By Steve Corkran
Sunday, August 14th, 2011 at 7:37 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Raiders coach Hue Jackson says time and again that, “It’s all about performance.” Rookie wide receiver Denarius Moore is on the verge of putting that idiom to the test.
Every day, Moore not only is the best wide receiver on the field, oftentimes he is the best player, period. It has reached the point where this isn’t some one-week wonder, flash in the pan or fluke. The man can flat out play.
That’s what Jackson says he is looking for, playmakers. No one personifies that more than Moore, a fifth-round draft pick out of Tennessee.
On Sunday, Moore was at it again. Not once, or twice, but three times he had fans and teammates oohing and aahing over his ability to get open, adjust to the ball flight, get position on the defender and make a play on the ball.
The first time, Moore slowed up, outleaped rookie cornerback Sterling Moore and snared the ball at the highest point as people gasped. Moore came down with the ball, but it came out as he hit the ground. The play likely would have been ruled an incompletion, but it’s worth pointing out because few other receivers would have done the things necessary to make it close to a reception.
A bit later, Moore worked the left sideline, positioned himself just inbouns and made an outstretched catch of a dart in front of the defender.
On the third play, Moore beat cornerback Jeremy Ware with a double-move, with Moore continuing toward the end zone as Ware slipped to the ground. Safety Jerome Boyd made a sensational diving play to prevent the wide-open Moore from scoring.
To hear Moore tell it, there’s nothing to see here. What he’s doing is what he always does. Don’t be so surprised.
“I hear it here and there,” Moore said after practice. “Coaches say I’m doing a good job, players say I’m doing a good job – they actually talk to me more. So, I guess I’m fitting in pretty well with the team right now.”
Fitting in? Jackson is going to have some explaining to do if Moore isn’t starting Sept. 12 against the Denver Broncos, or if Moore isn’t on the field a ton. There are 31 coaches and general managers grilling their scouting departments on how they let Moore slip past in the draft.
“It goes without question what he’s doing,” Jackson said. “For me to talk about him, there’s no reason to. … You get to see his plays because he jumps over people and he makes these fantastic catches and he runs with punts and all that.”
*Quite a sight after practice, with second-year left offensive tackle Jared Veldheer and rookie offensive linemen Stefen Wisniewski and Joseph Barksdale getting in some extra work with assistant offensive line coach Steve Wisniewski long after the other players hit the showers.
Perhaps it’s no wonder that Jackson is so high on those guys. As for the two rookies, Jackson said: “Those guys are getting it done.”
And Wisniewski? “We drafted the right guy.”
Wisniewski has been so impressive, Jackson said, that the Raiders have to find a starting spot for him on the line, even if it mean moving him to left guard.
“I’m just trying to, again, just keep finding the right pieces, as you continue to watch the tape each and every night and see what’s gonna’ be our best fit for him,” Jackson said of Wisniewski. “Because he’s a very tremendous player. We drafted the right guy. He has all the qualities that we were looking for. He’s everything that I thought he would be, and he’s gotta’ be up there somewhere. So, if it’s not at center, obviously, he has the capability of playing guard.”
*Barksdale showed his fiery side midway through practice Sunday when he delivered several punches to defensive tackle Tommie Hill at the end of a one-on-one pass-protection drill.
“I’m very all right with it,” Jackson said. “That’s competing. I keep telling you. I’m going to create an environment where our players get better every day. I don’t know any other way to do it. Our players have bought into it.
“We saw iron sharpens iron, and the more you work at it it’s going to get hot, it’s going to get testy, but they all love and respect each other when they go in that locker room. But out there between the lines there’s a job to be done and I think they understand what it takes to get it done.”
Barksdale shrugged off the dustup between he and Hill.
“It happens, man,” Barksdale said. “That was actually self defense. I didn’t start that, if you were watching. But it happens, it’s unfortunate. We are teammates and, at the end of the day, we’re still cool. It gets hot. Things happen.”
*More reason to be giddy over Denarius Moore? Watching him and Nick Miller field punts offers some insight into Moore’s athleticism, grace and versatility.
Moore fields just about every punt with his hands. You wouldn’t hear a sound if you had your eyes closed. Miller tends to field punts against his body, with the sound of the ball hitting his pads quite audible from a distance.
Don’t be surprised to see Moore as one of the primary receivers and the punt returner come Sept. 12.
*Backup defensive tackle Desmond Bryant “has something going on” with his left hand, Jackson admitted.
Something, indeed. Bryant’s left hand had a huge wrap Sunday, though it didn’t seem to affect his ability to play the position. The wrap points to Bryant suffering a fracture of some kind, though that hasn’t been revealed.
*Steve Wisniewski isn’t being shy about his first foray into coaching in the NFL. At one point Sunday, he presided over a drill that featured defensive linemen against offensive linemen as offensive line coach Bob Wylie and defensive line coach Mike Waufle watched and listened in on.
*Rookie receiver Eddie McGee returned to practice after a lenghty absence caused by an undisclosed injury. He has his work cut out for him in terms of doing enough within the next two to three weeks if he is to make the 53-man roster.
*Offensive lineman Stephon Heyer is wearing a protective sleeve on his upper right arm. He said he suffered a strained triceps in practice Saturday and that he won’t be out for too long.
Heyer was signed to compete for a starting spot on the line, and he has made the most of his opportunity so far. He is working at guard and tackle as a means of making himself more versatile.
“I felt good (before the injury),” Heyer said. “Moving around better. Felt like I’m in good shape right now. Definitely was making strides at either position. Just a minor setback. I’ll get some time here to heal up a little bit and get back to work.”
*Turns out, rookie cornerback Chimdi Chekwa has dislocated his left shoulder before. He said he did it three years ago at Ohio State. He played the next game.
Raiders trainers forced Chekwa to sit out several days until they were certain that he is ready for full contact and not at heightened risk of reinjuring his shoulder.
“My approach is to ease back into it, but my mind is telling me to make up for lost time,” Chekwa said. “Every rep I get I try to make the most of it. I’m a little bit harder on myself because I’m just getting to start in practice for real and every time I mess up I get hard on myself, but it’s good to get out there and run around a little bit.”
Missing Oakland’s first exhibition game was the hardest part, Chekwa said.
“It was tough, watching some of the other rookies, (Sterling) Moore and DVD (DeMarcus Van Dyke) out there playing a little bit. I wanted to get out there and compete with them but I couldn’t. I need to be patient. I had an injury, so I had to be patient and kind of ease back into it.”
*Running back Darren McFadden (orbital bone), receivers Chaz Schilens (knee), Murphy (hamstring) and Ford (hand) and defensive end Trevor Scott (knee) missed practice once again. No firm timetable on the return of any of those players, Jackson said.
*Approximately 100 fans attended practice Sunday. This marks the second straight day that the Raiders welcomed a small contingent of fans, when normally their practices are closed to the public.
*Jackson said Sunday that he and managing general partner Al Davis are in constant contact about the state of the Raiders.
“Absolutely! This is his football team, and he lets me drive the engine,” Jackson said. “I talk to him all the time about what we’re doing, where we are, how I feel we are, where we’re getting to. This team has made a lot of strides. … I want them faster. We all do, but it’s been three weeks.
“But I give him my input and, trust me, he listens. And he gives me his input, and on we march. And that’s what this things all about. It’s about working together, and the best way to work together is to be able to communicate. And we do that, and we do that well.”
*The loss of Hiram Eugene to a dislocated hip brings about the need to find a replacement as the gunner on punts. Jackson said that’s not an easy task.
“It’s very important because Shane (Lechler, punter) depends on those guys to go down there and make plays for him,” Jackson said. “And we have some very young talented players and some veteran players that can do it. We’ll see how that unfolds but, obviously, it’s a tough … job. It’s a job that guys are vying for. They want that job. They want that opportunity because we know how important it is to our football team.”
*Follow me on Twitter: @corkonthenfl