By Steve Corkran
Wednesday, September 14th, 2011 at 2:07 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell has spent most of his football career trying to prove he deserves to be a starter. Hence, it’s no surprise that he is sympathetic to the criticism heaped upon wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey during the first two years of his NFL career.
Through it all, Heyward-Bey has remained upbeat, put his head down, worked hard and done everything asked of him by his coaches.
“That’s always been the case, ever since I was 14 and started playing,” Heyward-Bey said. “You put in the work, things will eventually start paying off. I’m still working. Monday was just me making plays at the right opportunity to help us win a game, and I am going to continue to do that.”
Finally, he is off to a fast start and in position to silence those who have criticized him for dropped passes, poor route running and lack of production the past two seasons.
“His confidence is at an all-time high since I’ve been here,” Campbell said of Heyward-Bey on Wednesday.
Campbell recounted how Heyward-Bey looked great at practice earlier today and is making strides toward being a consistent performer.
“You outta to have seen his practice today,” Campbell said. “The way the guy was going after balls and catching them. … It’s exciting to see because he has so much speed, he has great size and he can make a lot of plays in this league for us. That’s what we’re looking for. I’m excited about the way he’s playing right now.
Heyward-Bey caught four passes for 44 yards against the Denver Broncos on Monday night, both team-highs. Several of his receptions netted first downs and helped the Raiders control the clock at critical times.
“Everyone has been kind of hard on Darrius, and now he’s getting his turn to show what he can really do.” Campbell said. “This is his third year, and most of the time receivers really come into their own in their third year in the league. It’s exciting to see what he’s doing right now.”
*Tight end Kevin Boss returned to practice for the first time since he suffered a knee injury Aug. 20 in an exhibition game against the 49ers.
He was limited, according to coach Hue Jackson, but that beats not practicing at all. Boss was hopeful of making it back in time for the Broncos game. He now is hopeful that he will play against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
“It’s getting close,” Boss said. “It’s getting close. I’m really hoping that I can get out there this week.”
Boss watched the Broncos game on TV and said he felt more nervous than when he’s on the field. He is eager to make his Raiders debut and validate the team’s decision to sign him to a long-term contract during trainng camp.
“It’s definitely not the way I planned, coming out here and getting off to the start I wanted,” Boss said. “It’s kind of one of those deals it’s out of my hands. I trust everything will happen for a reason and I’ll get back out there and won’t miss a beat.”
*Free safety Michael Huff, wide receiver Jacoby Ford and defensive tackle Richard Seymour were among the five players who missed practice Wednesday.
Jackson said he will update the status of his injured players as the week progresses. For now, he isn’t saying whether he expects any of them to play.
It doesn’t look good for safety Mike Mitchell and receiver Louis Murphy making it back for the Bills game. They, too, missed practice and haven’t worked out with their teammates in several weeks. Jackson said they would need to practice some if they are to play against the Bills.
*Wide receiver Derek Hagan said he was prepared to play against the Denver Broncos on Monday night and that the “minor” calf injury he suffered in practice early last week had nothing to do with him being deactivated.
“It’s good,” Hagan said of his calf. “There really was never nothing wrong with it. I was good to go last week for Monday. I practiced all last week, and the calf’s good and ready to go for Sunday.”
Hagan was informed before the game that he wasn’t among the five wide receivers active for the game — Murphy also wasn’t activated because of his injury.
Obviously, it was a surprise to me being inactive. I was expecting to I was going to come into the game and help contribute to this team. Obviously, they put me down for that game but we got 15 more, and I’m definitely looking forward to the next 15.”
Hagan was Oakland’s most productive receiver during its four exhibition games. Yet, Jackson felt as if the Raiders had a better chance to win with Hagan on the bench.
*The Raiders have had three road games so far this season, including two in the exhibition season. None required more than a two-hour plane ride.
Traveling to Buffalo will require a 5-hour-plus flight and take the Raiders three time zones away from California. No big deal, Jackson said.
“We had this schedule a long time ago, and I know our players had it, and we talked about it this morning,” Jackson said. “We’re not going to let the travel or the accommodations or the food or the elements dictate how we’re going to play. We’re going to go play Raiders football the way we know how to play. We’re not going to get caught up in all of that.”
*Rookie quarterback Terrelle Pryor jogged out to the practice field just as his teammates were ending their practice Wednesday.
It’s part of the life Pryor leads these days, as he winds his way through a five-week suspension. Once again, he worked out on one of the three fields here with someone snapping him the ball, someone catching his passes and a third person overseeing his routine.
No word on the status of his appeal. Until further notice, he is not allowed to practice with his teammates or work under the guidance of anyone from the coaching staff.
*The Raiders attempted only 22 passes against the Broncos. Campbell completed 13 of those throws, with most of them being safe, short routes.
Campbell said there will be times this season when the Raiders open up the passing game. There wasn’t a need against the Broncos because running back Darren McFadden was succeeding in running the ball from the outset.
“A lot of it is based the coverages they were giving,” Campbell said. “And the other part of it was, we didn’t have to take the risk. Because we were running the ball very well, getting 9 or 10 yards a pop. And we were running time off the clock because we had the lead.”
*The Raiders are seeking to begin a season 2-0 for the first time since 2002, when they won their first four games and advanced to the Super Bowl.
They have started 2-0 only four times since 1990 — 1993, ‘95, 2000 and ‘02. Three of those times, the Raiders qualified for the playoffs.
*As soon as safety Matt Giordano intercepted a pass deep in Raiders territory, kicker Sebastian Janikowski had a feeling he was on the verge of attempting a long field goal.
Little did he know, the field goal he attempted would come from 63 yards away and give him a chance to tie the NFL record set by Tom Dempsey in 1970 and matched by Jason Elam in 1998.
“I know (Jackson’s) going to try a long one,” Janikowski said. “He’d been talking about it all week, that he’s going to give me a chance. Every time we cross the 50-yard line, I warm up anyway because you never know what’s going to happen. But Denver, that’s the different story.”
Sure enough, Jackson summoned Janikowski as time wound down in the first half. Janikowski converted the field goal with little room to spare.
Janikowski said he mishit the ball. So, what might happen if he drilled the ball just right?
“Top end? Maybe like a 74(-yarder),” Janikowski said. “Because I kicked a 70-yarder in warm-ups. Seventy-four, seventy-five, if you swing really hard. That’s probably the top.”
That’s in Denver, at high altitude. At sea level, Janikowski said he is confident he could make a field goal from as far as 68 yards.
Janikowski is thrilled to be tied for the record. However, the 63-yarder doesn’t rank as his best field goal since he joined the Raiders in 2000. That distinction goes to the 61-yarder he nailed in the snow at Cleveland in 2009.
Holder Shane Lechler said there isn’t any secret as to why Janikowski can kick the ball so far.
“Heck, it’s just all leg speed,” Lechler said. “Leg speed and contact. That’s really what it is. It’s really identical to hitting a golf ball. Contact is way more important than how hard you swing.”
*More on the injury front: Jackson said running back Darren McFadden, cornerback Chris Johnson and defensive end Jarvis Moss were limited in practice. Updates won’t be provided until Thursday, at the earliest.
*Follow me on Twitter: @corkonthenfl