Cooper Carlisle.
– Strong safety Tyvon Branch showed excellent coverage skill on one deep pass, staying with Darren McFadden stride for stride and breaking up a pass along the sideline.
– Cornerback Stanford Routt held up in coverage on a deep attempt by Johnnie Lee Higgins and continued to get some first team reps along with incumbnent Chris Johnson, a situation that drew an interesting take from Asomugha.
“I think Chris has been a little more upset than Stanford because Chris came in after DeAngelo (left) and felt like he proved himself worthy of starting this year,” Asomugha said.
– Good to see Oren O’Neal on a lead block on a running play, taking on Thomas Howard and clearing the way for Louis Rankin.
– Fargas demonstrated on at least two occasions why he would be hard to cut even with Darren McFadden and Michael Bush around, stonewalling middle blitzes and enabling Russell to get off passes. One of them was the deep strike to Miller.
Neither McFadden nor Bush is in Fargas’ league as a blocker. Running back reps were distributed fairly evenly.
– Cable said he has been getting “good reports” on Walker, who again looked strong workout with the training staff. Walker joked tha the could hardly wait to get back to practice so he won’t have to work as hard.
“It’s coming back quick, quick, quick so that’s also working on the conditioning,” Walker said. “So I’m looking forward to getting back out there practicing so I can get a little more of a breather.”
You can find practice quick hits on my Twitter page.