By Steve Corkran
Saturday, August 13th, 2011 at 7:48 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Coach Hue Jackson put his troops through a longer-than-usual, tougher-than-usual practice Saturday, two days after the Raiders lost their exhibition opener to the Arizona Cardinals.
“Long practice today, but it was a good one, a tough one,” Jackson said. “That’s what it’s supposed to be, especially after you lose a game. But the guys are responding. They know what needs to be done.”
At times, players were allowed to finish off tackles, something that doesn’t take place very often in practices. The drills were lively, crisp and spirited. Playing before 150 or so fans no doubt stoked the intensity level.
The defense dominated the full-team drills, for the most part. Linebackers Rolando McClain and Darryl Blackstock recorded interceptions in red-zone drills.
“Anything can happen when I blow that horn,” Jackson said of the heightened physical contact. “That’s the name of the game. I don’t want them to know and have it planned, so everyone is prepared and ready to go. That’s just the way it is.
“You hear the siren go off, that means anything goes, and I set the ball down and we decide to go down there and have a little fun. And defense did a great job. Offense has got to continue to grow and we will.”
*Penalties were at the forefront of most discussions with players on the heels of the Raiders committing 10 for 84 yards against the Cardinals.
It’s clear that Jackson isn’t just paying lip service to the issue that he says has to be resolved. The Raiders led the league in penalty yards last season and were among the leaders in penalties committed.
“Oh, yeah, he got on us today about it,” cornerback Stanford Routt said. “We had a couple of penalties at practice today. He definitely told us that we definitely got to cut down on them because that’s how you lose football games real quick. Like I said, it was our first game since Jan. 2 of last year, two weeks into training camp, so it’s not time to panic yet.”
Jackson has said that one penalty is too many. At the same time, there’s a “fine line” between toning down the aggressiveness and keeping your edge. It’s Jackson’s job to instill in his players finding the proper balance.
Right offensive tackle Khalif Barnes committed three penalties against the Cardinals. Jackson pointed out that Barnes played penalty-free football in practice Saturday.
Cornerback Walter McFadden and backup tight end Kevin Brock committed two each.
“We’ve got a couple of culprits,” Jackson said, without singling out anyone, in particular. ”I kind of know who they are. And I’m addressing them, just those guys in particular. But, obviously, it’s a team-wide problem. We need to address it.”
*Wide receiver Chaz Schilens has a sprained right knee, Jackson said. Schilens is week to week. He did not practice Saturday.
Jackson admitted that he will be even more cautious with Schilens, given Schilens’ injury history since the Raiders selected him in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL draft. Schilens battled foot and knee injuries last season.
Jackson also wants to be extra cautious with Schilens because of how vital he is to the offense when healthy.
“He’s a big guy, he’s dominant in what he does,” Jackson said. “He’s a big target for our quarterback. Again, I know every time there’s an injury, everybody goes, `Oh, my, God.’ I don’t, because I know this is football. Obviously, we want to make sure all our players are out there. But these things happen.”
*Schilens and Louis Murphy are the projected starters based on their experience. Murphy, too, is dealing with an injury. He missed practice for the eighth straight time Saturday with a sore hamstring.
Murphy said he is back running and expects to be back at practice soon. Jackson said Murphy is close to returning for the first time since Aug. 1.
“Yeah, it’s getting better,” Murphy said. “We’ve just been taking it slow. You don’t want to reinjure it and make it into a longer situation.”
*Offensive lineman Stephon Heyer was escorted from the field midway through practice with what Jackson thinks is a strained triceps. Heyer wasn’t available for comment afterward.
Before the injury, Heyer was getting some reps at right offensive tackle whenever Barnes wasn’t with the first-team offense. Heyer played guard and tackle against the Cardinals, and he is being counted upon to compete for a starting spot and give the Raiders more depth and versatility.
*Samson Satele took most, if not all, of the snaps with the first-team offense. Rookie Stefen Wisniewski received some reps at left guard with the starting unit and played center with the second-team.
*Free safety Michael Huff played cornerback quite a bit against the Cardinals the other night, with second-year player Stevie Brown taking over at safety. Huff was at it again in practice.
That’s something you’re likely to see until the slew of first- and second-year cornerbacks show that they are capable of making plays on a consistent basis.
DeMarcus Van Dyke, Walter McFadden and Jeremy Ware all had their moments against the Cardinals where it appeared as if they have a ways to go before they can be relied upon in regular-season games.
Not to worry, Routt said.
“It’s so blown out of proportion,” Routt said. “They’re young. People are going to make mistakes. It’s preseason. Everybody wants to act like if you do bad in one preseason game, you should be crucified or whatever. It is what it is, the first preseason game. We got three more. Mistakes happen. Veterans make mistakes.”
Routt recalled his first exhibition game in 2005 not being something to cherish, either.
“Oh, man, the first one in my career, it wasn’t pretty,” Routt said. “It happens. Mistakes are the mother of learning. If you don’t mistakes, you really can’t learn.”
Jackson used Van Dyke as an example of how a young player can use a poor performance in a game as a learning experience.
“When I talk to the young man, there is no fear in him at all,” Jackson said. “Fitzgerald makes those plays on everybody. I’ve seen him make them on the best in this league. He made one on that young man. But the young man came back and stayed with him the next time, and that’s what this is all about.
“Then you come back out here to practice and, every now and then, I scheme things against him, to go test him. And I got him today. And that’s the fun part about our young players getting better every day. They’re going to win some and they’re going to lose some. What I want to make sure is when they lose ‘em, they don’t go in the tank. And that’s one thing about him. He doesn’t go in the tank. He comes out here, he keeps battling, and he’s looking for the next opportunity.”
*Rookie receiving sensation Denarius Moore turned in the catch of the day once again.
Moore slowed up from an underthrown pass from Jason Campbell, got position on Van Dyke, timed his leap perfectly, and snatched the ball at its highest point for a long reception.
Moore’s catch elicited hearty applause from the fans in attendance.
“I told you he’s a special player,” Campbell said. “He made a big third-down play (Thursday) and got yards after the catch. That was big. And then the punt return, ended up almost taking one to the house. It got called back, but you could see flashes of his talent and ability.”
*Moore wasn’t the only receiver who turned in a solid practice. Jackson doled out high praise for Darrius Heyward-Bey for his three receptions, including one that he turned into a long touchdown.
“He’s gotten better,” Jackson said. “The guy caught the ball in the game. We threw it to him, and he caught it. He went up and made a play on a contested catch. As I told you guys before, there’s no question in my mind that, at some point in time, he’s going to start coming down with those.
“He is working his tail off. He is very determined. He had a great day today. He’s catching the ball when we throw it to him, and that’s what matters. Obviously, his confidence is up, and the quarterback’s confidence is up in him. We just keep on going, and he’s doing a heck of a job.”
*The Raiders opened the game with a deep pass against the Cardinals, mixed in an end around and passed 36 times against the Cardinals. That’s nothing, Jackson said.
Just wait until the regular season, when games count and opponents aren’t sure what’s coming.
“You know how coach is,” Campbell said. “You’ve seen some of our games from last season. That definitely was not an A-plus playbook we threw out there in the game. It’s just something to get on film, see guys move from spot to spot, work on technique things. What you look at in preseason and the first game, is you’re pretty much scrimmaging against another team in a live atmosphere in front of fans.”
Jackson said it’s only a matter of time before he busts out a can of, well, you know.
“You’re going to laugh, that’s as vanilla as I’ve been in a long time,” Jackson said. “That was vanilla ice cream. I mean, there was no cherry on the top, no sprinkles. There was nothing to that. That was basic, Raider football. You’ll know when I decide to open up this can. We ain’t opened it yet. There’s no need to. We’re still teaching our team.”
*Routt shut down everything thrown his way Saturday. He even shadowed Moore on one play, riding him out of bounds as the ball sailed into the crowd.
*Jackson said that backup safety Hiram Eugene underwent surgery for the dislocated hip he suffered in the third quarter against the Cardinals.
“We need to find out what’s going on with that surgery,” Jackson said. “There are some decisions that need to be made after that surgery and when we see where he is. Those things will be coming soon, but we’ve got to further evaluate that to know what it is.”
It’s safe to assume that Eugene won’t be back anytime soon. It’s conceivable that he will be placed on injured-reserve at some point and miss the season. Too early to tell, though.
*Rookie cornerback Chimdi Chekwa (shoulder) returned to practice, but he still hasn’t been cleared to do too much. He dislocated his shoulder earlier in camp. Fellow cornerback Joe Porter also returned to practice after a long absence.
Running back Darren McFadden, receiver Jacoby Ford, defensive end Trevor Scott, safety Mike Mitchell and rookie running back Taiwan Jones missed practice once again. It’s uncertain when any of them will be back.
*Follow me on Twitter: @corkonthenfl