Players practiced in relative quiet the first three days of training camp here in Napa. On Friday, 1,000 or so fans livened up things quite a bit, though Raiders coach Dennis Allen stuck to his original script.
“This was the exact same practice we would have had if no fans were here,” Allen said. “We’re focused in on how we’re going to get better as a football team We don’t worry about any of the outside influences. We’re just worried about us.”
That doesn’t mean Allen, his coaches and the players weren’t aware of the fans’ presence. The fans applauded, grumbled, shouted words of encouragement and criticism and weren’t shy about showing their appreciation for the Raiders letting them in for a sneak peek of the players that they will be cheering for this season.
The fans were treated to a slew of memorable plays, from wide receiver Jacoby Ford blowing past cornerback Shawntae Spencer and under a long pass from quarterback Carson Palmer to cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke intercepting Palmer and returning the ball for a touchdown to wide receiver Denarius Moore making a one-handed grab of a pass from Matt Leinart.
Fullback Marcel Reece seemed to echo many of his teammates when he said that he was aware of the fans but not affected.
“Same practice,” Reece said. “That is for the fans, it’s not for us. We know the fans are here, we know we have their support. But we still have to do our job. We have to keep our focus, do everything we need to do.
“These things are for the fans because we owe them so much because of their support, but for us, it’s the same old practice. Getting down to it, getting more intense. Got the pads on, just getting out there and having fun and trying to learn.”
— The Raiders remained pretty consistent in their defensive scheme the first three practices, especially when it came to the use of a 4-3 alignment.
Finally, on Friday, the 3-4 surfaced as more than an oddity. In fact, there was one point where it was used more often than not.
Allen prohibits the mention of specifics, for obvious reasons. Suffice, he is serious when he says the Raiders are going to be “multiple.”
We can expect more and more stuff to surface as camp progresses, Allen said.
“A lot of the stuff we’re going to do, even in OTAs, we mixed some of that stuff in,” Allen said. “But we’re going to continue to add as we go along. We’ve still got a long training camp process. And we’ve still got a lot of stuff we’ve got to get installed both offensively, defensively and on the special teams between now and when we kick off on Monday night against San Diego.”
Guess is, Allen and his coaching staff worked in the 3-4 plenty when the media weren’t permitted access to offseason workouts, and they will do likewise once camp breaks and a large portion of practices in Alameda are closed to the media.
That’s not uncommon in today’s NFL, where paranoia reigns supreme and every coach is fearful of any information being exposed to other teams.
— Moore returned to practice after sitting out Wednesday with a right hamstring injury. He was sporting a brace that ran from his calf to his hamstring.
Cornerback Ron Bartell, punter Shane Lechler, defensive tackle Travis Ivey, linebacker Aaron Curry and tight end Richard Gordon were the only five players unable to practice.
— At this time last year, Moore was turning heads on a daily basis. Based on his play during offseason workouts, rookie Juron Criner figured to be that guy this camp.
Not quite yet. Criner started slowly, but he has reached the point where he is making several nice plays per practice. Criner said he didn’t feel any pressure to stand out based on his earlier play.
“I wouldn’t quite say any more pressure, any less pressure,” Criner said. “I’m just expected to come out and show what I’ve been showing and show my progress.”
Well, then, he is succeeding so far.
Criner caught several passes over the middle Friday, including one in which he was distracted by a pass that sailed just over a defender’s hand.
Those are the kinds of plays that he and fellow rookie Rod Streater are expected to make, he said, because of their being labeled as possession receivers.
“We got to be fearless in there,” Criner said. “Basically, go over the middle, catch anything around us and have the biggest radius we can.”
— Former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon reportedly said that he envisions free agent wide receiver Plaxico Burress winding up with the Raiders at some point. Naturally, the rumor mill kicked into overdrive.
Allen said he is pleased with the receivers he has on his roster. However, he added, the Raiders look at every player.
“I’ll say this, we’re going to look at any options that are out there that we think we can make us better,” Allen said. “Whether or not we make any moves or not, that’s to be determined, but we’re not going to rule anything out.”
Burress remains a free agent. It’s unclear what his reason is for not signing with another team. It likely has to do with his belief that he still can be a starter in the NFL and/or his desire for more money than anyone is offering.
— Receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey showed his playful side during a post-practice interview. Check it out.
Q: You and DeMarcus Van Dyke are having some heated battles. Is there a rivalry building?
Finally, Heyward-Bey broke down and answered the question.
“Nah, nah, nah, DVD, he’s playing great right now,” Heyward-Bey said. “You can tell he’s been working. He’s got my number a few times. I got him a few times. But that’s what camp’s for, battles.”
— Coach Allen, members of his staff and all the players signed autographs, posed for pictures and mingled with fans for 10 minutes or so after practice. Nice touch.
“The fans were great,” Allen said. “The players reacted well to it. At the end of the day, this league is what it is because of the fans, so our ability to do something to give back and give them an opportunity to come and check out what we’re doing here, there’s a lot of excitement around here. It was a good situation, both for the fans and for us as an organization.”
— Play of the day
Defensive tackle Jamie Cumbie reached in and knocked loose the ball on a play in which running back Darren McFadden bolted through the line of scrimmage. McFadden chased after the ball in an attempt to recover, as fans groaned.
— Quote of the day
“Everything. I watch his every move. If he sneezes I’m there to say bless you. I take as much as I can from a guy like that.” — Criner on Heyward-Bey
— All eyes were on Heyward-Bey during camp in 2009 for his status as the No. 7 pick in the NFL draft and the fact he received more than $23 million guaranteed, as well as his struggles holding on to the ball.
All eyes are on Heyward-Bey again this camp. Only this time, it’s to see what play he’s going to turn in next. Quite a marked turnaround for Heyward-Bey.
Things have changed so much that all the other receivers now ask for advice from Heyward-Bey on a daily basis as the team’s most-seasoned recevier. It’s a role that Heyward-Bey welcomes.
“Last year, I was a leader in that room last year, in the meeting room, just being on top of things,” Heyward-Bey said. “Just being out on the field, I don’t say much but I just try to go out there and lead by example. Run hard. Anytime we have anything going on, the guys look toward me, and I have no problem, with that.”
As Criner said, guys such as him and Streater take their cues from Heyward-Bey, both on and off the field. Not a bad role model. Few work as hard as Heyward-Bey.
It was easy to criticize Heyward-Bey for his play the first two seasons, but give the man credit for continuing to work hard, not making excuses and doing whatever he could to get better.
“Listen, there’s a lot of different ways that you lead,” Allen said. “People talk about leading by example. He can be a guy that can come out here and do it the right way every time. There’s nothing that says a guy, even though he might not be a vocal guy, that says he can’t get on somebody if they’re not doing it right.
“We’re all held to a certain standard and, at the end of the day, we’ve got a job to do and we’ve got to make sure we get our job done no matter who’s called to do what.”
Allen was speaking in general, but he might as well have been speaking about Heyward-Bey.