Monday brought about the much-awaited debut of wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, at least in terms of participating in full-team drills.
Heyward-Bey spent the first 12 days of camp working his way back into shape from a mysterious injury and getting in some light work with his teammates. Finally, coach Hue Jackson turned loose Heyward-Bey to see where his third-year receiver is at nearly two weeks into camp.
Heyward-Bey looked sharp on most plays, taking in stride a pass from Jason Campbell on a down-and-in route, bursting past two defenders and into the open field. He also caught another pass over the middle and a sideline pass that he attempted to turn into a long play.
One problem, though. Heyward-Bey lost sight of cornerback Chris Johnson, didn’t protect the ball and was unable to do anything about Johnson poking out the ball from behind. Heyward-Bey also dropped a short pass over the middle.
All in all, he looked healthy, sharp and ready to make a push for a starting spot for the third straight year.
“He looked like a guy who’s getting ready,” Jackson said. “He did some good things, caught some balls, getting back into the swing of it. Good to have him back out there. Another pair of veteran legs. He looked good. I was glad to see production. Quarterbacks are getting back in rhythm with him. Obviously, that’s the most important thing, just getting the chemistry back with the quarterbacks. He’s back out there going, and we’re glad he’s there.”
Heyward-Bey said he feels up to speed.
“It felt good to be out there with the guys, going full reps and everything like that,” Heyward-Bey said. “I felt pretty good. … I wish C.J. didn’t knock that ball out, but I felt pretty good, for the most part. Me and Jason connected twice, and it felt good.”
*Jackson knows his way around a football field from years spent as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. However, this head coach thing remains a work in progress.
Hence, Jackson is preparing for things such as when to throw the challenge flag, when to kick a field goal, when to call a time-out. In many ways, Oakland’s exhibition opener Thursday will be just as much a learning experience for Jackson as it will be for the rookies on his roster.
“Oh, baby, I’ve thought about (that stuff),” Jackson said. “It kept me up the other night. I didn’t go to sleep. One of these nights, I was thinking about the red flag, I was thinking about, oh, tell them when to kick a field goal, oh, when to punt. I thought about all those things, but you know what? I’ve also been thinking about that for about five years now.
“I’m looking forward to it. I’m not saying there won’t be any bumps in the road, but I’ve got a great staff that I can lean on. The guys I put in the press box are quality, quality coaches that know exactly what it is that we need to do, and the guys that we have on the field, they’ll help me also. But will it be different? Yes, but I’m looking forward to it. Bring it on. Let’s do it.”
Jackson said that defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan will coach from the sidelines. Offensive coordinator Al Saunders will do his work from the press box.
*Jackson lost a bet with running back Michael Bennett at some point. The payment came in the form of Jackson wearing neon-green tennis shoes for practice.
If you missed out on seeing Jackson in the glow-at-night shoes, your only chance is gone.
“Everybody wants to know about my shoes,” Jackson said. “I lost a bet. And when you lose a bet, you have to pay up. Michael Bennett wears these shoes. These are a Michael Bennett special. When you lose, you pay up. It was my day to pay up, so I had to wear them. End of story.”
As for the nature of the bet, neither Jackson nor Bennett was saying.
“I cannot tell you,” Jackson said. “I cannot tell you and I will not tell you. It was well worth it. I lost and I’m wearing these shoes. It’s the only time in history I will ever have on these shoes. That’s it. They’re done.”
*Once again, Samson Satele and Stefen Wisniewski shared center duties throughout practice. At times, Wisniewski took some reps at guard. Other times, the starting line featured, from left to right, Jared Veldheer, Daniel Loper, Satele, Cooper Carlisle and Khalif Barnes.
Jackson said there’s a great battle going on at center. Both hopefuls are holding their own. Jackson makes a point of clarifying a remark he made when the Raiders selected Wisniewski in the second round of the NFL draft in April, when he declared Wisniewski his starting center.
That, of course, was when Satele was an unrestricted free agent. Now, with both on the roster, Jackson is careful to make sure he presents the situation as a wide-open competition.
*Running back Michael Bush is playing like a man on a mission, someone intent upon showing that he is in shape and ready to bang heads with whoever gets in his past.
It’s interesting to note that other running backs get thumped pretty good whenever they run into defenders. With Bush, defenders tend to touch him to signify that they were in position to make the play and then get the heck out of his way.
Bush, Rock Cartwright, Michael Bennett and Louis Rankin are the only healthy running backs as of now. Darren McFadden and Taiwan Jones still are sidelined with injuries.
*For a short while, it appeared as if rookie receiver Denarius Moore had shed his Superman image and returned to mortal status. He clanked a punt early in practice and then flat out dropped a short pass over the middle.
Not to worry. Moore rallied past the early gaffes by blowing past cornerback Walter McFadden and cradling a 45-yard pass from Campbell and running out of bounds at the 10-yard line.
Toward the end of practice, Moore beat Johnson to a quick out, spun away from Johnson and turned a short reception into a long play.
Just in another day’s work for the fifth-rounder out of Tennessee. Jackson was spotted talking to Moore off to the side on several occasions throughout practice.
*Sebastian Janikowski finally attempted a field goal. He spent the first nine practices standing around and keeping himself amused in various ways.
On Monday, Janikowski converted all four of his field-goal attempts, including back-to-back 40-yarders at the end of practice.
*Veteran receiver Derek Hagan made a couple of nice plays in only his second practice since he joined the Raiders.
In particular, Hagan ran a precise post route that placed him in position to make a fingertip grab of a pass as two defenders looked on.
Jackson said he’s looking for consistent playmakers, regardless of their age, draft status or history. Hagan has more career receptions (85) than any of Oakland’s other wide receivers.
“Hey, if you’re a good football player, if you can make plays for us, we’ll try to find a place for you,” Jackson said. “Obviously. there’s a group of young men who are fighting for jobs. We have established guys there, some guys who have played. I’m trying to uplift the whole performance of this team, so I want our guys to know and understand it’s about performance. The more you perform, the better you perform, the more opportunities you’re going to get.”
Hagan received a ton of reps Monday.
*Receiver Nick Miller had a short pass hit off his hands and wind up in the hands of a cornerback for the second straight practice. This time, it was rookie cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke who benefitted from the second chance.
Speaking of Van Dyke, cornerbacks coach Rod Woodson is high on Van Dyke’s chances of developing into a productive NFL player.
“He reminds me of a player that I played with in Baltimore, Duane Starks,” Woodson said. “When he got drafted, coming out of The U (of Miami), and we were in Baltimore, he had great hips, great feet. DVD reminds me of him. He’s a little bit taller. His range, I don’t think too many receivers are outrunning him. So, he has to learn to break down, move his body weight and transition when he’s playing in space. If he does that, he can be a pretty good player.”
Van Dyke still is trying to digest the wealth of information coming his way and to carve out a niche.
“Well, I just got to play my part, man,” Van Dyke said. “Coach going to play nickel, play dime, I’ll do that. He wants me to be a starter, I’ll do that, too. But right now, I’m just learning from guys like Stanford Routt, Chris Johnson and Michael Huff and (Tyvon) Branch.”
*Jackson is like most coaches in that he views exhibition games as an ideal time to evaluate the players on his roster. In the end, though, he also wants to walk off the field with more points than the other team.
“If they’re keeping score, I like to win,” Jackson said. “That’s the way it is. Our team is going to go out there and play the way we’re supposed to play as Raiders and keep building on that.”
Playing that first game at the Coliseum is just an added bonus.
“It’s very important,” Jackson said. “It’s good to not have to travel. It’s good to know your environment and where you’re going to be, how to get to the stadium, how to do certain things and be comfortable and go out in front of your own fans and play football. I thank scheduling for what they did. They let us stay home. … We’re very excited about our preseason schedule.”
*McFadden caused quite a stir at practice without taking part in a single play. He is out with a fractured orbital bone. He fired up his black car, turned up the stereo and watched as people flocked to find the origin of the ear-busting bass. Jackson even wandered over to take a look at the flashy mobile.