News, notes and observations from Wednesday’s padded practice:
— Justin Fargas thought it was one of the better practices he’s been involved in as a member of the Raiders, and in terms of physicality and enthusiasm it was hard to dispute the claim.
You watch enough Raiders football over the past six years, you see a team which often looks as if it’s pretending to be excited and looking to get it over with.
“It’s something that we’ve talked a lot about,” coach Tom Cable said. “Let’s not be pretenders. Let’s bring it out of each other, accept it and play off it. You get your jaw knocked around and you give it back. You get where your team is so competitive and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Defenders celebrated incompletions during seven-on-sevens. Offensive players sprung to their feet and pumped fists after catches. Blocking drills were performed with gusto.
It’s too early to tell how good the Raiders will be in 2009, but if they can string together a lot more practices like this one they’ll at least play like they care. For anyone who saw some of the go-through-the motions fiascos in the season of Lance vs. Al, it’s a step in the right direction.
“I’m sure it looked like that from the outside because you could see it from the inside,” Fargas said. “You could feel it, you could hear it. Guys were excited, guys were physical, competing, not out of control but really competing hard and really bringing each other up. That’s what you need when you’re trying to get better.”
— Jon Alston was involved in his second altercation in two days, this time angering Darren McFadden with a sideline hit that popped McFadden’s helmet off. McFadden fell on his helmet, rose to his feet and flung the ball at Alston.
Alston shoved McFadden, and teammates converged, with Fargas at one point shoving Kirk Morrison. When everyone was separated, Alston stood on one side of the field, with his arms extended, challenging McFadden to meet him.
McFadden termed it a disagreement within the family, no big deal, but a good thing in terms of practice intensity.
“It got a little heated, but that’s a good thing,” McFadden said. “That way you know guys aren’t out there going through the motions.”
Cable didn’t seem overly concerned about Alston’s run of two scuffles in two practices. The linebacker got in a post-practice shoving match with tight end Tony Stewart Monday.
“Well, there’s an edge about you as a football player and as a team,” Cable said. “Some of that’s natural, obviously, in camp and all those sort of things. Jon’s a smart guy. Jon loves to play. He’s very passionate, so you got to let that passion kind of play itself out a little bit.”
— McFadden lost the first fumble of camp that wasn’t on a center exchange, with Tyvon Branch reaching in and pulling the ball out.
“It’s something that we have preached and preached and preached,” Cable said. “Obviously, it’s been an issue in the past. We started turnover circuits today on defense and we just continue to do that. That ball coming out was a product of just getting stripped in there.”
— The physical nature of practice was typified by running back Michael Bush. Bush got the better of a collision with rookie safety Mike Mitchell and during a pass protection drill obliterated the oncoming Ricky Brown.
“You just see his confidence getting better and better and better,” Bush said. “When I watch him every day out here, he’s physical as a runner and now he’s become physical as a protector and that’s what you saw.”
— Another good collision _ Fargas and Mitchell meet in the secondary on an incomplete pass and get up patting each other on the helmet.
— To the untrained eye, it doesn’t look as if Terdell Sands’ weight loss has helped his energy level. He spent most of practice upright and not pressuring the pocket.
— Rookie reciever Darrius Heyward-Bey didn’t match the receiving production of the previous day, but didn’t have any conspicuous drops, either, although he bobbled at least two catches. What Heyward-Bey did do, and what the Raiders are counting on, manifested itself when he dragged two defenders deep and opened up a huge expanse for Louis Murphy, who caught a Bruce Gradkowski pass underneath and got big yardage.
“You saw a bunch of big holes and windows start opening up on the other side away from him,” Cable said. “And that’s what he’s going to get. Now he’s going to have to learn how to play when you’re getting someone down on you and someone on top of you.”
Mitchell got a lecture from defensive backs coach Lionel Washington after the Murphy completion.
— Either Raiders running backs are good blockers or their linebackers aren’t strong blitzers. Whatever the reason, the backs seemed to get the better of the linebackers in a pass protection drill.
Besides Bush’s blow against Brown, there was another play in which McFadden actually drove Sam Williams two yards backward by getting underneath his pad level and driving forward.
Other apparent wins for the offense included Oren O’Neal against Morrison, Louis Rankin over Thomas Howard, Gary Russell over Williams, over Brown and Bush over Thomas Howard.
Defensive wins included Alston spinning past Luke Lawton, Brown over Lorenzo Neal, and Slade Norris on a McFadden whiff.
— Not expecting to see a lot of it during the regular season, but there was one team session heavy on zone blitzing, with Trevor Scott, Sands and Matt Shaughnessy dropping into coverage on separate plays and linebackers and safeties rushing the passer.
Shaughnessy broke up a pass some 20 yards down field.
— In pass rush drills with defensive linemen against offensive linemen, Henderson continued to get the better of Scott.
— Stanford Routt made a terrific interception on a deep ball thrown by Bruce Gradkowski intended for Bruce Gradkowski (Oops. Trying to work to fast. It was Will Franklin).
— Safety Michael Huff, often taken to task here for arriving too late to make a play, made a perfectly timed dive to break up a JaMarcus Russell pass intended for Jonathan Holland.
— Watched more line play than usual, but Russell seemed a bit high with a number of throws.
— Nnamdi Asomugha, pained by a right hip flexor strain Monday, did not practice. Both he and Cable insist it’s nothing to worry about.
— Others who missed practice included LB Isaiah Ekejiuba (shoulder), DT Gerard Warren (illness), G Mark Wilson (back) and CB Chris Johnson (minor knee strain). Robert Gallery (non-football illness) and Javon Walker (PUP) remained with the trainers. Howard rolled an ankle but it did not appear serious.
Here’s how former Raiders quarterback Andrew Walter answered the question of what went wrong in Oakland with the New England media:
“That’s something that people who know that situation, they can judge for themselve. If you do a couple of Google searches, do some research, you can find enough information.”
Asked if going from Oakland to New England was a nice turn of events, Walter said, “I think that’s safe to say.”
— Practices scheduled at 8:20 and 4:30 on Thursday. Presentations by NFL officials regarding rule changes and points of emphasis are scheduled with both the team and media.