Some observations and ruminations from the Raiders' second OTA media availability in Alameda on Wednesday.
OTAs are voluntary, but when a star player chooses to take a pass, it inevitably raises eyebrows. Such was the case with backup quarterbacks Jeff Garcia, who had a family issue to deal with, and Andrew Walter, whose future with the team is tenuous at best, defensive ends Derrick Burgess and Jay Richardson, running back Darren McFadden, defensive lineman Tommy Kelly and the highest paid cornerback in the game in Nnamdi Asomugha skipping this OTA.
"You'd like to have everybody here," said coach Tom Cable. "Some of these guys have commitments...it's not mandatory so you really have to let them get some of that (personal) stuff out of the way before the season starts."
Indeed, but with a fairly young team and a boatload of new assistant coaches and fresh schemes to learn, it would behoove veterans to at least be on the field, no? Even if Pro Bowlers like Burgess and Asomugha have never really made OTAs a priority?
So Cable was asked if Asomugha would make an appearance (the Raiders also have OTAs June 6-8 and June 13-15).
"I don't know that," Cable said after a brief pause. "I'm hoping he'll be here the last two. If not the last two, the last one."
With no Garcia looking over his shoulder, JaMarcus Russell seemed much sharper in a practice that focused on a passing game more dink-and-dunk than bombs away. For a day, anyway. In fact, Cable said the practice we watched Wednesday focused on the same red-zone drills we were privy to two weeks earlier.
"It was red zone," Cable said. "I think we were two of 32 (then) and today we were 11 of 32 so there's some progress there. Still, I would like some more consistency but it's coming and you've just to go keep pushing it and pushing it. We've got tomorrow and then two more weeks so I hope we can make a good amount of progress as we get ready for camp."
I wanted to ask Russell how it all felt after practice but was blown off.
"I'm talking to my coach right now," he said as he walked briskly off the field, chatting with first-year quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett, and into the locker room.
First-round draft choice Darrius Heyward-Bey is still nursing the sore hamstring he tweaked during mini-camp on May 9 and sat out practice.
"The strength is there in the hamstring and everything," Heyward-Bey said. "I'm just trying to make sure I'm 100 percent. I'm out there working out after going about 95 percent speed. Basically, I just want to make sure it's taken care of before I get back on the field."
Per NFL rules, Heyward-Bey missed the first OTA two weeks ago because his college class at Maryland was still in session (second-round pick Mike Mitchell is not in Alameda as his class at Ohio is still in session).
"It's like I said, if you remember, a lot of times the draft's over and (the draftees) stop doing things," Cable said, "and then all of a sudden you put them back to work and they're not ready for that workload."
Cable said he expected Heyward-Bay to practice during next week's OTA, even as the rookie said he is not aware of any ongoing contract negotiations between his agent and the Raiders. Still, rookies don't usually start signing deals until early July, though McFadden inked his on June 6 of last year after Russell's prolonged holdout the season prior went into the regular season.
And the Raiders announced a $200,000 grant to the Richmond Children's Foundation and its partners, the City of Richmond and the Association of Sports Field Users, as part of the NFL's Grassroots Program. The grant, which was awarded by the Raiders, the NFL Youth Football Fund and Local Initiatives Support Cooperation, will be used to install artificial turf at the Martin Luther King Jr. Park's football field to help revitalize the Nystrom neighborhood.
Doing something for the kids is always a good thing, methinks...