By Steve Corkran
Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012 at 2:35 pm in Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders granted access to the media Tuesday for the second straight week, as they continue their organized team activities in Alameda. What follows is an overview of things gleaned from watching the two-hour practice, as well as post-practice interviews:
Rookie Juron Criner is not a one-practice wonder. Early on in drills, Criner broke toward the sideline on an out route, only to discover that the ball was thrown well off the mark.
No worry. Criner stuck out one hand and stopped the ball and then calmly secured the ball with his other hand, just before he stepped out of bounds.
Add this catch to the growing list of eye-opening plays made by Criner in the month or so since he was selected in the NFL draft.
Running back Darren McFadden shows no lingering effects from the foot injury that forced him to miss the final nine games last season.
On one play, McFadden lined up wide right, put a move on strong safety Tyvon Branch, ran past Branch and into the open field. Carson Palmer’s throw sailed over McFadden’s head, but the play showed that McFadden is all the way back and ready to pick up where he left off last season.
Quarterback Matt Leinart worked almost exclusively with the second-team offense today, with second-year player Terrelle Pryor taking the snaps with the third-team offense.
What’s it mean? Who knows at this point. It’s conceivable that coach Dennis Allen and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp just wanted to see Leinart with the second-team today and that Pryor might get his shot later down the road.
Leinart looked sharp, save a pass that was intercepted on the final play of practice. Pryor was a tad off on some of his throws, but he was accurate enough so that the receivers could make plays on the ball.
Rookie Miles Burris worked at outside linebacker today with the first-team offense, in large part because projected starter Aaron Curry is sidelined with an undisclosed injury.
That’s where Burris will stay for the time being, Allen said. He wants Burris to focus upon learning the nuances of the defense, as well as the outside linebacker spot, before he attempts to convert to the middle or inside.
“Right now, with the learning curve, we’re going to keep him outside linebacker and let him get his feet wet,” Allen said, “and then we’ll figure where he’s at probably closer to training camp, and even closer to the beginning of the season.”
Burris played mostly outside in college. However, he is versatile enough to play anywhere, as he did on occasion at San Diego State.
Middle linebacker Rolando McClain practiced for the second straight day after missing the three practices last week, while in Alabama for his trial on four misdemeanors from a Nov. 30 incident in Decatur, Ala.
He looked to be in fine shape and moving around well. Allen said he isn’t worried about McClain at all, though he said McClain needs to perform better against the pass.
“He’s moving around good,” Allen said of McClain. “Obviously, he had some injuries last year. I’ve been pleased with everything I’ve seen out of Rolando this whole offseason.”
Allen said McClain is “ahead” of where he should be at this point of the offseason.
“He’s done a real good job from a leadership standpoint,” Allen said. “He’s very instinctive. He’s smart out there. He’s taken command of the huddle. Those things I’ve been pleased with. Physically, as you look at him, what he needs to improve on, and he knows this, is a little bit of the pass coverage aspect.”
McClain issued a statement about his legal issue in which he was found guilty on all four counts and sentenced to 180 days in jail. He intends to appeal the sentence and ask for a jury trial, according to his lawyer.
Allen said he and the Raiders will wait for the legal process to play out before deciding whether to mete out any punishment.
“Well, really, right now, as we look at it, Rolando’s part of our family, he’s part of our team,” Allen said. “We’re going to let the whole process play out before we do anything and once the whole legal proceedings are finished then we’ll determine what if any action we need to take.”
McClain did not field any questions from the media. The fact he emerged to issue the statement is another example of general manager Reggie McKenzie and Allen being serious about players being accountable.
Moving forward, Allen said that he has spoken with his players about how he and the Raiders expect them to comport themselves.
“We’ve talked to all the players about that,” Allen said, “and all the players understand what we expect out of them. And the thing we’ve also got to understand is that we’re starting anew. We’re not going to take into account past sins necessarily for everybody’s actions. But everybody knows what the standard is around here and we’re going to expect people to uphold that standard.”
The following six players were not in attendance today, either because of injury, personal reasons, contractual issue or the choice to miss what is a voluntary practice: punter Shane Lechler, kicker Sebastian Janikowski, defensive tackles Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour, and fullbacks Marcel Reece and Manase Tonga.
Allen said Tonga underwent surgery on his knee and won’t be back until mid-June, at the earliest.
The following 10 players were here but did not practice: Wide receivers Thomas Mayo, Brandon Carswell, Eddie McGee, Louis Murphy and Denarius Moore, safety Mike Mitchell, center Stefen Wisniewski, defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, Curry and offensive lineman Zach Hurd.
The Raiders practiced in helmets that don’t have the iconic shield on each side. It’s likely that Allen is using that as a motivational ploy.
“We just started off that way,” Allen said. “If anything, we’ll all earn the right to wear that symbol.”
There you go.
Impressive sight of the day: former Raiders guard Steve Wisniewski doing numerous push-ups on the sideline as the players performed running drills early in practice. It appears as if Wisniewski could throw on a uniform right now and nail down a starting spot.
Cornerback Ron Bartell said he has healed from the neck injury that forced him to miss all but one game last season, when he was with the St. Louis Rams.
Bartell said he isn’t at greater risk of further injury as a result of his broken neck and that he is eager to validate the Raiders signing him this offseason.
“I’ve been completely (healed) and 100 percent since about March,” Bartell said. “I feel great. The injury happened early in the year. I didn’t get a lot of wear and tear on my body because I played one game, so I feel fresh, new spirit, just excitement to help get this team back to where it should be. So, I’m just ready to play ball.”
Bartell and fellow newcomer Shawntae Spencer are the projected starters at cornerback this season. Bartell said he is just trying to make the most of his opportunity.
“To have the type of injury I had, just from that standpoint, just being able to get back out on the field and compete, that’s all I can ask for,” Bartell said. “Another chance, another opportunity to play again. The way I look at it, the chips will fall where they may. They’re going to put whoever they feel is best for the job out there on the field. If I’m one of those guys, then more power to me. If not, I’ll play my role.”
Bartell is a big fan of defensive coordinator Jason Tarver’s scheme, he said, because it places players in position to make plays.
As for his experience, Bartell said he and Spencer are doling out advice to the younger players such as DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa.
“I just try to show them what it’s like to be a pro, how to approach practice, how to study film, how to take care of your body, some of the little things that I picked up along the way from a lot of the veterans that I was able to play with,” Bartell said. “So, if I’m able to rub off on them that way, it will be positive for them.”
Spencer was part of a 49ers team last year that made the precipitous jump from mediocre team to Super Bowl contender in one season.
He said the talent was there with the 49ers before last season. The key was, getting a coach and coaching staff to harness that talent.
Given that, Spencer said he doesn’t see any reason the Raiders can’t make the same kind of leap, as long as they cut down the penalties and turnovers.
Just looking at it here, you can ask leaguewide, the Raiders are always the most talented team. Size wise, speed wise, skills wise and things like that but it’s just changing the culture, being disciplined, doing the little things right,” Spencer said.
Spencer said Allen and his staff are preaching details, discipline and working hard. That has Spencer and others feeling confident about what lies ahead.
“Once you do those things, it all comes down to the game,” Spencer said, “but if you’re beating yourself before the ball’s even snapped, you don’t have a chance. So that’s what he’s really been preaching and that’s what everyone’s buying into right now. We got a great attendance at OTAs and we had a great attendance thus far through the offseason programs, so I think the whole building, everyone should be optimistic.”