The new offensive coordinator for the Raiders, Al Saunders, spoke to the media today for the first time. He has been the most animated coach throughout camp. His encouraging flamboyant nature is hard to miss on the practice field. But these Raiders have had some issues at receiver that could be a tall order even for this coach of 30-plus years of NFL experience — Darrius Heyward-Bey being the core issue among them.
With all the encouraging words that Saunders seems to have for his quarterbacks and receivers, it can sometimes seem like he is a bit too positive.
“I never gave that any thought. I’m kind of animated in the way I coach, I enjoy the game, I love the players. And when I think somebody does something well, they ought to know they did it well. And when they did it wrong, they ought to know they did it wrong and how to correct it right away. So I’ve always felt like it’s important to let people know if there’s something we talked about during the week and he does it really well.”
On the other hand, it seems like in Heyward-Bey, he may be dealing with a guy who requires a great deal of encouragement. DHB is known for being a hard worker but that work has yet to materialize into the kind of performances on the field that would justify his having been picked seventh overall two seasons ago. But for Saunders, each baby step is cause for excitement.
“Darrius the other day did a couple of routes, a couple of catches that he hadn’t made in a week, and all of the sudden he made that catch. And goodness gracious, that’s like seeing your kid when he’s little and he has his first concert and he’s playing the piano and he goes through the deal and he does it right and you’re excited and you’re fired up. That’s kind of the way I am. I love this game. I love the people that are playing it. I really enjoy seeing people accomplish the things that you’re trying to teach them to do well.”
Despite Saunders’ beaming, that doesn’t really sound like a glowing endorsement for a player who is in his third NFL camp. The time for DHB’s first piano recital passed two camps ago. Or at least it should have. It is the equivalent of holding the concert and then teaching him how to read music.
So what is it that Saunders sees in DHB that has him beside himself with excitement?
“The thing you see is a guy that can run fast. He is a diligent worker on and off the field.”
Yes, we have covered the speed thing and the hard worker thing. Anything else?
“It’s very important to him to be a good player and part of coaching people… we’re teachers. Our forum happens to be on a field like this or in a classroom talking about X’s and O’s. And the thing about him is if you have a willing student then you have a chance to make that guy better — and he is a willing student. He’s got some talent that I think just seeing him here, he made some catches yesterday that were just outstanding and the thing I told him the other day was, ‘I watched every single play you have brought this year to the Oakland Raiders and there is unlimited talent in that body’… Yesterday — talk about getting excited — he made a couple catches that I just came right out of the shoot and I said, ‘This is the guy we’re looking for!’ He can do this. He can do it and… he’ll get better. We’re excited.”
Who knows, those catches Saunders is referencing could be just as he says and signal the beginning of Heyward-Bey becoming the receiver they had envisioned when they drafted him. On the other hand, we heard the same things being said about him in last year’s camp.
With the injuries to Louis Murphy, Chaz Schilens, and Jacoby Ford, DHB will get plenty of opportunities in the coming preseason games to show on the field of play if he has indeed progressed. He will make this team one way or the other but once the regular season starts, Hue won’t put his job on the line to get him the ball. He will have to earn it.