Filed for print with extra notes . . .
Brian Leonhardt has come so far he is finally on a first-name basis with offensive coordinator Greg Olson.
Until last week Olson called called Leonhardt “Bemidji’’ in reference to his having attended Bemidji State University in Minnesota. Other times it was “Bemeedge,’’ which is a mispronunciation although Leonhardt conceded, “I’m not in any position to correct him.’’
With Leonhardt thrust into getting work with the first team offense at tight end because David Ausberry’s knee injury and a lack of experience at the position, Olson actually dropped a “Brian’’ on him during a meeting.
“I think it was the first time he used my actual name,’’ Leonhardt said.
The Raiders are looking for an in-line tight end to pair with Mychal Rivera, who is listed as a tight end but more often than not is flexed outside, lines up in the backfield or goes in motion.
Leonhardt caught three passes during practice Sunday, and in three seasons at Division Bemidji State caught 112 passes for 1,431 yards and 15 touchdowns. Still, he is clear on his role.
“I was the leading receiver in three of my four years in college, but my strength was always blocking,’’ Leonhardt said. “In high school we ran a split-back veer and all I did was block.’’
Jeron Mastrud, who played in all 16 games for the Raiders last season as the in-line tight end and started 12, had only eight catches for 88 yards.
The Raiders waived Leonhardt last year following training camp but signed him to the practice squad, where he remained all season.
“I’ve seen constant improvement from him every day,’’ Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “From his first day here, to now, I mean’s he’s grown by leaps and bounds. You see it all the time, guys that come out of nowhere and end up being good players for you. It’s really a testament to his perseverance and work ethic.’’
With two preseason games to play and the Raiders having the ability to look for a veteran tight end before the cutdown to 53-men, Leonhardt is not looking too far ahead, imagining himself on the field Sept. 7 against the New York Jets.
“I’m trying to do everything I can each day to get better,’’ Leonhardt said. “What I’m happy about is the things I wanted to improve on after the first preseason game were better in the second one.’’
– Cornerback Chimdi Chekwa (knee) missed practice and Allen said he hoped to have him back before the start of the regular season. Cornerback and special teams player Taiwan Jones, who also sat out, is “banged up’’ according to Allen.
Quarterback Derek Carr, defensive tackle Justin Ellis and defensive tackle Matt McCants sat out while recovering from concussions. Wide receiver Juron Criner is out with a hip injury. Fullback Marcel Reece left practice with a foot injury of undetermined severity.
– Allen wasn’t reading too much into starting slowly against the pass against both Minnesota and Detroit, but free safety Charles Woodson conceded it was at least cause for mild concern.
“You’ve got to read into it a little bit,’’ Woodson said. “We started those games slow and allowed teams to go down the field and put up points . . . we’re not circling the wagons or anything like that. We’ll be all right.’’
Woodson also wasn’t pushing the panic button on rookie strong side linebacker Khalil Mack, who didn’t get into the defensive stats until playing against reserves in the third quarter against Detroit and had a relatively quiet opener against Minnesota. Woodson says he hasn’t felt the need to take Mack aside since he experienced similar expectations as the no. 4 overall pick in 1998.
“I’ll have a chance to talk to him about that, it’s still early,” Woodson said. “It’s still training camp and he’s got a lot on his plate. Not just from the standpoint of being a high draft pick and everybody expecting that `wow’ factor out of him, but as far as knowing the plays, knowing the different positions, there’s a lot expected of him in that sense too.
“So you just allow him to grow as a player, as far as coming in and getting ready for his first pro season. I think this guy is going to be OK. I think the sky is the limit for him. We’ll have chances to talk throughout the season.”
– With Carr sitting out practice, Trent Edwards actually got some reps in practice. on one play, he found a wide open Andre Holmes for a touchdown. Holmes was so open there wasn’t a defender within 20 yards of him in any direction.
– Quarterback Matt Schaub made some tight throws in traffic, but also had one interception which was tipped by Woodson to TJ Carrie and another over the middle that went directly to strong safety Tyvon Branch in the middle of the field.
“I thought Matt was fine. There’s still some things that we’re trying to work on in the passing game,” Allen said. “There wree some really good plays and there were some plays that weren’t quite as good. We’re going to continue to work, we’re going to continue to get better. Matt Schaub’s our starting quarterback and I think he’s doing a god job for us and I think he will do a good job for us.”
– The Raiders signed undrafted free agent tight end Kyle Auffray and waived backup place kicker Kevin Goessling.
– General manager Reggie McKenzie accepted the “ice bucket challenge’’ to raise money for ALS after being challenged by Denver Broncos president John Elway. Wide receiver Andre Holmes and fullback Jamize Olawale did the honors, dumping a bucket of ice over the head of their boss.