Wide receiver Brice Butler appears poised to make another sizable leap, one year after he overcame long odds and made the Raiders roster despite being a seventh-round draft pick.
Butler caught 11 passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns in Oakland’s first three exhibition games. For perspective, Denarius Moore, Rod Streater and Andre Holmes combined for 13 for 175 yards and no touchdowns.
“Last year, was very similar; he showed up in the preseason games,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “He’s done that again this year. He’s made progress and he’s in a better spot now than he was a year ago at this time.”
Butler was just another guy last season, doing enough to make the 53-man roster and earn some playing time early in the season.
He caught nine passes for 103 yards and no touchdowns in 10 games. None of his receptions came after Oakland’s sixth game.
“Last year, I hit a wall, mentally and physically,” Butler said. “And, obviously, you could see, my game dropped.”
Second-year quarterback Matt McGloin traveled a similar path as Butler. He signed as an undrafted free agent, opened eyes with his determined play, made the roster and enjoyed some highs and lows.
“There were periods where I struggled,” McGloin said. “That’s just part of being a rookie. Obviously, there are no excuses. We’re not rookies anymore, so you have to continue to progress. Brice really understands that, and he’s brought it every day to practice.”
Streater and Moore are the incumbent starters. However, neither has a stronghold on a starting spot this season. James Jones and Holmes also figure to get meaningful playing time. Butler has inserted himself into the conversation.
It’s not uncommon for players who shine in exhibition games to fade away once the regular season begins and the more experienced players eat up the playing time.
“If you move down the depth chart,” Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said, “it’s hard to maintain that focus for a rookie player that comes in out of college that is used to playing all the time.”
Yet, Butler is confident that he has a better grasp on what it takes to be a consistent player.
For that, he credits offseason workouts with standout NFL receivers Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green, among others, in Atlanta.
“I would say the talent has always been there,” Butler said, “but mentally … just picking their brains and figuring out what they think, how they think, how they run routes, the tricks of the trade. I just got better mentally.”
McGloin and Butler connected for a game-deciding, 19-yard touchdown against the Detroit Lions on Aug. 15. They added 19- and 28-yard touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers last Friday night.
“As a quarterback, the most important thing in a wide receiver is trust, and I 100 -percent know I can trust Brice to be in the right spots and trust him with throwing the ball and letting him go get it.”
— Presumptive starting quarterback Matt Schaub didn’t practice for the third straight day because of a sore right elbow. Rookie Derek Carr worked with the first-team offense.
Allen said Schaub made some throws off to the side Tuesday, while being monitored by an athletic trainer. Schaub won’t play Thursday night.
Olson said he is hopeful that Schaub is just experiencing the effects from throwing so many passes during training camp, not unlike a baseball player during spring training.
— The Raiders pared their roster to 75 players in advance of the league-mandated deadline by making moves with eight players.
Of note, the Raiders placed cornerback DJ Hayden on the physically unable to perform list, which means their 2013 first-round draft pick will miss at least the first five regular-season games while he recovers from a foot injury.
Hayden missed the Raiders final eight games last season, his rookie year, with a groin injury. He suffered his foot injury during an offseason workout and hasn’t practiced since.
Allen said he is confident that Hayden will be at full strength upon his return. Chimdi Chekwa, Neiko Thorpe and TJ Carrie are competing for the third cornerback spot in Hayden’s absence.
— The Raiders also waived receiver Juron Criner, a fifth-round draft pick in 2012 who failed to make much of an impact.
In other moves: veteran quarterback Trent Edwards was released; receiver Greg Jenkins, safety Larry Asante and running back Kory Sheets were waived/injured; guard Lucas Nix was waived/failed physical; and tight end Nick Kasa was placed on injured reserve.
The Raiders have until Saturday afternoon to trim their roster to 53. Between now and that time, they host the Seattle Seahawks in their exhibition finale, which gives Allen and his staff one more chance to see their players in a game setting.
— Linebacker Sio Moore practiced Tuesday for the first time since he suffered a neck injury against the Packers.
Kicker Sebastian Janikowski practiced for the first time since he injured his right quadriceps last week. He won’t kick Thursday night, Allen said.
Therefore, the Raiders signed Cal product Giorgio Tavecchio to handle kicking duties. He replaces kicker Kevin Goessling, who got released.
— Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver and Allen said playing against the Seahawks is going to pay dividends down the road, given all three of the Seattle quarterbacks are adept at running the read-option.
In particular, Allen said, seeing the read-option will help the Raiders defense prepare for their regular-season opener against the New York Jets and quarterback Geno Smith.
Allen said former Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor looks every bit as athletic and dynamic as he did for the Raiders the past three seasons, two of which Allen coached.
— Tarver raved about Thorpe for his work ethic, mind-set and attitude.
“(It’s) impressive that he locks in,” Tarver said. “He says, ‘OK, I’m going to do what the coach says.’ And that’s what he does. And he competes his butt off. He competes his butt off every day in practice and so far in the games. So when you do that, you’ve got a chance and he just keeps getting better. … When a young man makes the choice in his head and doesn’t look back, that’s exciting and that’s what Neiko’s doing right now.”