Six straight practices with pads on, combined with a spike in temperature, and high effort from the players resulted in Raiders coach Dennis Allen throwing the players a bone Wednesday.
The players were allowed to practice in shorts and without pads today as a means of paying them back for the past week’s showing and keeping them fresh for the long haul.
“We were going to go full pads today,” Allen said, “but we felt like the team has been giving us everything they got, and it was time for us to kind of take a little bit off of them.”
The players’ response, coach?
“It went over pretty good,” Allen said. “The guys, obviously, they appreciate it when you cut it back a little bit on them and give them a chance to recover some. They got the day off tomorrow, so they’ll have a full day off to really recover.”
As a result, there wasn’t any full-blown contact today, just a lot of running plays, getting in position to make tackles and working on fundamentals.
Veteran cornerback Ron Bartell, for one, actually was disappointed to learn of the decision to go without pads, given today was the first day he was cleared to go full tilt since returning from his hamstring injury.
“Yeah, that’s crazy,” Bartell said. “I was actually looking forward to getting full pads on. I’m probably the only guy on the team that felt that way. But guys’ legs were getting heavy, so it was a great call by coach to get guys out of the pads, lighten up the load a little bit. It was a little disappointing, but I’ll have enough time.”
— Running back Mike Goodson is doing better, Allen said, less than 24 hours after he and strong-side linebacker Philip Wheeler collided on a short pass over the middle.
“He’s still a little sore, so we’ll have to monitor him and see where he’s at,” Allen said.
Sore, yes, but a great deal better than he was Tuesday, when he lay on the field, unable to move much, awaiting an ambulance to take him to a nearby hospital.
Goodson was given CT and MRI exams to determine the extent of his injury. When the tests returned negative, Goodson was released.
Goodson was not at practice today, and he was unavailable for comment. Allen said he isn’t sure how long Goodson will be sidelined. In fact, Allen isn’t ruling Goodson out for Monday night’s exhibition opener against the Dallas Cowboys.
Bartell suffered a similar injury in his only game with the St. Louis Rams. The one difference, he was able to walk off the field under his own power.
“That’s a tough situation,” Bartell said. “I had a similar situation this past year, so I can definitely sympathize with what he was feeling at the time. I’m just glad to see that he’s OK. It was a scare to all of us.
“It’s a bad part of the game. It’s what we sign up for. You never want to see that happen. but we understand that it is always that possibility. It’s what we do.”
— The smart money says, Goodson and Taiwan Jones (hamstring) won’t play Monday, with lead back Darren McFadden getting limited action.
That means a heavy dose of first-year player Lonyae Miller, something he can use as a long-shot to make the 53-man roster.
“I would expect that he would be tired after Monday night’s game,” Allen said of Miller’s expected workload.
Miller, 6-foot and 230 pounds, is an interesting story. He is a Fresno State product, with familiarity to running backs coach Kelly Skipper and a rare combination of size, speed and strength.
He is a player that looks like he knows what he’s doing in any situation, runs hard, is decisive and is hell-bent upon getting extra yardage.
That isn’t lost on Allen and the other coaches.
“I’ve been impressed with what Lonyae’s been able to do,” Allen said. “He’s a different type of back than the other backs that we’ve got. He’s a little bit more of a downhill, pounder type guy. He doesn’t have quite the same explosiveness as those other guys but he’s been a consistent runner.
“What I’ve seen and what he’s done in the zone scheme is, he’s understood what his reads are, he’s made the proper reads, got his pads downhill and made some yards.”
Miller said he patterns his game after a slew of running backs.
“I liked Terrell Davis growing up watching him,” Miller said of the former Denver Broncos standout, “but I just kind of take a little bit from everybody. Marshawn Lynch, (Adrian) Peterson, I watch film on all those guys, Arian Foster, just try and incorporate it into my game.”
Miller played in four games for the Dallas Cowboys in 2010. He signed with the Raiders late last season but didn’t appear in any games.
He said he isn’t making too much of the opportunity that awaits Monday. It’s just another step in the process.
“I’m trying to take what D.A. says in meetings, as far as, ‘There’s no light at the end of the tunnel’ and ‘just focus on the day’ just ‘seize the day,’ and that’s pretty much been my philosophy throughout training camp,” Miller said. “Just take everything day by day and let the chips fall where they may.”
— Bartell will be playing in an NFL game Monday for the first time since he suffered his neck injury in the Rams’ regular-season opener Sept. 11.
He said he is eager to get back on the field after spending the better part of the past year rehabilitating from his neck injury, even if it is just an exhibition game.
“I’m looking forward to just playing football,” Bartell said. “I don’t care if it’s Monday, Tuesday, it doesn’t matter. I’m just happy to be back on the field, be healthy, and be in a situation perfect for me, with a great group of guys that I get to play with, a good coaching staff, a good front office.
“It’s just a blessing to have another chance, another opportunity, and especially have an opportunity with such a storied franchise as the Raiders. So, from that standpoint, I just feel blessed.”
— Play of the day: Wheeler stepped in front of a Carson Palmer dart for tight end Brandon Myers near the goal line for an impressive interception.
— Palmer called for a penalty flag on Wheeler on the play. Allen said that’s not surprising.
“He thought (the receiver) got held,” Allen said of Palmer. “So, we’ll … it’s funny, offense, they always think it’s (pass interference), and defense never thinks it is. That’s just the way it is. We’ll look at it on tape and we’ll see who’s right.”
— Wide receiver Jacoby Ford returned kicks the past two seasons. If he gets his way, he’ll get the opportunity to add punt returns to his repertoire this season.
“I’m definitely excited about doing punt returns,” Ford said. “That’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time now. But since I’ve been here, I just wasn’t allowed to. Now that I’m going to definitely get the opportunity to do it, I’m going to make the best of the opportunity and definitely try to score or just set the offense up to have a short field.”
Denarius Moore was the primary punt returner last season, though others got an opportunity when Moore was hurt. Moore and Ford have been working in that capacity since training camp started, along with rookie Juron Criner.
Ford said the thinking in the past was to concentrate on playing receiver and returning kicks. Former special teams coach John Fassel was wary of overusing Ford.
“They just wanted me to do the kickoffs and just kind of wait, kind of work me in,” Ford said. “The thing is, they didn’t want to burn me out. That’s what our old special teams coach said. Just kind of stuck with kick return at first.”
— Kicker Sebastian Janikowski joined an ever-burgeoning list of players unable to practice. In his case, though, he wasn’t able to go today because of sickness, according to Allen.
Punter Shane Lechler (knee), Moore (hamstring), receiver Eddie McGee (hamstring), Jones (hamstring), defensive tackle Richard Seymour (knee), defensive end Jack Crawford (foot) and linebacker Aaron Curry (knee) also missed practice.
That left the Raiders with only 79 players healthy enough to practice. The day off Thursday, in addition to a light day Sunday, should help the players recover from the initial grind of camp.
— Allen is big on players earning playing time. He said he isn’t big on giving players promotions, so to speak, without their earning such.
For evidence, fifth-year cornerback Pat Lee practiced with the second-team defense today after spending the early part of camp fighting for reps.
“He’s been improving every day,” Allen said. “That’s the things that we look for. When guys step up and they make some plays, they earn the right to move up the depth chart some.
“Like I’ve said before, nothing right now is set in concrete. When guys earn that right, we’ll move them up and give them an opportunity and see what they do with it.”