Filed for print plus extra notes . . .
After finishing fifth among all NFL rookie tight ends in receptions, the last thing on the mind of Mychal Rivera was to enjoy the fruits of his labors.
“I really looked in the mirror at myself,’’ Rivera said Saturday after the Raiders completed a controlled scrimmage. “I knew I could do a lot better than I did last year, even though people were surprised at what I did. I have high expectations of myself.’’
In his second-year out of Tennessee, Rivera has his sights on a won-loss record far better than 4-12, and significantly statistics than 38 catches for 407 yards and four touchdowns.
One of the highlights Saturday was the sight of Rivera splitting a seam between veteran cornerbacks Tarrel Brown and Carlos Rogers and hauling in a pass inside the 5-yard line from second-string cornerback Derek Carr.
Rivera later caught a fade route in the end zone from Matt Schaub.
“One of the guys that has shown the most improvement from a year ago is Mike Rivera,’’ offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “ He looks more athletic. He’s stronger. He’s more confident. I said to him the other day and we said it in our meeting, there’s a little bit of swagger to him this season.’’
At 6-foot-3 245 pounds, Rivera is a tight end in name only. He can line up in the backfield, split out wide and go in motion. Only occasionally does he line up as a conventional tight end.
“I tell people all the time I play four or five different positions,’’ Rivera said. “I go through the playbook as an offensive lineman I go through the playbook as a receiver and as a fullback,’’ Rivera said. “Then you’ve got to look at the quarterback’s eyes and see how he’s going to play it. You’ve got to stay in your play book all the time.’’
A sixth-round draft pick out of Tennessee, Rivera displayed a knack for finding open areas almost immediately. Some of it is from preparation, most of it from instinct.
“`I think he does an outstanding job with his feel in the passing game,’’ Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “He’s able to make plays in a contested environment. Sometimes, with limited separation, he’s still able to come out and make the play.’’
Rivera said his “swagger’’ comes from an off-season of hard work as well as self-confidence.
“I worked out every day, I kept my mind on football every day,’’ Rivera said. “I used the 4-12 record as a motivating factor. I want to win in this league, and I want to be one of the best tight ends in this league. I see that as attainable. I can get that.’’
While he may never be a standard in-line tight end _ his skill set makes him valuable as a chess piece _ Rivera is working diligently on his blocking. he said blocking was 50 percent technique and 50 percent desire.
“You can have all the desire in the world but if you don’t know where you’re going you’re not going to block the right guy,” Rivera said. “If you know what you’re doing and have the heart to do it, you can block anybody.”
– Defensive tackle Stacy McGee practiced after coming off the non-football injury list with a broken thumb. Also returning were defensive end Justin Tuck (groin), defensive tackle Antonio Smith (groin) and wide receivers Juron Criner (hamstring) and Greg Little (hamstring).
Criner made a leaping sideline catch, drawing cheers the crowd.
“He’s a big receiver that has great hands, strong hands, he can go make a play in a contested environment,” Allen said. “Those are the flashes that you see out of Juron. The question is can he do it on a consistent basis? And can he stay injury free? If he’s able to do that, then he’s a talented football player.”
– Outside linebacker Sio Moore watched from the sidelines with a rib injury. Miles Burris, competing with Moore to be the strong side starter, intercepted a Matt Schaub pass and twice exceeded the specified limits of contact by bringing ballcarriers to the ground.
– The controlled scrimmage was the first time during camp coaches stayed on the sidelines and didn’t shout instructions, with players accountable for all calls and plays on the field.
“It wasn’t a live scrimmage. It was a scripted scrimmage, a lot of different situations that we tried to work and tried to incorporate into the scrimmage, different down and distance type of things,” Allen said. “Some red zone fringe area type of plays, really as much to get them mentally thinking about those situations in the game as much as it was to actually go through the physical aspect of playing football. There were some areas obviously that we’ve got to improve on, got sloppy at times.”
The Raiders aren’t planning on going “live” with full-on contact at all during camp.
“It will be controlled all the way through,” Allen said. “We won’t do any of that. We’ll use the preseason games to get all our tackling in. We won’t be doing anything that will be live.”
The closest thing to live contact will be on Aug. 11 and 12 when they visit the Dallas Cowboys training camp in Oxnard. Allen said he and Dallas coach Jason Garrett would talk to formulate a practice plan.
– Following the practice, players, coaches and family members enjoyed a barbecue dinner with tables and chairs set up on the grass in front of the field house.
– Rookie defensive tackle Justin Ellis, a fourth-round draft pick, has impressed Allen, who said he “will be a big part of what we do defensively up front.’’
At 6-foot-2, 340 pounds, Ellis can be teamed with 330-pound Pat Sims and 315-pound tackle and end C.J. Wilson for bigger, more powerful short-yardage and goal line defense than the Raiders had at any time over the past few years.