News and notes from the Raiders’ practice Friday:
— Jonathan Holland last returned kickoffs in the 2008 preseason finale, averaging 35.5 yards on two attempts against the Seattle Seahawks with a long of 43 yards. Before that, he hadn’t returned kickoffs since his freshman year at Louisiana Tech.
“I guess they remembered that, and now they’re giving me the shot to do it all over again,” Holland said.
Holland failed to make the 53-man roster as a wide receiver and was brought back to the practice squad when coach Tom Cable had a surprising suggestion.
“He came to me with the idea of playing defense and he told me it would be the quickest way to get on the roster and contribute to the special teams,” Holland said. “I was like, cool, anything to get back on the team.”
The Raiders had two kickoff returns for touchdowns last season from Justin Miller, who was cut to in favor of undrafted rookie free agent Nick Miller. When Nick Miller came up with a broken bone in his shin, the Raiders turned to Louis Rankin. Rankin had 108 yards on six returns, an 18.0 average which tied him for 50th in the NFL.
Holland excelled on kickoff coverage after being promoted from the practice squad last season on Dec. 4, with a tackle and an assist in a win over Houston and three solo tackles in the season finale against the Buccaneers.
That skill, plus his speed, convinced the Raiders Holland was worth a try in the secondary.
“That first week of meetings I was kind of in there, scratching my head saying, `What’s going on?,’ ” Holland said. “We actually meet at 6:30 every morning, so it got me caught up to what’s going on, got a grasp of it real quick.”
Cable said Holland could play defense in certain packages which would keep him in man-to-man coverage.
“Based on what we do, there really isn’t a lot to it when you’re playing man coverage,” Cable said.
— By now, Erik Pears has grown accustomed to the curse of his height. At 6-foot-8, getting leverage against a squatty interior lineman can be a challenge.
“I’ve been hearing since the first day I started playing football, `You’ve got to get lower,’ ” Pears said.
Pears has never started a game at a guard in the United States, his last game there coming in 2005 in an NFL Europe game in Germany. He said he is growing accustomed to operating in a phone booth.
“It’s just a different animal that you’re facing,” Pears said. “You’ve got the quicker guys (outside). They’re all quick, but the amount of space in between outside there, they’re lining up outside. At guard they’re right on top of you, so it kind of happens a little bit quicker. But when it boils down it’s all football.”
It helps that Pears has a role model already in place. Robert Gallery, the man Pears is replacing, is 6-foot-7 and made a nice adjustment inside.
“As Cooper (Carlisle) said, we went from the tallest guard in the NFL to an even taller guard,” Pears said.
— Free safety Hiram Eugene (leg) has improved, but did not practice and is officially listed as doubtful, with Michael Huff taking over as the every down free safety. WR Chaz Schilens, Gallery and Nick Miller were all declared out.
— Defensive end Richard Seymour did not practice, but was being rested, according to Cable.
“Just resting his legs,” Cable said. “No issue there.”
— Tyvon Branch is so strong on special teams the Raiders have been hesitant to reduce his role in that area even though he plays every down at strong safety.
Punter Shane Lechler said Branch made a solo tackle on one of his punts that was so impressive it may as well have been put on a video loop.
“He made a tackle coming off a double team that was just textbook,” Lechler said. “We watched it about 10 times in film. It was exactly how you’re supposed to do it, but only a few people actually can.”
Cable said only part of what Branch does on special teams can be taught.
“I think you teach the how-to part of it and the responsibility-part of it, but the want-to is the individual.
And that’s something that makes him rare,” Cable said.