By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Thursday, November 12th, 2009 at 1:07 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Starting one rookie wide receiver, given the complexities of the position, is reason enough for concern.
Starting two, particularly with a quarterback struggling to find his own game, is a recipe for disaster.
Which goes a long way toward explaining why the Raiders have the NFL’s worst passing offense.
The re-entry of Chaz Schilens into rotation Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs should help, but it’s clear the Raiders have paid dearly through eight games for their decision to start both first-round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey and fourth-round pick Louis Murphy.
Some of it was borne of necessity, with Johnnie Lee Higgins struggling after taking a huge shot from Eric Weddle in Week 1, combined with the broken fifth metacarpal sustained by Schilens on Aug. 18.
But a lot of it was by choice. For reasons known only to the Raiders (he could be washed up, in the doghouse or simply put on ice while the rookies play), Javon Walker is little more than a spectator, collecting $2.3 million this season and next season under the terms of his renegotiated contract.
Todd Watkins had a 28-yard reception in Week 2 when the Raiders beat the Chiefs but had done little else of consequence.
No effort was made to bring in a veteran receiver with a history of getting open who could pick up some first downs and mentor the younger wideouts.
Quarterback JaMarcus Russell confirmed Thursday what Cable said about the bye week _ one of the primary goals was to get the ball to outside receivers.
The plan is to “just get some guys open and put the ball in their hands and let them run with it. Show what they’re capable of. That’s the thing we’ve been emphasizing this week in practice, just trying to let those guys make some plays.’’
According to NFL game books, Russell has completed 25.7 percent his passes attempted to Heyward-Bey and Murphy (16-for-63) for 248 yards, one touchdown and five of his nine interceptions (three intended for Murphy, one for Heyward-Bey). That’s a 15.7 passer rating.
Murphy, who caught a 57-yard touchdown pass in the opener against San Diego, has fallen out of Russell’s sights. Over the last four games, Murphy has caught a single pass for two yards, with four other catches for 58 yards coming from Bruce Gradkowski after Russell was benched against the Jets.
“I think in certain situations it just happened that way,’’ Russell said. “But now it’s a thing of spreading the ball around, trying to get everybody involved, so that we can become more deadly, different guys touching the ball, no telling what might happen.
“ That’s one of my jobs this week, to put the ball in each of the guys’ hands.’’
Heyward-Bey has never been a factor, catching five passes for 74 yards in eight starts. He’s been the intended receiver for 26 passes, 25 of them by Russell.
By contrast, Russell is completing 62.8 percent (27-for-43) of his passes for 414 yards, a touchdown and two intereptions when throwing to tight end Zach Miller on routes primarily in the middle of the field for a passer rating of 82.8.
Russell thinks the return of Darren McFadden, as well as Schilens, will open up the offense for the rookie receivers as well as everyone else.
“A lot, man. Just knowing that going up against those guys you have to mark ‘em down in your game plan, or what’s going to happen if McFadden goes out wide, or he’s in the backfield,’’ Russell said. “He’s a guy that’s going to have to be accounted for, just as well as Chaz.’’
Asked to assess his first half, Russell said, “I did OK, but it could be a lot better than what it was. Got some bad breaks, but other than that I think I can do a lot better.’’
He said he was happy with his checks from pass to run and vice-versa, and needs to work on ball security and getting a better feel for a pass rush.
Previously injured players such as Schilens, McFadden, Robert Gallery and Cornell Green are all on the field and appear on schedule to start.
No sign of defensive end Greg Ellis, who had arthroscopic surgery both his knee and shoulder. Nick Miller (tibia) and Ricky Brown (ankle) also remain out.
Glenn Pakulak, another left-footed punter who has spent some time with the Raiders practice squad, was spotted at the facility and will likely do as Ricky Schmitt did Wednesday _ go through an official “workout” which will help Higgins and practice squad returner Shaun Bodiford prepare for the Chiefs’ Dustin Colquitt.
More to come following Tom Cable’s post-practice press briefing . . .