Postcard from camp: Raiders
Darrius Heyward-Bay appears to be making progress for the Raiders
Jason Campbell is the unquestioned No. 1 QB ahead of Trent Edwards, Kyle Boller
Rookie Denarius Moore has been impressive as a receiver and returner
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In Napa, Calif., where the Raiders broke training camp with a final practice. As the players went about their business on the field, movers loaded weight-training and exercise equipment on large moving trucks. When the air horn sounded three times signaling an end to practice -- and camp -- veteran players raced out of town as if told Hurricane Irene was on its way.
1. The veterans happy to see Terrelle Pryor. The former Ohio State quarterback, who was taken in the third round of the supplemental draft, earned immediate points with teammates following his first workout. The reason: The media were so consumed with Pryor that it gave the other players an unobstructed path to their cars.
On the field, Pryor looked like a rookie in his first practice. He botched two exchanges from center and missed badly on a swing pass, but he also had a nice downfield completion. Coach Hue Jackson or offensive coordinator Al Saunders were constantly at his side, instructing him on the nuances of the offense and what to look for on particular plays.
Interestingly, Jackson gave Pryor some reps with the second team. It was a curious move considering the Raiders were preparing for Sunday's nationally-televised preseason game against the visiting Saints. Pryor must sit out the first five games as part of a carryover suspension handed down by the NCAA, but it seems a stretch to expect him to play against New Orleans with only one full practice.
2. Darrius Heyward-Bey is making progress. Selected seventh overall in the 2009 draft, the wideout from Maryland was a bust his first two seasons, catching just 35 passes for 490 yards and two scores. In some games, he had more drops than receptions. However, Heyward-Bey is showing that he might actually make contributions this year. Part of it has to do with how the Raiders are using him.
Heyward-Bey's forte was supposed to be the deep ball because of his speed, but the 6-2, 210-pounder had problems holding onto the ball. So the Raiders are using him on short and intermediate routes in camp, and he appears to be responding positively. Perhaps the change is working because he has less time to think when the ball is in the air. Instead, he has to react -- quickly. Considering the state of Oakland's receiving corps with Louis Murphy out and Chaz Schilens consistently fighting injuries, a productive Heyward-Bey could play a big role in the team's early season.
3. There is no quarterback controversy. Unlike a year ago, when the Raiders named Jason Campbell the unquestioned starter, then benched him in a Week 2 win over the Rams, there appears to be no one capable of challenging him this year. Bruce Gradkowski is gone, and Kyle Boller and Trent Edwards have not pushed him in practice.
Campbell believes he's ready to make a "splurge" this year. He not only is more comfortable with Jackson's offense, but also has been reunited with offensive coordinator Al Saunders, whom he worked with in Washington.
"I'm looking to go to that next level," he says. "That means being a high level where you see Pro Bowlers play at -- and being there consistently, week in and week out. Sometimes I have stretches were I go three or four games with 100+ quarterback ratings, then you have that one dropoff game where you try to pick it up again but might have another dropoff after that. My goal is just to maintain consistency."
Run defense. The Raiders were dominant within the division, holding opponents' running games to an average of 85.3 yards and .5 touchdowns a game. However they were pushovers outside the AFC West, allowing an average of 162.6 yards and one touchdown rushing a game.
"Just inconsistency," says defensive tackle Richard Seymour. "First of all we don't like anybody in our division, so I think we need to take that approach with everybody else. It is a weird stat. It's ridiculous, really. It's like we smashed up and beat up everybody in the division, but outside of it we didn't approach it with the same mindset. We understand what we need to do. Now we're trying to take that next step as a team, because we know the pitfalls and what could happen if we don't."
Wide receiver Denarius Moore. The rookie fifth-round pick from Tennessee, the wide receiver has been among the team's more impressive players. He has displayed good hands and smarts and run his routes with the precision of veterans. Oakland would love to see him step up because leading receiver Louis Murphy (undisclosed surgery) is out until at least Week 2, Chaz Schilens has struggled with injuries, and Heyward-Bey still must prove he can be counted on.
"He just plays with so much confidence, he's competitive and he has big hands," Campbell says of Moore. "By that I mean he can catch the ball anywhere around his body. You don't have to hit him in his chest. It doesn't have to be around his face. He can reach and catch balls. It's something that's really exciting, especially with him being so young."
Moore could also be a factor as a punt returner.
The Raiders could make the race for the division quite interesting if they get off to a quick start, which is possible considering they open at Denver and Buffalo.
Last season they swept the Broncos by an aggregate 98-37 and the Bills are coming off a 4-12 season in which they won just two games at home, each by a touchdown or less.
After that they get the Jets and Patriots at home, travel to Houston, then host Cleveland, Kansas City and Denver in consecutive games.
The schedule is fair in that they don't have more than two consecutive road games and they close the season at Kansas City and vs. San Diego, divisional foes whom they swept in 2010.