By Steve Corkran
Saturday, May 12th, 2012 at 8:17 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Not much happened during the practice portion of today’s mini camp in Alameda, which is to be expected when full contact is prohibited and coaches are getting their first look at many players.
However, plenty was gleaned from interviews with coach Dennis Allen, offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, defensive coordinator Jason Tarver and a handful of players.
Here are the highlights:
Many players received a harsh wake-up call about the sizable leap from college football to the NFL.
“The pace was a tough transition for a lot of rookies,” defensive lineman Christo Bilukidi said.
It was the first time in my life I was sore without working in pads.”
Offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom likened the christening of sorts to mental gymnastics, trying to learn plays and schemes, while facing live competition.
“I’ve always said there’s really no way to condition for football besides football,” Bergstrom said. “You can run all you want. I’ve been running at elevation but you still come out here and get tired. Today felt a lot better.”
Allen said it’s natural for young players to need an adjustment period. The key is, working hard from here on out and catching up as soon and as quickly as possible.
“It’s extremely important” to have a rookie camp before adding in the veterans, Allen said. “We’ve had the veteran players here for a while and have already been through a minicamp with them. The rookies are obviously behind from a mental and a physical standpoint. They’re going to have to work hard and work fast to get caught up because if they don’t get caught up, pretty soon they’ll fall behind.”
Running back Darren McFadden is on track to make a successful return to the field after missing the final nine games last season with a severely sprained foot.
That’s according to running backs coach Kelly Skipper, who offered the most in depth report on McFadden’s health since the injury occurred.
“The thing about Darren is, he didn’t have any major surgeries, so he’s able to come back her healthy and he’s playing at a high level right now and it’s offseason,” Skipper said. “So, that’s a good thing. He didn’t have surgery so he’s going to be off the whole spring. Nah, that’s not the case. He’s out here. You would never know he got hurt. He’s making cuts at full speed, everything.”
Former Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell fared better than most people realize in 2008, when Knapp was the offensive coordinator under coaches Lane Kiffin and Tom Cable.
“I was very pleased with JaMarcus’ finish in his career here,” Knapp said. “In his last six games – keep in mind, that the year that we were here, he went through three play-callers; Lane Kiffin, myself and Tom Cable. That’s tough on anybody to play. He, really, the last six games played at a pretty high level. He had almost a 90 (passer) rating.
“So, he wasn’t as established as Carson (Palmer), but I was pleased to see the growth and, unfortunately, the staff got blown up and had to be readjusted. So, I couldn’t see the development continue.”
Knapp was gone at the end of that season, soon after being stripped of his play-calling duties by Cable, who had replaced the fired Kiffin as coach. Russell was released two years ago.
Knapp isn’t eager for the Raiders to sign a veteran wide receiver such as Plaxico Burress or Terrell Owens. At least, not yet.
“It’s too early to tell,” Knapp said. “We’ve only had the one vet mini camp, three days of practice. I want to get through the OTAs and get a better feel for where we’re at. Like I said, I’m real excited to see some of these young guys, once they learn some of the offense with a few more reps, to perform.”
Knapp also said the Raiders possess more talent offensively now than they did during his first stint, with the exception of tight end, a position that needs “growth,” he said.
Allen is high on defensive tackle Travis Ivey.
“He’s a big, powerful guy inside who has the ability to be a good run-stopping player inside,” Allen said.
Ivey spent time with the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins before he signed with the Raiders late last season. He said he is eager to make the jump from the practice squad to the 53-man roster and contribute any way possible.
Ivey played the 4-3 in college but learned the nuances of the 3-4 with the Browns and Dolphins. Either way, he said, he just wants to hit someone.
“I’m just eager for camp to come around,” Ivey said. “We have these OTAs and minicamps. We can’t hit anybody and my game is hitting people and being physical. I really look forward to doing the right things and getting my hand placement right right now. I’m really looking forward to camp so I can really show them what my game is.”
Ivey said he learned a great deal from defensive tackle Tommy Kelly last season. Both went undrafted and were forced to take the difficult route to the NFL.
Rookie linebacker Miles Burris has heard the so-called experts say he isn’t a natural fit for any one position in the NFL.
To that, Burris said he is willing and able to play any linebacker position, even if that means converting from the outside spot he played at San Diego State.
“They’re just for guys that are willing to get after it and get to the ball and make plays and have a love for the game,” Burris said. “I think I have those abilities.”