By Steve Corkran
Saturday, May 11th, 2013 at 4:56 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Saturday marked the second day of the Raiders three-day rookie mini camp. It also represented the only day of the three that the media were permitted to get a look at the team’s 10 draft picks, 14 undrafted free agent signees and handful of first-year players.
It’s tough to gauge what everything means at a practice such as today’s when the veterans aren’t around, players are getting back into the swing of things after a long layoff and there isn’t any contact of note.
Still, there’s plenty to be gleaned by watching how the players comport themselves, how well they execute their assignments and how they acclimate to life as an NFL player.
To that end, here’s a sampling of things gleaned from the two-hour practice at the team’s year-round facility in Alameda:
– Rookie quarterback Tyler Wilson looks nothing like most fourth-round picks. In other words, he looks like he belongs and that he intends to make the most of what he calls an “opportunity.”
Wilson displayed a strong arm, great accuracy and touch and the composure of a veteran player. Put another way, he looks miles ahead of where JaMarcus Russell, Andrew Walter, Marques Tuiasosopo and Terrelle Pryor were when they arrived as Raiders draft picks.
“I like the way that Tyler’s commanded the huddle,” coach Dennis Allen said. “I’ve liked the way that he’s gone through his reads. Obviously, picking up a new system, there’s a little bit of rust there, but throwing the ball, he’s done a nice job. I don’t have any question about his arm strength and his accuracy.”
Wilson said he still has plenty of learning to do, but he’s not approaching this gig as if he’s going to be happy just making the 53-man roster.
It says here that Wilson is on track to push Matt Flynn for the starting job right away and certainly push Pryor for the backup spot held by Matt Leinart last season.
– It seemed rather odd witnessing a player wearing No. 92, defensive tackle Stacy McGee, actually taking part in a practice.
In recent seasons, the guy wearing that number, defensive tackle Richard Seymour, rarely practiced. McGee is battling a sore foot, but he still made it through his second straight practice. Can’t remember the last time Seymour participated in back-to-back practices.
It also seemed strange seeing a player wearing No. 55, linebacker Sio Moore, moving around all over the place and blending in with the defense.
The previous player that donned No. 55, middle linebacker Rolando McClain, often put forth less than full effort and frequently played outside the context of the scheme.
– Seventh-round draft pick Brice Butler made like 2012 fourth-round wide receiver Juron Criner on Saturday, making impressive plays one after another.
On one play, Butler adjusted to a pass slightly off the mark, contorted his body and hauled in the deep pass for what would have been a touchdown.
“He’s a guy that’s a big target, that can really run,” Allen said. “We wanted to try and throw the ball down the field a couple of times to see him go get it and he did a nice job today.”
The lone blemish came on a pass thrown behind Butler. He got his hands on the ball but wasn’t able to make the catch. That’s the play that Butler harped on most, rather than focus on his catches.
– Running back Latavius Murray is a well-rounded player, and one that appears to have everything a team covets.
Murray caught passes with ease out of the backfield, showed nice burst through the line and looked like an Eric Dickerson clone as he emerged into the secondary.
“He runs nice routes, he’s extremely intelligent, so he’s picked up the offense really well, and he’s got really soft hands so he does a nice job not only catching the ball,” Allen said. “But when you look at it, he’s done a nice job of picking up in pass protection.”
At 225 pounds, Murray isn’t going to encounter many defensive backs willing to take him on head on. Murray said he likes to use his speed to run past some defenders and his power to run over others.
If nothing else, it appears as if the Raiders found a great candidate to compensate for the loss of Mike Goodson to the New York Jets in free agency and Taiwan Jones in a conversion to cornerback.
Who knows, if all goes well, the Raiders also might have found a replacement for Darren McFadden after this season. McFadden is in the final season of his rookie contract, and the Raiders aren’t going to break the bank to re-sign him unless he shows that he can hold up for an entire season and performs markedly better than the 3.3-yard average he posted last season.
– Allen said people are making too much of the Raiders going heavy on linebackers in free agency and the draft.
The logical inclination was that the Raiders are preparing for a switch from the 4-3 scheme to the 3-4. Not so fast, Allen said.
“We’re basing out of a 4-3, just like we did last year,” Allen said. “But we’re going to have the ability to have some 3-4 looks, being able to implement those things and try to make them as simple as we can for our players, as well as try to make it complicated for the offense.”
The Raiders let Philip Wheeler walk in free agency and released McClain. Weak-side linebacker Miles Burris is the lone returning starter. However, they signed free agent linebackers Nick Roach, Kaluka Maiava and Kevin Burnett and drafted Moore in the third round out of Connecticut.
There’s another purpose to carrying so many linebackers, Allen said.
“You got to develop depth across the team,” Allen said. “Fortunately for us, we feel good about the linebacker situation and when you really look at it, the quickest way we’re going to help this football team is improving special teams. That’s a big part of it. The linebackers, the secondary, the tight ends, those are all areas that we can improve our football team through special teams.”
– McGee just might be the guy the Raiders were looking for when they sought someone to help lessen the sting of losing Seymour, Tommy Kelly and Desmond Bryant.
“When he walks out on the field, he looks like an NFL defensive tackle,” Allen said. “He’s got really good size and strength and for his size, he moves really well. He’s a guy that has got really good ability to stop the run. Pass rush is an area where he can continue to improve on, but he’s a guy that I’m anxious to see when he really gets a chance to get out there and work.”
Allen defended the Raiders decision to draft McGee, a move that flies contrary to Allen’s and McKenzie’s philosophy to stick to high-character players. McGee was involved in several off-field run-ins with the law during his time at Oklahoma.
McGee said he is hopeful that a change of scenery and getting away from some of the people he is accustomed to hanging around will make a huge difference in his maturation as a person.
“That was something from the past and something I’m looking to move forward from, grow as a person, become a man,” McGee said.
Allen said the Raiders are big on high-character guys. Yet, they opted to take a chance on McGee after an extensive background check allayed their fears of getting burned by someone with a checkered past.
“Guys are going to make mistakes, nobody’s perfect,” Allen said. “When we did all our research on him, we felt like he was a guy we wanted to give a second opportunity to. We’ve had a lot of conversations with him. He understands the mistakes that he’s made in the past. He’s ready to learn from those and move on from it. If he can do that, then he’s got a lot of ability and there might be a football player there for us.”