By Steve Corkran
Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 at 12:47 pm in Oakland Raiders.
First-year coach Dennis Allen presided over yet another organized team activity Wednesday, giving him only one more voluntary practice before everyone is required to be here for a three-day mini camp next week.
Even so, all but six players were in attendance in Alameda and all but three who are here practiced. Center Stefen Wisniewski, linebacker Aaron Curry and defensive end Matt Shaughnessy still are rehabilitating injuries.
Allen said he doesn’t expect to see Wisniewski in practice until the Raiders convene for training camp in Napa on July 29.
“Everybody needs practice, everybody needs to work to get better,” Allen said in a post-practice news conference. “So, does it set him back? Yeah, it sets him back a little bit, and I wouldn’t expect him back before training camp. But I would expect that once we get to training camp that he’ll be ready to go.”
Allen said he isn’t worried about Wisniewski’s status, even given the fact Wisniewski is converting from left guard to center this season.
Wisniewski has sat in on all the position and team meetings, which has enabled him to get up to speed on the scheme and playbook.
Defensive tackles Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly, punter Shane Lechler, running back Darren McFadden, safety Mike Mitchell and fullback Manase Tonga did not attend today’s practice.
Allen said McFadden is in Arkansas so that he can conduct his youth football camp. McFadden is expected back here Thursday.
Mitchell and Tonga, too, are recovering from injuries. Kelly, Seymour and Lechler opted not to attend.
Today’s practice marked the first time the media got a look at fullback Marcel Reece. He missed the first three weeks of OTAs because he hadn’t signed his one-year tender as an exclusive rights free agent.
Reece signed his contract Monday and reported to work that day. He looks in shape and ready to return as the starting fullback.
Allen said Reece’s receiving ability gives the Raiders and edge that they can use against opposing defenses.
“He’s an athletic type of fullback,” Allen said. “Where he really excels is in the passing game and the different mismatches that he can create. From our standpoint, as far as being the lead blocker in our scheme, that’s where he’s got the most work that he’s got to work on. But his mismatches in the passing game will be something that we could use.”
Rookie wide receiver Juron Criner was at it again today. Early on in the proceedings, he broke off a post route because of a pass that was thrown well behind him. Criner reached back with his left hand and made an eye-opening one-handed catch as he continued into the end zone.
Allen says Criner has “made a couple of plays,” which is to be expected from a coach careful not to play up a rookie too much, too soon.
However, there’s no way around the fact that Criner has been nothing short of spectacular in the four practices accessible to the media.
Criner shows great awareness, goes after the ball, isn’t fearful of going after balls in the vicinity of defenders and catches most everything he gets his hands on. Heck, he doesn’t even need both hands to catch some passes, as evidenced by today.
Later in practice, Criner found a seam between two defenders and hauled in a pass that many rookies might have shied away from.
Second-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor has had his moments during the OTAs. Suffice, Wednesday was not one of his better days.
Several passes were overthrown by a wide margin, with one sailing over the head of the intended receiver and into the hands of cornerback Bryan McCann.
“He did like a lot of guys out here today,” Allen said. “He had some good plays and then he had some bad plays. But that’s
to be expected this time of year. I’m not going to read too much into that because what I have seen out of Terrelle Pryor is day in and day out he gets a little bit better. And that’s all that we can ask for is that he keeps making progress, and he’s done that so far.”
Rookie offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom had been working exclusively at left guard early in OTAs. He now is getting some time at right guard, as well.
Ultimately, the plan is for Bergstrom to settle in at one position. In the interim, Allen subscribes to the belief that backup linemen need to be versatile enough to play more than one position.
“When you look at the NFL, you got to be multiple and guys are going to have to play multiple positions so when you go into a game on Sunday, generally, you’re going to bring seven offensive linemen into the game,” Allen said. “So, you’re going to bring an inside swing guy that’s got the ability to maybe play guard and center or maybe even play right and left guard.”
With Wisniewski sidelined, the first-team offensive line has remained consistent: Jared Veldheer, Cooper Carlisle, Alex Parsons, Mike Brisiel and Khalif Barnes, from left to right.
Allen said he has been impressed by the ability of the offensive linemen to make a seamless transition to the zone-blocking scheme favored by offensive coordinator Greg Knapp.
“They’ve really adapted to the zone-running scheme that we’re going to use. It’s a lot different than some of the things that they were asked to do last year,” Allen said. “But they’ve done a nice job of adjusting. Our offensive line coaches are doing an outstanding job of working with those guys.
“At the end of the day, by the time we get through training camp, I’ll be real pleased with where we’re at offensive line-wise and what we’re going to be able to do.”
Bergstrom and Joseph Barksdale figure to get some reps with the first-team line at some point, even if it’s not until training camp.
The Raiders under then-coach Lane Kiffin were penalized by the league for being too physical during some OTAs. On Tuesday, the Seahawks were informed that they will lose two OTA days and a workout day, as well, for going beyond the rules as set forth in the collective bargaining agreement.
Allen said he and his coaches are vigilant about abiding by the rules, even though it’s not always easy to do.
“It’s difficult because all of us as coaches, we want to do the best that we can but also make sure that we’re within the rules,” Allen said. “We’re trying to do everything we can to practice the right way and get something out of it but yet try to do it within the rules of what’s been set forth with the new CBA.
“Every day, we’ve gone out and we’ve preached the message of no contact and trying to stay up off the ground and, basically, if you come into contact with somebody to kind of shut it down.”
The Raiders playoff aspirations took a huge blow when lead running back Darren McFadden went down with a severe foot injuy last season.
To that end, Allen said the Raiders are taking precautions to help keep McFadden on the field more this season. McFadden missed the final nine games last season.
“I don’t know if it’s a case of not pushing him too hard,” Allen said. “Part of the issue is, making sure we do everything we can in the offseason program to make sure his body’s in the right condition to handle the type of punishment that a runner has to take.
“As we go through the season, we’re going to have to make sure we monitor him, make sure we keep him fresh and make sure we keep him healthy. He is a threat and he is a big part of our offense.”
Wide receiver Denarius Moore also made an impressive one-handed catch during practice today. Allen said Moore reminds him of some of the great receivers he was around during his tenure with the New Orleans Saints.
“He’s an exceptional route-runner, he’s got great speed,” Allen said. “I’m really looking forward to working with Denarius. He’s going to be a really good football player for us. I would compare him, as far as route-running, he’s a lot like Lance Moore that we had there in New Orleans, but probably a little bit faster and a little bit more of a down-the-field threat.”