Well, we’re over the OTA hump and heading into the home stretch. Now is when the coaches can really start to get the first clues as to what they have.
There was some new additions to team activities this week. Newly signed QB Charlie Frye is in the fold, Rookie WR Darrius Heyward-Bey is back at practice from his hamstring strain, and All Pro CB Nnamdi Asomugha is back to work as well.
The players are getting to know each other and their coaches and the new game plans are starting to sink in.
So, let’s take a peek in at some of the goings on with this team as it takes shape.
Last season Isaiah Ekejiuba was finally given his reward for his outstanding special teams work in the form of being named third alternate to the Pro Bowl roster as a special teamer.
Now that the secret is out, he has his sights set higher.
“I’m trying to do everything I can to join Shane (Lechler) and Nnamdi (Asomugha) over there. Obviously the goal is to help the team win and in that I’m trying to make the Pro Bowl. I already put my foot in the door a little bit, trying to let them hold the door open for me and go actually play in the Pro Bowl this coming season.”
There is nothing wrong with a player setting his sights on being a Pro Bowl selection. And with the Raiders hoping to build upon last season, if the Ekejiuba can help bring the special teams to the level they played last season, his Pro Bowl calibre effort will translate into wins.
So do the Raiders have the continuity to continue the momentum they started last season?
“Coach Fassel was here with us last year working under coach Schneider so we got a lot of core guys back so we’re just looking to build on the success we had last year. Right now we’re taking steps in the right direction to do that.”
Building upon last season’s special teams success is truly an exciting prospect. I would be content with simply equaling it.
Russell’s best is behind him…so to speak
JaMarcus Russell has been seeing a lot of reps in the red zone in this new offense and has really looked quite good. Cable thinks Russell never looked better…last week.
“In the Red Zone definitely. There was a lot of improvement there today. He was pretty good last Thursday, probably his best practice he’s had since he’s been a Raider. But today was definitely a good day for him in the red zone.”
During practice, Cable was often times heard telling Russell to just air it out and let his guys make plays. And he made no bones about that being the emphasis in these practices.
“You might retard a young guy by trying to be too cautious so let’s rip it right now as you learn how to do this. That’s the way I think anyway so that’s the way I want to call it so it’s good to see him turn it loose. Find out who can make those plays too you know…The issue of turnovers is always in football but right now it’s to get us to cut it loose. Be more expressive, if you will, in terms of trying to score points.”
While it is great news that Russell had his best practice as a Raider, consistency would demand that he have at least one practice a week that would outdo his best previous practice. If his problem is simply learning the new offense then that should not be too difficult a task.
For now though, It is good to see him making progress and playing at a level that is more indicitive of a starting QB entering his third season.
Cable to Nnamdi: I see your Pro Bowl and raise you leadership
When asked how Nnamdi Asomugha could actually get better than he has been already, Cable did not hesitate with his answer.
“Leadership”, Cable said, without blinking an eye. “Leadership is not defined by how much you make or how good you play on Sunday. It’s what you do during the week and in the offseason. How people see you and percieve you in terms of your preparation. That’s, to me, the next big thing for him. Becoming a leader and a guy that people look at as the example all the time.”
But let’s not mistake Cable’s words as only applying to Nnamdi. He made it clear that this message is not individually exclusive.
“The great teams. The teams that win championships in this league, they say almost the same thing every February. How close they are, how much they come together and the leadership on this team is so strong. They don’t point out a guy or two. It’s always collectively. So really that’s what I’m trying to create here is a collection of leaders and guys who’ll take ownership of this football team.”
Translation: “And that goes for the rest of you too!”
I would say (and have said before) that if Aso wants the respect of his teammates, he need only ask for it. He commands it every day with his work ethic, his play on the field, and his unrivaled class off of it.
So, Really, the hard part is over. At this point, all he needs to do is vocalize that leadership. Here is your stage Nnamdi; The podium is all yours.
50% of practice is 100% mental
With the players not being in pads or playing at full speed, it can be hard for a coach to judge just what he has. Especially in regards to lineman. But at this stage of the game, as Cable points out, it is all about what’s under the helmet.
“The biggest thing I’m judging right now is how well they’re picking it up and are we eliminating the mental errors part of it. The physical part of it, again without pads, you can’t judge anything that way. What I want to see is… the execution mentally, the tempo, can we get it to a high level and sustain it through practice and eliminate mental errors. That’s really what this whole thing is about.”
And with Cable having just mentioned that the most important focus in these practices is the mental aspect, See exhibit A:
Tommy Kelly has been very aggressive in getting into the backfield of late but he has also been jumping off sides quite a bit in as well.
“Tommy’s a good player and as I talk to the defense every day, the one common thing that they keep hearing from me is more discipline and more discipline. Staying onsides, not giving up free yards, free plays, obviously that is a point of emphasis.”
In this instance, saying “Tommy’s a good player” seems to me, to be the equivelant of Tony Soprano saying “You gotta nice face”. Which means that if you want to keep that nice face, you better start seeing things his way.
Hopefully, for Tommy’s sake, he gets the analogy.
Ekejiuba Quid Pro Bowl