By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Wednesday, May 26th, 2010 at 2:05 pm in Oakland Raiders.
You’ve been reading in this space for the better part of the last four years about the worst passing game in the NFL.
The Raiders’ in inability to catch the ball was exceeded only by their ineffectiveness when it came to throwing it.
Poor timing. Bad routes. More footballs on the ground than eggs on Easter Sunday.
I’ve written about it for the last four training camps as well as most OTAs and minicamps. Then the Raiders would live down to expectations and show that practice does indeed make for imperfections.
So it’s worth taking note when things go well, simply because it hasn’t happened that often.
Yes, Wednesday’s practice was a mere “organized team activity.” No pads, no hard contact. But that never stopped the Raiders from having bad practices before.
With quarterback Jason Campbell getting most of the work (the company line will be about training camp competition, but the only way he doesn’t start is because of injury), the Raiders, with offensive coordinator Hue Jackson challenging his offense and talking trash to the defense, actually put a legitimate NFL passing game on the field.
(Quick admission _ my car broke down close to home, and I had to get it towed to a shop. Got back home and took another vehicle to practice and arrived late, but was told I saw most of the team sessions).
“I’ve seen how far we’ve come as an offense, and we’re much better and guys are developing,” tight end Zach Miller said. “I mean, just watching him, Heyward-Bey has been phenomenal out here. He’s matured a lot and I’m really looking forward to seeing what kind of season he’s going to have.”
Indeed, Heyward-Bey was the best receiver on the field Wednesday (Chaz Schilens remains a spectator recovering from foot surgery). He caught everything thrown his way and if he even bobbled the ball once, I didn’t see it.
Most of the routes were shallow to medium depth _ he never got well downfield for a catch. But he accelerated into shallow crosses and then smoothly turned up field for gains. He made a catch on Nnamdi Asomugha and left him in the dust with a spin move for extra yards.
“Today was a really good practice for him,” Asomugha said. “That’s the best practice I’ve seen from him here. Last week we went through OTAs and he was doing a little better, I guess, there was some inconsistency.
“But today was a good day for him to build off of and see how he comes out tomorrow. It’s days like this you want to keep stringing along. You don’t want to fall back after a day like this. He was catching the ball. I don’t know that he dropped a ball. Caught maybe eight or nine, so that was good for him.”
After one red zone score, Heyward-Bey was greeted in the end zone by Louis Murphy and Tony Stewart for a three-way celebration.
Heyward-Bey, whose style is to let the failures roll off his back, sounds pretty much the same after success. Not a lot of emotion or I-told-you-sos.
“We’re just competing out here,” Heyward-Bey said. “That’s something Hue has brought in, competing against each other, wide receivers, O-line, running backs, going at the DBs. It’s fun. We have a good practice, we let them know. They have a good practice, they let us know.”
Said coach Tom Cable: “Darrius was really on today. But I thought a lot of things went in to that. I thought the quarterbacks threw him a lot of balls on time. He caught the ball well, made a move with after the catch, which I thought was most impressive. It was a very good day for him.”
More news, notes and quotes:
– Players who were present but were not practicing because of injury or illness included defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, wide receiver Phil Hubbard, linebacker Isaiah Ekejiuba, Schilens and quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.
Richard Seymour was not present, having not signed his exclusive franchise tender. Tommy Kelly and Chris Johnson were not present and were “excused,” according to Cable, assuming there is such a thing in a voluntary workout.
– As a way of putting the pressure on his receivers, Jackson is directly challenging defenders _ and a frequent target is Asomugha.
“Every day and every snap,” Asomugha said. “I think I’m his enemy for some reason, his nemesis or something. I played him in Cincinnati a few times. I played him in Baltimore. We have fun with it. It is fun, fun for him. He likes doing it. Me, I just tune him out.”
Jackson rode Asomugha particularly hard when the less-than-mercurial Luke Lawton got around him following a swing pass reception from Campbell.
Asomugha can see the method in the madness.
“They need the confidence to say they’re going to go out and catch the ball every single snap. And he’s got the confidence so I guess if you can say it enough times, it can kind of leak into the receiver’s minds, too,” Asomugha said.”
– Miller on Jackson: “He’ll call them out _ even where the ball is going sometimes. He’s challenging our offense to be aggressive, be dominating. He won’t accept anything else.”
– Murphy on Jackson: He’s going to tell the defense where the ball is going and it forces us to make a play. It puts a little pressure on us. It’s great, man.”
– Interesting Asomugha comment on the development of the offense: “I don’t think it’s the new plays. We always had all these plays. It’s just that now we’re running them. Last year they were taking more time on their basic plays whereas now he’s going straight into everything and it’s helping them out.”
Translation _ JaMarcus Russell’s lack of dedication resulted caused the Raiders to dumb down the system.
– Bruce Campbell, the fourth-round pick at Maryland who played left tackle in college, conceded his transition to right guard (for now) has been a struggle.
“I was a left tackle, now I’m playing right guard,” Campbell said. “It’s a totally different experience. I’m used to space on the outside. Now I’m on the inside with a lot of help. People would say it’s easier, but I don’t see it being easier right now.”