Filed for print, plus extra post-practice notes . . .
In the early days of Raiders training camp, the “wow’’ factor belongs to wide receiver Greg Little, based on raucous reviews from season-ticket holders attending practice.
Although Little didn’t make as many plays Sunday in the Raiders’ first padded practice as he did in the previous two sessions, he was still singled out by coach Dennis Allen for a contested catch in traffic from Matt Schaub.
A waiver claim from the Cleveland Browns last May, Little has made some headway in jump-starting a career which began as a second-round draft pick out of North Carolina in 2011.
Now all he has to do is hold on.
Therein lies the problem with Little, who saw one pass get away from him after outfighting Neiko Thorpe on a sideline throw with Raiders fans groaning as the ball hit the ground.
Although the Browns’ leading receiver in each of his first two seasons and with 155 receptions for 1,821 yards and three touchdowns over three years, Little knows why he’s not in Cleveland any more.
“My numbers were good, but not what they could have been had I maximized every opportunity that I had a chance to catch the ball,’’ Little said.
Dropped passes are not an official stat in the NFL, but Pro Football Focus had Little dropping eight passes while catching 41 a year ago and one estimate had him with 14 drops in 2012, including one game against Cincinnati where he dropped between four and six passes depending on who was doing the counting.
Wide receiver Rod Streater said Little “has been making some great plays, some incredible catches’’ and said of the dropped passes in Cleveland “he’s put it behind him, so we’ll put it behind him with him. He’s out there making plays and he feels like he belongs here.’’
Little, 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, is part of a large group of Raiders looking for a fresh start, the difference being that he’s not in the 29- to 32-year age group of some others. Little is still only 25 years old.
Feeling rejuvenated by a clean slate, a demanding but supportive coaching staff and more camaraderie with his teammates than he ever felt in Cleveland, Little said being waived was a blessing.
“At a certain point in Cleveland I was stamped a certain way after so many mistakes,’’ Little said. “You hear people in the back of your head saying, `he can’t do it,’ or `he won’t do it,’ or `he’s not able to do it’ and that’s just fuel to my fire. I’ll let that propel me to new heights.’’
Little also realizes that practice catches and drops mean only so much in practice.
“I’m just looking for it to carry over on Sundays,’’ Little said. “That’s where it counts, man.’’
In contrast to former drop-prone Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, Little is capable of looking smooth and natural and can win a fight for the ball with a defender.
Allen likes what he sees so far.
“I’m not going to let any one play deter me on how I feel about Greg Little,’’ Allen said. “He’s an outstanding talent, and since he’s been here he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do and been a real pro about doing his job.’’
– Streater left practice with what could be a head injury late in the session, Allen said. Tight end Jake Murphy is out with a concussion and linebacker Marshall McFadden left practice with a hip injury.
– The first padded practice for first-round draft pick Khalil Mack didn’t include any eye-opening plays, but Allen said the rookie did catch his eye with a couple of strong rushes.
Mack drove back tight end Brian Leonhardt with one bull rush and had a broke even with two rushes against David Ausberry. In the team session, right tackle Menelik Watson more than held his own when Mack lined up on his side.
“To me that’s great competition, that’s how you get better,” Allen said. `Not only Khalil Mack going against Menelik Watson, but he lines up against Lamarr Woodley and Justin Tuck too.”
– All three quarterbacks who got reps (Trent Edwards remains a spectator during practice) fared well, and Matt Schaub easily had his best day. Derek Carr made a couple of deep strike throws, but Schaub had the edge in the kind of move-the-chains passes the Raiders are looking for to maintain possession of the ball. Matt McGloin was also impressive.
You can probably count on one hand the amount of times the Raiders had three quarterbacks all look good on the same day over the past decade.
“I thought all our quarterbacks were crisp today,” Allen said. “A lot of times when you’re looking at practice, when the quarterbacks play well you walk off the field having a good feeling about how the practice went.”
– Wide receiver James Jones made the catch of the day with a leaping grab while tightly covered by two defenders. On another pass, Jones stopped abruptly on the sideline, with Tarell Brown unable to hit the breaks as quickly. That left Jones open to snag another sizeable gain.
– There were some nice breakaway runs that got the crowd going, including two provided by Kory Sheets and George Atkinson III, but Allen conceded there is no way to know whether the plays would have done anything on game day until watching the film.
“There are times when a guy can make a potential play on a side shot, but rather than taking it and knocking him down and potentially getting an offensive or defensive lineman rolled up in it, we try to take care of our players in those situations,” Allen said. “You look at the tape to see exactly what happened, if it was really a breakout run or if someone had the potential to make a play.”
– Allen said fullback Marcel Reece has come into camp lighter, which he believes will help him over the second half of the season.
– The play of safety Tyvon Branch against the pass has Allen excited.
“We all know what kind of run defender Tyvon Branch is and the way he flies around,” Allen said. “Seeing him make plays in the pass game has been really good to see.
– Running back Latavius Murray is making up for lost time after essentially losing his rookie season to a foot injury, spending the regular season on injured reserve and never really having a shot to show what he could in his first training camp.
“This is really our first chance getting to see him. Even when we had him last year, he was never fully healthy,” Allen said. “You’re beginning to see the things he can do. Get down behind his pads and and move the pile, and he’s got breakaway speed if he can get a crease.”
– The Raiders practice again Monday at 3 p.m. before getting Tuesday off as mandated by the collective bargaining agreement.