The sneak peek afforded the media Wednesday while Hiram Eugene struggled to field punt returns apparently is not an accurate barometer of his skills.
Coach Tom Cable said that if Johnnie Lee Higgins can’t play against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, either Eugene or Javon Walker return punts and the Raiders were not likely to sign someone to take over the speciality.
Higgins didn’t practice Wednesday with a shoulder sprain and Cable said he was `questionable” to face the Chiefs. Miller, Cable confirmed, will be out four to six weeks with a crack in his shin just above the ankle and as of now there are no plans to put the undrafted rookie on injured reserve, which would end his season.
Eugene has not returned a punt in his NFL career. Cable said Walker had returned punts earlier in his career, but his stats show 35 kickoff returns as a rookie for 769 yards and nothing since.
They would be counted on to do more than simply throw up their hand, signaling for a fair catch.
“You’ve got to have your return game, and you’ve got to do your deal,” Cable said. “Hiram’s a terrific catcher, and probably the best of the group in that regard. And then obviously with Javon having done it earlier in his career. It’s a benefit to us now that with the injuries, he’s gonna be active this week, play, all those things. So we’ll have him available.”
More news, notes and quotes from Wednesday:
— As noted above, Cable committed to activating Walker against the Chiefs a day after saying the receiver would need to exhibit enough speed and separation to be effective.
That will come as welcome news to Walker, who said he didn’t know if he would be active during the open locker room session and was willing to wait patiently for a chance.
“I feel like I am a receiver still in my prime. I am still young just 30 years old. A lot of the top receivers are my age or a year older. It’s kind of difficult because I am in a situation where all the receivers here are a year or two years,” Walker said. “That is just the politics of football and you got some young guys, and I mean young. If you look at it statistically everybody here is young. That might be the direction they are going in. I am just playing my role for what it is right now.”
— Cable said Khalif Barnes is practicing without restrictions and could conceivably be active for the Chiefs game. Chaz Schilens (broken foot) and Nick Miller have already been declared out. Running back Justin Fargas practiced without restrictions and is expected to play.
— Cable said the Chiefs have blended some of coach Todd Haley’s passing offense (he was offensive coordiantor for the Arizona Cardinals last season) with the existing Kansas City running game.
“They’re a little bit of both, and Johnson is still a great runner,” Cable said. “There’s no question about that, when he gets his pads downhill at you he’s a load, and he’s got great speed. But you’ve also seen them being more spread, and throwing the ball around a little bit.”
— Isaiah Ekejuiba felt the Raiders’ special teams put the Raiders defense in a difficult situaiton by allowing 66 and 59 yard kickoff returns by Darren Sproles.
“I was very disappointed. Very disappointed,” Ekejiuba said. “Our defense played great, and we gave the Chargers two short fields. And that’s unacceptable for a division game that’s this close. So when you do that, you have to go back and re-evaluate where you are and where you want to be. And obviously this is not where we want to be. We have a lot of work to do.”
— Haley, offensive coordinator for the NFC champion Arizona Cardinals last season, coached receivers in the NFL from 1996 through 2006 with the Jets, Bears and Cowboys. He sees starting two rookie wide receivers, as the Raiders did in Week 1, a difficult task.
“The receiver position is a tough position to play and adjust to,” Haley said. “I’ve coached it for a long time and . . . even for high picks its rare to come in and make a smooth transition. The speed of the game is so different. The complexity of the coverages that you’re seeing is so great. It just makes for a tough transition, and it’s rare that young guys can come in and make a huge impact and when they do, I’m really impressed.”
— Cable said that part of Darrius Heyward-Bey’s job is to create open areas for others but wanted to see all parts of his game improve.
“I mentioned a couple of weeks ago about how he’s already pulling coverage toward him because of his speed, and that definitely showed up,” Cable said. “And that is a part of his responsibility, and a big part. But at the same time he’s got to grow in all facets, whether it’s blocking, catching, running the route, pulling the coverage, whatever that is, you just want to get him as close to a complete player as quickly as we can.”
— Cable estimated free safety Michael Huff for 30 or more plays, mostly on passing downs. Huff intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble.
“He was absolutely tremendous,” Cable said. “Not one coverage bust, got everybody aligned, made some calls and, obviously, the two great plays.”