By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Friday, May 7th, 2010 at 8:41 am in Oakland Raiders.
Darren McFadden and Darrius Heyward-Bey had their cover blown.
The 270- to 300-pound (depending on the week) solar eclipse that was JaMarcus Russell is gone, leaving McFadden and Heyward-Bey exposed as premium draft picks who haven’t produced anything close to premium results.
The good news is that unlike Russell, neither man has an aversion to hard work and both are dedicated to their craft.
McHey-Bey isn’t a quarterback, either, so the No. 4 and No. 7 picks in the 2008 and 2009 drafts don’t have to change plays at the line of scrimmage or be the central figure in every snap from center.
The demise of Russell in the eyes of Al Davis came when he was replaced as the starting quarterback by Bruce Gradkowski after 10 games. It was at that point Davis went from looking at Russell as “great” and with growing disdain for his indifference and hearing the rumors swirling about his love of the nightlife, told Tom Cable, “OK, you want Gradkowski? You’ve got him.”
When Gradkowski went down, next in line wasn’t Russell, but Charlie Frye. When Frye went down with a concussion and Russell led a comeback win over Denver, Russell still got no consideration. The end may have came Thursday, but it was clear at that point Russell was going to hit the road before the 2010 season.
The company line on McHey-Bey remains supportive.
When ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported McFadden could be traded on draft day, Cable moved swiftly to call the report “ridiculous” and said, “there’s no way. I don’t know how it came out. I don’t get it. There’s no way Darren McFadden was ever going to be traded from this football team.”
Cable promised reporters a dramatic difference in Heyward-Bey in a pre-draft press conference, raved about his work with 30-pound dumb bells, and talked him up again at the minicamp.
The Raiders have a lot riding on the remaining two-thirds of the triplets which were supposed to energize a sagging offense, and neither player has inspired much confidence based on their play.
McFadden looked in minicamp as he has always looked in practice. He’s quick to the corner, explosive and a skilled receiver. The problem has been contact, which has seen McFadden go down too easily and gotten him injured _ two huge issues for any running back.
Heyward-Bey indeed was more fluid in short and intermediate routes and on many plays appeared comfortable catching the ball away from his body, securing it, and then turning upfield. But there were still too many dropped passes.
One sequence was telling. Heyward-Bey streaked down the right sideline and when Charlie Frye’s pass came a bit short and to the inside, he simply kept on running. The pass fell to to turf, as if Heyward-Bey never saw the pass or simply didn’t make a move to get it.
A short time later, Kyle Boller launched a similar pattern to Louis Murphy, with the Alameda wind appearing to hold the ball up in flight. Murphy shifted gears, glided five yards to the inside and caught the ball in stride.
If McFadden can’t cut it with being a conventional 15- to 20-carry per game running back, the Raiders may at some point consider making him a Ronnie Harmon-style receiver out of the backfield, someone who can make a living with mismatches as a receiver and be a productive, explosive player.
They have no options with Heyward-Bey. He’s a receiver or else.
To be fair, he’s only in his second year, and there has been some progress.
Without Russell around as a magnet for all the draft bust criticism, McFadden and Heyward-Bey will be watched closely.