By Steve Corkran
Tuesday, August 30th, 2011 at 3:14 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Starting cornerback Chris Johnson was a surprise participant at practice Tuesday, given he had surgery approximately two weeks ago.
He had been running off to the side at practice the final few days in Napa. Now, he is functioning at near or close to full strength.
Johnson said “hands down,” he is playing in the regular-season opener against the Denver Broncos on Sept. 12.
He won’t play against the Seattle Seahawks on Friday night, though, just to make sure his undisclosed injury heals all the way.
“I’ve felt better the last couple weeks than I’ve felt in the last two years,” Johnson said. “So, it’s a big improvement I feel in my body. I’m just ready to go.”
Johnson’s return comes as welcome news to a Raiders fan base concerned about the play of rookie DeMarcus Van Dyke during his absence the past two games.
Don’t be so hard on Van Dyke and the other young, inexperienced cornerbacks, Johnson said. It takes time to mature into a reliable cornerback in the NFL.
“When I first came in, it was the same way,” Johnson said. “It just takes one or two plays for you to just knock a ball down or pick the ball off, and they’ll respect you. If you don’t do that, they’re going to continue to pick on you in this league.
Speed is one thing that Van Dyke and the other cornerbacks have in their favor, Johnson said.
“Our guys, they can run with anybody, so we just have to turn our heads. People see we’re there. All you’ve got to do is turn your head and it’s a pick. I
*Jackson said there are a handful of things that surprise him after a little more than a month of working with his players throughout training camp and three exhibition games.
“A lot of things have surprised me,” Jackson said. “I’m 0-3. We’ve had some injuries.”
Beyond that, Jackson added, he has been impressed by the way his players have worked hard throughout camp and responded well to his being the coach.
*Defensive tackle Richard Seymour is just fine, according to Jackson. Seymour just falls into the category of valuable players that Jackson doesn’t want to overexert before the season or expose to injury.
*Rookie Chimdi Chekwa has been splitting time at cornerback and safety, just as have Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch.
Huff and Branch aren’t changing positions at the moment, Jackson said. However, it’s conceivable that Chekwa will convert to safety full time before long.
Chekwa said he is adapting to the new dual role, playing a position he has never played.
“It’s brand new,” Chekwa said. “They put me at safety last week. They’re trying different things, putting us in different places, seeing what we can do.”
Already, Chekwa is learning that safety is quite different than cornerback.
“Definitely,” Chekwa said. “Eye discipline is real big. You got to have eye control at any position on defense, but at the safeties it’s a lot different because you see so much more, and that’s something I learned in the past week.”
*Jackson was asked about the long-term outlook of safety Mike Mitchell and wide receiver Chaz Schilens. Once again, Jackson dismissed their injuries as nothing major and said both will be back soon.
A person close to Mitchell said his injury involves one of his knees, though he isn’t sure if Mitchell required surgery to repair the cartilage damage.
*Center Samson Satele said part of the reason for the offensive line’s early success, despite all the players rotating in and out of the lineup and playing multiple positions, owes to coaches who constantly remind the offensive linemen that Raiders quarterbacks were hit 121 times in 16 regular-season games last year.
“Hue is trying to build a bully, so we’re trying to live up what he wants us to be,” Satele said. “We can see it when we watch film. Last year or the year before that, we were a bully but this year, we’re a little more grumpy, I guess.”
And, just what does a bully look like from Satele’s standpoint?
In short, it means being physical, sustaining blocks and keeping Campbell upright and free to play quarterback without worry of being pounded.
*Campbell comes across as even-keeled, which he is, for the most part. However, there are times when Campbell loses his cool, Satele said. When he does, look out.
“Yes, he gets mad,” Satele said. “One thing about him, that’s our mom. You don’t want to see our mom mad. He’s a great leader but once he gets mad, he opens up some eyes.”
Campbell has opened plenty of eyes with his leadership and comfort level this season. Last season, his first with the Raiders, Campbell was learning a new offense, trying to gain the respect of his teammates and constantly fending off Bruce Gradkowski for the starting job.
Not this season, by all accounts.
“You can see it,” Satele said. “It’s the way he’s calling the plays, it’s the way he’s leading us out there. Bringing us back to the huddle during practice, saying we’re too slow getting up to the ball. Staying in the huddle; guys used to leave out of the huddle last year when he’s not even done with the call. This year, he’s keeping them in. You can just see little things like that. You can see how comfortable he is back there, with us giving him the time to throw that ball.”
*Now that the Raiders are at their year-round facility in Alameda for the rest of the season, things take on a more-intense feel. Tuesday’s first roster cuts helped underscore the fact that the regular season is drawing near.
“We are getting closer to the season,” Jackson said. “We’re getting closer to doing what we really get paid to do every
day, which is trying to win football games. Not that we’re not trying to win the preseason games, but once you come back here, the anxiety, the pressure of what we’re about to go do and embark on really heightens. Now, all of a sudden, it’s for real. Every game now has a won and loss that goes in that box and that’s what we’re truly doing it for.”
*Rookie left guard Stefen Wisniewski missed practice Tuesday. No big deal, Jackson said.
“One of those little dings,” Jackson said. “He’ll be fine. Any time we get a player with a little something, we’re going to be very cautious with him, but he’ll be OK.”
*Now that cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is gone, seventh-year cornerback Stanford Routt has assumed more of a leadership role as the senior member of the secondary (Note: that title goes away if Lito Sheppard makes the 53-man roster).
Through it all, Routt said he hasn’t changed all that much, though teammates tend to look to him more now than in years past, especially the rookies and second-year cornerbacks.
“It hasn’t changed my approach or my feelings toward the game,” Routt said. “That’s moreso something that (the media) make a big story about. It’s just football. Just go out there, you line up on the guy in front of you, you cover. It’s going to be either a run play or a pass play. At the end of the day, it’s just football.”
Jackson said Asomugha’s departure via free agency has forced all the veteran defensive backs to step up and assume larger roles.
“Moreso than anything, it’s brought the group closer together to understand it takes all of them,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t take one guy. It’s going to take all four of them to be at their best in order for us to have success.”
*Follow me on Twitter: @corkonthenfl