By Steve Corkran
Monday, October 31st, 2011 at 5:23 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Quarterback Carson Palmer is up to speed, cornerback Lito Sheppard is prepared to play Sunday and wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh is awaiting his shot at joining the fray as the Raiders embark upon a nine-game run after the bye week.
“It was good to see my players back out there today, good to get back out working,” coach Hue Jackson in reference to the Raiders first practice after a four-day break during the bye week. “Obviously, there are no more byes, no more anything. We got to go now.”
With that in mind, Jackson knows that he can’t wait around forever for cornerbacks Chris Johnson and Chimdi Chekwa to recover from hamstring injuries, and Darrius Heyward-Bey is the only wide receiver who has produced on a consistent level this season.
So, Jackson signed off on the addition of veteran Sheppard on Monday and a scheduled work out for veteran Houshmandzadeh on Tuesday.
Sheppard said he has been told to expect to play anywhere from 5-30 snaps Sunday against the Denver Broncos. Sheppard said he is in great shape, well versed in Oakland’s defense and prepared to resume his NFL career.
“Whatever it be, special teams or whatnot, I’m ready to get out there and help however,” Sheppard said.
Sheppard is accustomed to playing a multitude of styles, from man coverage, to cover-2 to quarters or zone. He has seen it all during a career that spanned 10 years, including this season.
Cornerback Stanford Routt says Sheppard gives the Raiders some much-needed experience and playmaking ability.
“Pro Bowl-type level talent,” Routt said. “Knowledge, wisdom. He is a veteran that I can even lean on for learning whatever. He is definitely a great addition.”
The Raiders signed Sheppard late in training camp and got a sneak peek at what he’s capable of doing. Ultimately, the Raiders opted to go with younger players such as Chekwa, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Joe Porter, and they released Sheppard.
Still, that short amount of time was worth the investment for the Raiders.
“That was a big help,” Sheppard said. “I still remember pretty much everything that was given to me at that time and I kind of pick up from right there. And the system it was very familiar to what I’ve been running the last couple of years.”
Jackson said he had Sheppard on speed dial ever since the Raiders waived him in early September.
“He was the next best guy that was out there, that’s been around us, that knows us,” Jackson said. “He has veteran presence, he knows how to play in this league, he’s been a really good player in this league before, so we’re getting a guy that’s been in games, played in games, been around us, knows our system, and he can kind of hit the ground running.”
No one has any idea what to expect from Houshmandzadeh. As was the case with Palmer when he was traded to the Raiders, Houshmandzadeh hasn’t played in a game of any kind since early January, when he was a member of the Baltimore Ravens.
We do know that he worked out with Palmer over the summer, that he once was a pretty productive player for several seasons and that he was with Palmer and Jackson for part of his tenure with the Bengals.
Hence, Jackson is intrigued by the possibility of adding, not only someone who is familiar with Palmer but someone who has the potential to provide a spark for a receiving corps that has struggled in recent games.
“What I need to do is, find out what he is,” Jackson said. “I keep telling (everyone), I’m going to do everything I can to improve our football team. He may not be what he once was. He may be what he once was. But I get the opportunity to see him, see him up close and personal, and go from there.”
For what Houshmandzadeh is capable of, we turn to safety Chinedum Ndukwe, who played with Houshmandzadeh in 2007 and ‘08.
“He’s a born leader,” Ndukwe said. “He’s a competitor. He gets open. You can’t really explain it. He might not be the fastest guy, he might not look like the greatest athlete but he gets it done. I don’t think there’s any better in the league in the slot, for sure.”
Jackson said he remembers Houshmandzadeh as a player who did the dirty work, made the tough catches and blended in well with his teammates.
“He’s a guy that made a lot of catches when it was sticky,” Jackson said. “With people draped all over him, he made some uncommon plays for us in Cincinnati. That’s all I can go by, in Cincinnati. … It’s been awhile. He was a very accountable, reliable football player for that team, somebody who I enjoyed being around because he played hard, caught the ball, did what was asked.
“I never had a problem with T.J. Houshmandzadah. I know what he is and I’d like to bring him in here and take a good look at him.”
Jackson isn’t required by the league to deliver any updates on his injured players until Wednesday. And, no surprise, he has no intention of doing so, either.
Therefore, we won’t know more about running back Darren McFadden, middle linebacker Rolando McClain, Johnson, Chekwa and the other injured players until Wednesday. None practiced Monday.
PALMER AHEAD OF THE GAME
In retrospect, Jackson said, getting in Palmer for most of the second half against the Chiefs is going to pay huge dividends this Sunday.
“It might be the best thing,” Jackson said. “Quote unquote, I’m glad he didn’t get injured or anything like that. Wow, think about putting him in this game with no fast look, no reps, with a bye week, and all of a sudden there was nothing that he did.
“I would really be concerned. It didn’t happen just the way I wanted it to but it happened in a way that this young man got some work, got a little bit of work underneath him with a real live rush coming at him. Now I think he understands.”
How much remains to be seen. However, Jackson and Palmer say Palmer has a much better grasp of the Raiders offense than he did when he was thrust into action against the Chiefs despite only three practices.
“Does he totally understand the tempo and the speed of the game?” Jackson asked. “Maybe not. But he understands, get that ball out of his hand, I guarantee you that.”
Wide receiver Jacoby Ford spent time with Palmer during the Raiders off days last week.
“It went really well,” Ford said. “It’s going to be real advantageous to us. Especially, there’s certain things we got to work with him on, certain routes, different cadences that he wants to go though and just kind of got a feel for how he’s going to run this offense.”
Ford said that it was worth he and others giving up some of their down time during the four days off for players.
“Being here those extra few days with him, you just kind of get things down,” Ford said. “Now he knows where we’re we’re going to be, and we know what we have to do for him. It’s all built on trust. So, wherever the ball needs to be, that’s where we need to be.”
The results from the added time together manifested itself in a sharper performance in practice today, Jackson and others said.
Jackson said Palmer looked “sharp” and did “some good things.”
“When I heard of what those guys did on those two days, spending time together really showed out here,” Jackson said. “Guys were able to make some plays that for the first couple of days, really didn’t. So that was improvement.”
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