JaMarcus is making progress

Final Thoughts on Raider OTAs

The OTAs have come and gone. Now, we’re all just waiting until training camp starts in July for our next serious Raider fix.

Here are a few of my takes on what has transpired during the OTAs.

JaMarcus Russell’s progress - Depending on who you ask, Russell either looked like he was taking one giant step towards Ryan Leaf status or he was slowly progressing into the team leader Tom Cable challenged him to be. There is not a more galvanizing member of the Raiders than JaMarcus. Either you believe Jeff Garcia was brought in to mentor Russell or to take his job. I don’t want to go Allen Iverson and belittle practice, but Russell looked great at the end of last season and if he had a couple bad practices in May (while learning yet another offense), so what? According to most reports, he looked better in the last few OTAs and he’s supposedly going to be holding private practices with his receivers between now and training camp.

My take: JaMarcus is young; he’s going to make mistakes, Raider fans have to be patient, the guy turns 24 in a few months. He has been at every OTA (only missing a couple days with an excused absence) and he’s doing all the right things. Even if Cable is forcing him to act like a franchise QB at least he’s buying-in and not throwing a Jay Cutler fit.

Darrius Heyward- Bey’s hamstring – He was the talk of the draft and he’s since done little to dispel the early “bust” talk. DHB has missed his share of the offseason workouts with a tight hammy and he notoriously dropped three straight passes before the first time his hamstring flared up. It is way too early to start the “I told ya so” anthem. We all knew that DHB was going to be a project. He got a taste of the NFL when Nnamdi Asomugha showed up and locked him down so Darrius knows he has work to do. Known as hard worker at Mayrland, Heyward-Bey should bounce back strong come July…that is if he’s under contract.

My take: I can’t pretend that it is not little troublesome that he seems to already have a nagging injury. Last thing we want is to see our top pick spend the season slowed by injuries ala Darren McFadden in ’08. At the same time, DHB is not under contract and the Raiders have yet to even contact his agent. Cable and company could just be protecting their investment by having him sit. Again, you’ll have to give this kid time. There really isn’t any reason to panic at this point.

Michael Mitchell and the rest of the safeties – The most infamous pick of the ’09 draft didn’t participate in many of the OTAs due to NFL rules (he was still in school in Ohio). When Mitchell did show up it was reported that one of the coaches had to tell him to tone it down a little in practice. Tyvon Branch and Hiram Eugene played with the first team most often while Michael Huff was a no-show at the last OTA. Huff looks all but done leaving the door wide open for Mitchell.

My take: No telling how Mitchell will react once he gets his first taste of the NFL in a actual game but I’ve got to admit his highlight reel combined with his “let me at ‘em” attitude in an OTA has me fired up. Perhaps he’ll be no better than Gibril Wilson in pass coverage but I don’t think its coincidence that Brandon Marshall wants out of the AFC West now that he knows there’s a hitter waiting for him in Oakland.

Blitzes!!!! – That’s right! John Marshall is using his defense to occasionally blitz and put pressure on the QB. Was this just show for May and June?

My take: When Cable said the defense wouldn’t be much different than last year, I cringed. When I heard that Marshall was blitzing in OTAs, I cheered. If he can keep Tommy Kelly from jumping offsides, I’ll be on board with Marshall. For now, this is a good sign that he’s shaking things up a little, even if its doing something as obvious as blitzing.

What to do with Javon Walker? – He was the worst free agent signing of ’08 and now he’s looking like a bigger waste of space than Euro Disney. Walker had a secret knee surgery this offseason and did not participate in a single OTA. He restructured his deal because he knew it was the only way he’d still be collecting an NFL check.

My take: The time has come to end this debacle. Cut Walker and just pony up whatever he’s owed. Chaz Schilens has looked great and he’s poised to breakout. Walker is a veteran but he’s not the mentoring type. I say drop Javon and bring in Bay Area Native Amani Toomer to work with Johnnie Lee Higgins, Schilens, DHB and Louis Murphy.

One final thought on Russell and Jeff Garcia – This is the biggest hot button issue of the offseason. To me, there is no quarterback controversy. The Raiders drafted DHB and are opening the playbook in order to bring back the vertical passing game. Garcia might be more “ready-to-play” but he’s not the thrower you want in a vertical game. He’s gone out of his way to let the world know he doesn’t want to be a mentor and he was a no show at a few of the sessions. Russell has been putting in the work, he’s giving the company lines and he’s stayed around the facility this offseason.

My final take: Even if Garcia looked better in OTAs, he still has not done enough to earn any consideration for the starting job. If JaMarcus looks like Rex Grossman or Matt Leinart in the preseason we’ll revisit this, until then, this Russell’s team and he should be given every chance despite a few bad throws in May.

Tags: Allen Iverson Amani Toomer Brandon Marshall Chaz Schilens Darren McFadden Darrius Heyward-Bey Gibril Wilson Hiram Eugene JaMarcus Russell Javon Walker Jay Cutler Jeff Garcia John Marshall Johnnie Lee Higgins Louis Murphy Matt Leinart Michael Huff Michael Mitchell Nnamdi Asomugha Rex Grossman Ryan Leaf Tom Cable Tommy Kelly Tyvon Branch

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