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Monday, June 2, 2014
Ten observations from Raiders OTAs

By Paul Gutierrez

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders gathered Monday for an open-to-the-media practice to kick off Week 2 of organized team activities. Following, then, are 10 observations from the helmets-and-shorts practice.

1. All 90 players on the roster were again in attendance, though five were injured and not practicing -- cornerback D.J. Hayden (ankle), running back Latavius Murray (ankle/foot), linebacker Kevin Burnett (ankle), guard Lucas Nix (undisclosed) and defensive lineman Antonio Smith (undisclosed after undergoing surgery following a weight-room mishap).

2. Hayden was in a walking boot on his right foot and coach Dennis Allen said the second-year cornerback rolled his ankle in practice last week but, "I don't expect it to be anything serious." Still, with only six more OTA practices and a mandatory three-day mini-camp remaining this offseason, you have to wonder if Hayden practices again before training camp begins in late July. Last week, before he was injured, Allen said Hayden was "light years" ahead of where he was physically and mentally than last year.

3. Burnett, meanwhile, showed up after taking last week off, stirring speculation that the veteran linebacker may have not been entirely enthused with the team drafting a linebacker in Khalil Mack at No. 5 overall, especially with Allen merely saying last week the workouts were voluntary. But Burnett spent the first part of Monday's practice on a side field working with a trainer. It was not clear when Burnett injured himself. "Hopefully," Allen said, "he'll be back out practicing sooner rather than later."

4. Juron Criner again showed flashes of his old "camp" self with several acrobatic catches in traffic and on the sidelines, much like he did as a rookie before disappearing into the ether the past two regular seasons. Of course, these are non-padded practices but Criner is showing that he can make some spectacular catches in such drills.

5. Before he was elevated to head coach and won a pair of Super Bowls, Tom Flores was the Raiders receivers coach and it was he who, from the press box at old Baltimore Memorial Stadium, suggested the famous "Ghost to the Post" play against the Colts on Christmas Eve, 1977. Flores may have had some flashbacks Monday, then, as he took a keen interest in the Raiders' pass catchers during practice, along with Hall of Fame cornerback Willie Brown. Oh, and the first quarterback Brown ever picked off in his pro career? Flores, on Dec. 15, 1963, when Flores was the Raiders quarterback and Brown was with the Denver Broncos.

6. Matt Schaub is listed at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, but on the field next to the Raiders' other three quarterbacks – Matt McGloin, Derek Carr and Trent Edwards – Schaub looks even more physically imposing. Even in a practice with no pads on. Schaub looked comfortable again running the offense, especially in the red zone, and he showed some moves with his feet that deked a defender to commit to rushing him before lofting a completion over his head. "With all great quarterbacks, they don't all have to be great athletes, but they have to have a pocket presence and they have to have a feel for bodies in the pocket," Allen said. "They have to be able to slide and maneuver in the pocket. Some of the best ones in this league – Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, guys of that nature that you wouldn't classify them as great athletes, but they are able to have a good feel for bodies in the pocket – they are able to slide and avoid pressure and be able to get the ball out. I think Matt has some of those same qualities."

7. Again, Allen insisted there is no true depth chart yet, and when asked about the situation at running back with Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, if the plan was for them to split carries or if he preferred one if them to step up and claim the job, Allen brightened up. "I think we let the competition dictate what we end up doing," Allen said. "We're going to put the best players on the field, and the guys that give us the best opportunity to win, whoever that may be. I do know this: I do know throughout the course of a 16-game season, you're going to need everybody. I think it's great when you have multiple players that you feel confident that they can come in and do the job. We'll let the competition dictate who plays and how much they play. It's a good feeling to know that you've got some qualified people in the running back room that can carry the loads for you."

8. Staying with the "no depth chart" stance, Allen does not seem entirely satisfied with the tight ends, though he is hopeful. "It's kind of like when you go and sit on Santa Claus' lap, you ask for a bunch of stuff, and you get about half of it," Allen said of the Raiders' offseason wish list. "That's kind of where we're at. I feel good about having some young guys at the tight end position and we're going to need those guys to step up. Somebody in that room has to step up and say that they're the guy ... nobody is 100 percent established in that room." David Ausberry, Mychal Rivera and Nick Kasa have been put on notice, then.

9. No doubt the Raiders are high on Menelik Watson and hope he claims the right tackle position. But he endured an injury-filled rookie season in 2013. "There's no substitute for experience," Allen said. "From that standpoint, yeah he is behind. But I don't think that's something that he can't overcome. I think he's in a good place right now. I think he's in a good place physically. I think he's in a good place mentally. We're excited about the prospect of Menelik Watson and hopefully he'll continue to develop."

10. New assistant defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson, a first-team All-Pro free safety in 1993, is a vocal presence on the field and has already caught the attention of free safety Charles Woodson. In a good way. Woodson, who will be entering his 17th NFL season, said Roberston has already shown him new things. "Just in the short time that he's been here, he's really helped me out a lot to see things differently," Woodson said.