And on the day of the 11th practice, he spoke. He, as in seldom-quoted middle linebacker Rolando McClain.
McClain wondered what all the fuss was about as 20 or so media crowded around to hear about his weight loss, marked leap from his rookie season last year to this year and how the defense is going to fare this season.
McClain didn’t disappoint. In fact, his words matched coach Hue Jackson’s proclamation that he has no interest in McClain being a good player, he wants him to be great.
“We’re still working,” McClain said. ”We want to make a name for ourselves and be one of the great Raider defenses here, so that’s what we’re striving for right now.”
McClain is doing his part. He worked out in Tuscaloosa, Ala., with some former coaches, by hitting the weights, watching film and swimming for as long as 90 minutes per day.
“I feel like I came back a step ahead of some guys as far as being prepared, shedding a few pounds, workouts, things just to get my body ready for a season,” McClain said.
As a result, he lost 5 or 6 pounds, feels faster and is taking control of the defense. Now that he has his rookie season behind him, he is concentrating more on what the offense is doing.
“It’s a lot more of a difference,” McClain said. “When you can play fast without thinking about what you do, it gives you the ability to play fast as well as make plays, so now I’m not worried about what I do. Now I can look at the formations and think about what the offense is going to do, instead of worrying about what I’m going to do. It enables me to play a lot more fast.”
Jackson raves about McClain almost on a daily basis.
“He’s very smart, he understands the game and thinks the game,” Jackson said. “What I’m trying to get him to understand is this defense flows through him. He gets to see it all. Richard (Seymour) is the veteran, obviously, but McClain gets to see the offense. Richard’s hand is down on the ground, but this guy (McClain) needs to be the unquestioned leader of our defense, and he should be and he can be.
“That’s what I expect from him. I’m always in his ear because I know what this young man can be. He’s a really, really good football player, but I’m asking him to be great. I’m not looking for him to be good. I want No. 55 on this team to be great.”
*Veteran guard Justin Smiley decided he no longer has what it takes to grind it out every day in training camp and stand up to the rigors of a 16-game regular season. So, he walked into coach Jackson’s office Saturday, thanked him for the opportunity and called it a career after seven seasons with the 49ers, Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars.
“What a man,” Jackson said. “He came in to see me today and said, ‘Coach, I just, this is just not for me right now.’ And I respect that. The great thing about this place is, I told you, this is hard work. Everybody can’t do this. If your mind and body is not ready to do this on a daily basis, it’s tough. And he said, ‘Coach, thanks for the opportunity, but my heart’s just not in it anymore, football. So, nothing against you or the Raiders, but I just can’t do this anymore.’ And I respect that.”
*The Raiders signed free agent wide receivers Shawn Bayes, Derek Hagan and Chad Jackson. All three were at practice. None is expected to make the 53-man roster, though.
Coincidentally, Hagan’s 85 career receptions are more than any of the Raiders wide receivers on the roster. He did that in five NFL seasons with the Giants and Miami Dolphins.
Hagan and Jackson spent some time in practice returning punts. Hagan clanked one, which is the last thing coaches want to see on your first day of practice.
“We practice pretty fast and pretty hard,” Jackson said, ”and if you only have five guys, it’s hard for those five guys to just keep taking a bunch of reps. Again, the health of our football team is very important, and we don’t want to run the other guys that are practicing in the ground, and we also don’t want to take a chance of doing something to the other guys in trying to get them back too fast. So we have to do a great job of that.”
*McClain, running back Michael Bennett and linebacker Bruce Davis returned to practice after missing a couple of days. Jackson said he expects even more of the 14 players out to return in short fashion.
*The Raiders welcomed back running back Michael Bush and welcomed into the mix for the first time tight end Kevin Boss on Saturday.
Bush practiced for the first time after he signed his one-year tender and passed a physical. Bush was eligible to report to practice as soon as Thursday. However, he said he had to “take care of business.”
“He’s in shape,” Jackson said, ”and I said the other day that we have to be very careful because I haven’t been around him enough to know what kind of shape he was in. But he felt like Michael running on the field. He was quick and fast and he looks lean to me, which is great. The guy’s worked out, he’s done a great job of getting his body prepared for football, so we’re glad to have him back.”
Bush said his agent and the Raiders had discussions about a long-term contract. Those talks are on hold right now, though it’s possible the issue will be revisted at a later date. Bush signed for $2.6 million for this season. He is eligible to be an unrestricted free agent in 2012.
The Raiders are counting upon Bush once again to be there in case lead back Darren McFadden gets injured or needs a break. Bush rushed for 655 yards last year, with McFadden setting a career-high with 1,157.
“It’s hard for a back to play 16 straight regular-season games and not get, at some point in time, nicked up,” Jackson said. “So you got to always have quality, quality players back there. And, again, our organization has done a great job of making sure that we have good players.”
Bush looked and performed like a man on a mission, ready to reassert himself as a complementary player who does what is asked of him at a moment’s notice.
“Goal-wise, I never really have goals,” Bush said. “I don’t need 1,000 yards. My whole thing is to always do better than I did last year and be consistent. When they’re on the field, they know they can count on me and they know what they’re going to get out of me, so those are pretty much my goals.”
*Here we go again. If we’re writing about another practice, there surely must be some talk of rookie receiver Denarius Moore.
And there is plenty, once again. Moore got jammed by strong safety Tyvon Branch at the line of scrimmage on a one-on-one drill, worked his way through the setback and hauled in a pass from Kyle Boller with one hand and without allowing Branch to break it up.
In another drill, Moore put a move on cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, bolted downfield and made an impressive catch despite tight coverage by Van Dyke and safety Hiram Eugene.
“I guess I could say I’m starting to expect it,” Moore said. “Every time the ball is going up, I want to be the guy who’s coming back down with it, so if I can do it in practice, the coaches can depend on me in the game.”
The coaches are so high on Moore that they inserted him into the lineup with the starting offense at the end of practice in a red-zone drill.
Moore is feeding off the confidence and making more and more believers every day.
“It gives me a lot of confidence knowing the quarterback’s trusting me in and out of the huddle, knowing that I understand my plays and I’m a guy that they’re starting to depend on,” Moore said.
In a rare down moment, Moore dropped a crossing route that hit him in the hands.
*Jason Campbell was back at full capacity Saturday after sitting out most of Friday’s practice. Jackson said Campbell looked like a player who had a day off.
Overall, though, Jackson has been impressed by Campbell’s play, command and leadership.
“Jason Campbell is the starter of this team, doing great and leading this team,” Jackson said. “I’m excited about him. The thing I like the most is, sometimes things don’t go right, and Jason keeps his poise. That’s what a quarterback has to do. Your team has to know, when things get a little off, all of a sudden you’re not going to cave in. He doesn’t cave in. It’s like, ‘Coach give me the next play, let’s go.’ That’s the kind of quarterback I want on my team.”
*Rookie cornerback Sterling Moore turned in one of the plays of the day once again when he raced to snare a pass that hit off receiver Nick Miller’s hands twice before it hit the ground for another interception.
*Left offensive tackle Jared Veldheer and backup defensive tackle Desmond Bryant engaged in a brief scuffle at the end of one play. Teammates separated the two before any damage was done.
*Receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was a bystander for most of practice once again. Jackson said he is holding back on turning loose Heyward-Bey until he is certain that Heyward-Bey is fully recoverd from whatever ails him. Neither Jackson nor Heyward-Bey has identified the injury.
*Samson Satele received a fair amount of reps at center for the second straight day. That relegated rookie Stefen Wisniewski to guard duty on more than occasion.
It’s all part of the plan to identify the five best players before settling upon a set offensive line, Jackson said.
“I’m going to let these moving pieces unfold,” Jackson said. “(Wisniewski’s) one of our better lineman, there’s no question about that. He’s doing a tremendous job. Sammy’s in there and, right now, I don’t know exactly how all that’s going to go. And that’s the beautiful part, we have the pieces, now it’s just getting all the pieces in the right spot. And we’ll do that as we continue to move forward.”
*Boss made a handful of impressive catch-and-run plays, displaying the skills that made him a dependable receiver for the New York Giants the past four seasons.
“He was awesome,” Jackson said. “(For) him to just step in, step right in, and we do a lot of things on offense, and he picked it up. As he goes every day, we’re a couple days away from seeing Kevin at his best, because once he learns the terminology and learns his teammates and Jason gets a feel for him and our other quarterbacks get a feel for him, that guy is a big target. He is a big man, he can catch it and he is pretty agile running up through there. So, there’s going to be some good things there.”
*The defense got the better of the offense, for the most part. That had Jackson referring to his defense as “The Hunters” and saying it has arrived.
“Our defense is starting to play football the way I envisioned our defense playing,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot of good players on that side of the ball, and we have a lot of good players on the offensive side of the ball, but the defensive decided today they wanted to show up and play. … Those guys, they have the potential to be as good as they want to be. And I’m challenging them to be great.”