Notes, quotes and observations from OTA Monday

Rookie Gabe Jackson got some reps with the first-team offensive line today at left guard Monday, and it sounds as if Jackson is on the fast track.
Veteran Khalif Barnes is the projected starter for now. However, it’s not a stretch to envision Jackson winning a starting job at some point, if not right away this season.
“I like Gabe,” coach Dennis Allen said. “I liked him when he came out in the draft. I’ve liked what I’ve seen on the practice field. Mentally is where he’s really got to work to improve. Because any time you get in this situation as a rookie, you’re behind from a mental standpoint and just picking up the offense, not to mention the physical aspect of the game.”
Jackson started all four years during his collegiate career. Allen said starting that many games in the rugged SEC bodes well for Jackson.
Still, Jackson has a ways to go before he beats out either Barnes or Austin Howard at one of the guard spots. Allen makes it sound as if it won’t be long before Jackson makes his mark.
“Gabe is a good athlete for a player of his size, and he’s got very good power,” Allen said. “And he’s a lot better pass protector than people might think. I’ve been impressed with him, I’m pleased with his progress and he’s got to continue to work.”

– Running back Darren McFadden was among a handful of players that returned kicks today. Yes, folks, you read that correctly.
And this wasn’t some lark, either. This is just another example of Allen taking a look at every player in multiple roles to see how he can maximize their talents.
Hence, McFadden joined the likes of Taiwan Jones and George Atkinson III returning kicks midway through practice, even though McFadden hasn’t returned kicks during his first six NFL seasons.
“Anything’s an option,” Allen said, when asked if McFadden is a realistic option as a kick returner. “We’re looking at a lot of different things, a lot of people in a lot of different areas. There’s a ton of things that aren’t set. Everything’s written in pencil right now. We’re going to continue to look, not only at that, but a lot of other areas where guys can help our team win.”

– As for the rest of the offensive line, it looked much the same as it has all offseason:
Left offensive tackle — Donald Penn
Left guard — Barnes/Jackson
Center — Stefen Wisniewski
Right guard — Austin Howard
Right tackle — Menelik Watson
It says here, the only player assured a starting spot along the offensive line is Wisniewski. Penn, Barnes, Howard and Watson simply are the leading candidates to start the season.
“Wiz has been a solid piece to that offensive line,” Allen said. “He’s a little bit of the glue that kind of holds the thing together because he’s highly intelligent. Again, we put a lot on him from a recognition standpoint, whether it be fronts, stunts, blitzes, all that. It’s part of the process. To have somebody of his ability level and his intelligence level, kind of running things in there, is key for our success.”

– Here are the six players who did not participate in full-team drills today: wide receiver James Jones (hamstring), guard Lucas Nix (undisclosed), defensive end Justin Tuck, defensive lineman Antonio Smith, linebacker Kevin Burnett and cornerback DJ Hayden.
Jones worked on his running and routes with an athletic trainer on an adjacent field. He looked fine from a distance. Hayden and Nix did not participate at all, though they was on the field for the duration.
Tuck, Smith and Burnett weren’t spotted on the field at any time. Allen said he communicated with those players and is satisfied with their status.

– Allen and offensive coordinator Greg Olson at times were critical of wide receiver Denarius Moore for his inconsistency.
Here’s what Allen had to say about Moore’s progress in that regard:
“We’re still working through that,” Allen said. “He’s not unlike a lot of guys we have on our football team. He’s still got a lot of improvement that he’s got to make. I’ve seen some strides and hopefully he’ll continue to make those strides.”
Allen is hard on Moore, just as he has been with fellow receiver Juron Criner, Watson, Hayden and others that he has high expectations.
“With all these guys, the attention to detail is where we got to work to continue to improve,” Allen said. “That’s with all these guys because the margin for error in the NFL is very minute, very small, so the ability to be precise in everything you do is critical to (being successful).”
Moore is competing for one of two starting spots, with Rod Streater and Jones the other leading candidates. Allen said the Raiders can succeed without a legitimate No. 1 receiver, as long as a corps of good receivers makes plays when needed.

– Allen wasn’t thrilled about several of his players participating in a charity basketball game late last week.
Then again, all he could do was let his feelings be known, offer his advice on how to proceed and hope none of his players got hurt.
“I’m happy that we were able to get through that without any injuries,” Allen said. “The intent is the right intent, to raise money for charity. I wasn’t in agreement with the way in which they went about doing it because, again, they’re paid to play football. Anytime you put that at risk, you’re taking a significant risk.
“These are grown men and they make decisions on what they want to do with their personal time, and that was a decision that those guys took part in. The thing I’m happy about is that we were able to get out of that without any injuries. Really my focus now is solely on this team and this team getting better and what do we need to do to improve out here on the football field.”
Safety Tyvon Branch was one of the participants. He said he and others are well aware of what they are doing when they sign up for such an event.
“Anytime you have a chance to get out there and give back to the community and get involved in anything charitable, I’m all for it,” Branch said. “I just want to be out there and have fun with the community.”
Playing basketball isn’t that out of the ordinary for football players. Many of them fancy themselves NBA-caliber players, if just given the opportunity.
“I guess that’s at your discretion what you want to do in the offseason,” Branch said. “We understand the risks that’s involved in working out. Anytime you’re working out away from the facility, you put yourself at risk. But guys do what they have to do to stay in shape. Everybody does it differently.”

– Rookie quarterback Derek Carr had a mixed bag kind of day. Several throws were right on the money. A few others were too low, behind the receiver or off the mark.
Veteran Trent Edwards looked particularly sharp. Matt Schaub and Matt McGloin were much like Carr, with more on-the-money throws than poor ones.

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Watson making progress toward starting job

Menelik Watson spent most of his rookie season battling injuries and learning the nuances of the NFL. As training camp nears, Watson is making good on his vow to use what he learned his first season with the Raiders as a steppingstone.
“He’s attacked this offseason with a purpose, and a purpose to earn a starting spot on that line,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said Monday. “Hopefully he’ll continue to improve the way he has in the OTAs.”
First and foremost, Watson has been healthy enough to practice throughout this offseason, which gives him a huge jump on replacing departed veteran Tony Pashos at right offensive tackle.
Watson missed most of training camp last season when he arrived with a calf injury that he suffered in a non-football activity.
Soon after he recovered from his calf injury, Watson hurt his knee and missed the first seven games. Overall, started three of the five games he played.
Late in the season, Watson admitted that he wasn’t properly prepared for the rigors of the NFL. He said he intended to work harder, alter his diet accordingly and make sure that he was ready to roll when he got another opportunity.
For now, Allen is giving Watson the first crack at the starting spot at right tackle. It’s up to Watson from here on out.
Allen said it’s evident that Watson has worked hard at his craft. The work manifests itself in Watson’s improved technique and fundamentals.
“The thing I like about where Menelik is right now, I like his mindset,” Allen said. “I like his mentality. I like the way he’s going about doing his job. He’s worked at it.”
It’s conceivable that the Raiders will have four new starters on their offensive line. Center Stefen Wisniewski is the lone returner assured a starting job.

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Hayden still sidelined, his return uncertain

Cornerback DJ Hayden missed another practice Monday, and it’s conceivable that his right ankle injury won’t be healed well enough for him to return until training camp starts.
“It’s hard to tell,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “Initially I was hopeful of (quick return). Hopefully we’ll have him out here, because he needs the work.”
Hayden missed most of last season’s offseason workouts while he recovered from a surgery late in his final collegiate season and a follow-up surgery in late May.
He also wasn’t permitted to participate in contact drills in the early days of training camp. A groin injury limited Hayden to eight regular-season games.
Hayden, Oakland’s 2013 first-round draft pick, appeared well on his way to competing for a starting spot before he hurt his ankle in a practice late last month.
He even joked about how excited he was about making it through the first organized team activity without any setbacks and limitations.
Now he’s limited to watching from the sidelines as his teammates gear up for the start of training camp in late July.
The Raiders lost both their starting cornerbacks from last season – Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter — to free agency. They signed veterans Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown as potential replacements.
Ideally, the Raiders want Brown and Hayden as the starters, with Rogers playing inside against slot receivers in the nickel package.
As Allen said, Hayden needs plenty of on-field work to fulfill his part of the equation.
Fortunately for the Raiders and Hayden, there’s still enough time for Hayden to earn a starting job.
Other Raiders unable to practice at full strength Monday were wide receiver James Jones (hamstring) and backup guard Lucas Nix.
Defensive end Justin Tuck, linebacker Kevin Burnett and defensive lineman Anthony Smith did not attend practice.

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