Day four of Raider camp and it was more up tempo with the players in pads again. Two guys stood out above the rest — Louis Murphy and Chaz Schilens.
The two receivers appear to have cemented themselves as the Raiders’ starting receivers. In drills, their footwork is smooth and they catch everything near them without bobbles.
Murphy began practice with a nice one-handed grab on a short crossing route and continued to run clean routes and haul in catches with relative ease. At one point he turned on a ball fake by Jason Campbell that completely fooled Jeremy Ware and freed up Murphy for a wide open touchdown catch.
After practice Hue Jackson pointed out Murphy in particular as having an outstanding camp thus far.
Schilens is 100% for the first time in a long time and he looks great. He is leaping and high-pointing balls stretching out his 6-4 frame. At one point, he beat rookie Sterling Moore and got behind safeties Tyvon Branch and Stevie Brown to make a long sideline, over-the-shoulder grab.
He was also catching going down the middle and a couple times he took hard hits after the catch. With his injury history, every hit gives pause. But each time, he held onto the ball and popped right back up.
Rookie receiver Denarius Moore has some rookie jitters which caused him to run some imprecise routes and drop a few passes. But he has shown flashes of the kind of ball skills the Raiders expected from him when they chose him in the fifth round. On one catch in particular, he adjusted to a hot ball behind him and brought it in cleanly. Catches like that will earn him a spot on this team. He just has to settle in and be more consistent.
We learned at the end of practice that second-year receiver Jacoby Ford broke his left hand in practice yesterday. Hue Jackson says Ford will be sidelined for two weeks but the indication I got was it will be longer. Also, there is no reason to risk coming back early in the preseason.
Other receivers who stood out were Edward McGee who bobbled some catches, prompting a coach to yell “only catch it once.” He also had a couple of drops.
Nick Miller had a lot of trouble getting open at receiver and was tried out extensively as a running back. They clearly like him and are trying to find a place for him on this team.
Second year practice squad player Damola Adeniji showed why the team keeps him around. He is a good sized receiver at 6-3, 215 lbs and looks very comfortable catching the ball. He is a long shot to make the team but with DHB and Ford out, he will get plenty of chances to show his worth.
All the talk about the receivers leads many to wonder about the corners. Today is the first practice for these Raiders after learning that Nnamdi Asomugha would not be back with the team after signing a 5 year deal with the Eagles. Chris Johnson will be taking his place as the starter and has been the best corner on the team this camp. He claims not to be worried about the defense sans Nnamdi.
“I’ve been in this league a long time. Nam will be missed, but at the same time, this is a business. I feel like me and Stan [Routt] as a unit and getting [Michael] Huff back, we’ll still be a solid defense.
“I always looked as myself as a starter in this league. My whole thing was, once I lost that starting spot last year, I always looked at myself as a starter, so I don’t really worry about getting back in the lineup. It’s just a business. And like I said, at the same, I’ve been hungry the whole time so it’s just my time to get back in and do what I know I can do and show everybody what I can do.”
Johnson was also asked who else among the corners has stood out and he pointed to Demarcus Van Dyke. He gave up a catch just as practice ended but he had tight coverage and it was a good catch by Denarius Moore.
It is way too early to say for sure, but at this point in camp, the best way to tell who is playing well is to notice which guys are not mentioned when talking about big plays by receivers. Among those who will need to step up are Joe Porter and Jeremy Ware. But it will take a lot more time for the proverbial cream to rise to the top.
The other rookie corner, Chimdi Chekwa, went off the field during yesterday’s practice with what looked to be a serious shoulder injury. Coach Jackson said at the time that it was not serious but today Chekwa was on the sideline with his arm in a sling. Jackson still insists that it is not a serious injury and there is no word how long he will be out of practice.
Tyvon Branch continues to run as the starting free safety but we learned today that Michael Huff would be back with the team. He re-signed with the team and according to him, it has been a done deal for a while. He will be back on the practice field August 4 and will retain his starting job at free safety.
Several veteran players got the day off today, including Tommy Kelly, Richard Seymour, John Henderson, Hiram Eugene, and Rock Cartwright. But Jackson also said they had to earn the rest.
“I have what they call the plus-30 club,” said Jackson. “And I make that decision and I think they loved it. It came at the right time for some of those guys. I truly believe in that, preserve some bodies that need to be preserved, guys been playing a lot time, that’s what I call it, and I think the whole team wish they were 30-plus.”
The only two over 30 players to practice today were Michael Bennett and Kyle Boller. Bennett is fighting for a roster spot with Louis Rankin and Boller has some new competition with recently signed Trent Edwards.
The defensive line was not quite as formidable today without its two starting defensive tackles, and the offensive line, along with the quarterbacks, were enjoying their absence.
Stefen Wisniewski in particular had a great day. Yesterday John Henderson was having his way with him. But today, facing guys like newly signed undrafted free agent Derrick Hill, Wisniewski had his way. On one play he pancake blocked Hill into the turf. Hill would trot off the field after the play with his jersey so disheveled you could hardly read his number. To be fair, Hill was getting good pressure at times. He just needs to work on staying on his feet and finishing.
Hill just joined the team today as an undrafted free agent out of Cal, and he couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity.
“I’m from Oakland, born and raised, it’s all I could do, bleed silver and black… It’s a super dream come true.”
But while the interior line had it easier, Veldheer continues to have his hands full with Matt Shaughnessy. In fact, whoever lines up opposite Shaughnessy has his hands full. He was bull rushing to the inside on one play and was met by Daniel Loper. Loper was quickly looking at turf as Shaughnessy shucked him right to the ground and ran past him. I would be more excited about Shaughnessy than concerned about the line. But there is certainly room for both schools of thought.
There have been referees on the field the entire camp and Jackson said he would like to have them on the field every practice. He said this team’s two main focuses are causing more turnovers and having less penalties.
Injured players are Darrius Heward-Bey, Bruce Campbell (knee), Trevor Scott (knee), Chimdi Chekwa (shoulder), Jacoby Ford (hand), Taiwan Jones (groin).