NAPA - With the Raiders giving several key defenders the night off I focused on the offense.
After looking miserable in the morning practice, the offense was noticeably better.
The team ran a lot early. That's probably going to be the case a lot this season. But in practices runs up the middle don't always look good.
It's tough to tell exactly how good the team is run blocking because they weren't in full pads (shoulder pads and helmets tonight) and there's no way of knowing if a back would break a tackle.
And there's a natural tendency to let up when it's not full contact.
Cut blocking also isn't allowed in practice, so the line isn't using all of its tools to open up holes.
There are times when the offensive line moved 49ers out of the way, other times where they were blown back or couldn't seal off the backside. I can only assume some of those situations Tom Cable would have them cutting the defensive linemen.
Overall, the offensive line did look better. I'll have a better assessment after Friday night.
*JaMarcus Russell's arm looked as good as it's been since he injured his elbow last Tuesday.
He made good decisions to pass the ball to outlet receivers when deep routes were taken away.
Russell also showed some zip on passes over the middle. The highlight as a laser that whizzed by the head of linebacker Jeff Ulbrich's head to tight end Zach Miller.
It probably would have been a good 30-yard touchdown, assuming Miller would have run over the DB trying to tackle him.
Russell showed good pocket awareness and knew when to step up and get rid of the ball.
Russell found Todd Watkins (who else?) for an acrobatic grab just after Watkins failed to hold on to a pass after being hit.
The one no-no of the night came when Russell was running to the right and tried to throw back to the left for Miller. The ball came so fast it was incomplete, but there were at least three red jerseys near Miller.
The offensive line looked better for the most part. Kwame Harris did a good job of riding outside rushers pass Russell and to the grass. Cornell Green looked better, too.
Harris is definitely improving with each practice.
The second-team offensive line had its moments.
Chris Morris and Seth Wand opened a huge hole on the right side on a draw play for Justin Fargas. That combination also made a pair of good blocks on a screen pass for Michael Bush during a two-minute drill.
The blocking from the running backs improved. Adimchinobe Echemandu blocked 49ers defensive end Justin Smith to give Russell time to find Chris McFoy for a touchdown.
Darrren McFadden continues to impress. He caught a wheel route during seven-on-seven and his speed left Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis chasing him.
McFadden also looked good running the ball. When there were creases to run through, he hit them with speed and looked to make moves at the second level.
After the first time seeing the Raiders against another opponent...
*Pass protection needs to be a high priority. Teams are going to blitz the Raiders in all kinds of ways so the offensive line and running backs need to be sound. The tackles also need to be able to block one-on-one consistently so that Miller doesn't spend too much time pass blocking.
*The three-headed monster at tailback is going to be fun to watch. Fargas, McFadden and Bush have three distinct styles that should help diversify the offense.
*Derrick Burgess needs the season to start ASAP. He looks ready to roll. And the linebackers showed progress filling holes in the run defense.
*Russell will be throwing a lot of short passes if he doesn't get better protection and his receivers don't prove they can get open against press coverage.
Night practice notes
*Russell had passes batted down by defensive linemen on consecutive plays.
*I never like seeing receivers block defensive linemen and I'm sure McFoy doesn't after tonight. Smith leveled him after McFoy went in motion and trying to seal off the backside on a run.
*The lone false start of the evening belonged to Robert Gallery.
*Two-minute drills were ended by made field goals (49, 40) by Sebastian Janikowski.
*Raiders owner Al Davis attended both practices today. He usually skips the morning practice during two-a-days.
*Burgess, DT Terdell Sands, DT Tommy Kelly, QB Andrew Walter, OL Fred Wakefield, C Jake Grove and WR Ronald Curry all had the night off.
S Greg Wesley (back), CB John Bowie (knee), LB Grant Irons (hamstring) and CB Nnamdi Asomugha (illness) did not practice.