When the 2009 NFL draft concluded, there were mixed feelings amongst the Raider Nation, especially regarding the first two selections.
Some were puzzled, wondering why the team had picked speedster Darrius Heyward-Bey number seven overall when the more lauded Michael Crabtree was still available. And just who was this Mike Mitchell dude, anyway?
Many were angry, saying Al did it again, he picked a track star instead of a football player, he reached for Mitchell when he could've got him much later, he blew the first two picks.
Others were happy, as they read up on Heyward-Bey and Mitchell and liked that they were team guys, reinforcing the new direction coach Tom Cable has been emphasizing. They liked the potential, the skill, the speed. They liked the picks.
Regardless of your personal reaction, I know we can all agree on one thing now: those hamstrings are getting a little worrisome.
Heyward-Bey is a speed guy. Speed guys depend on their hammys like Drew Rosenhaus depends on Terrell Owens keeping himself in the news. Since an inauspicious debut in OTA's back in May, Heyward-Bey has been mostly sidelined with soreness in his hamstrings. Much to the Nation's dismay, during the last OTA open to the media on Wednesday he pulled up with an "audible groan" and left the field with the trainer, not returning.
Nobody is pushing the panic button yet, but one thing is certain: a wide receiver that depends on speed and quickness will not be effective if he has any lingering hamstring issues. At this point Heyward-Bey hasn't shown the route running precision or hands it would take to transition to more of a move-the-chains possession receiver if he lost a step. That's not what he's built for, anyway, nor is it why we drafted him.
Mitchell is a little less of a concern at this point simply because of his position. Yes, he relies on speed as well, but at safety positioning, proper technique and angles, and good football IQ can make up for losing a little speed. Mitchell's hamstring is reportedly not serious as well, but has been sore long enough that it's becoming a concern.
Coaches have wondered aloud if perhaps he worked out a little too hard before the combine and burned himself out a little. Hopefully his layoff while he awaited Ohio University graduation (thanks to an outdated NFL rule) gave him some of the rest he needed to return and be healthy for training camp. The fact that he was still too sore to practice on Wednesday doesn't bode all that well, unfortunately.
One positive to Mitchell's injury, or at least the timing of it, is that he can't hit in OTAs. So if he's healthy when contact begins, and he lays wood the way he's shown he can, that's good enough for me.
Personally, if the injuries aren't serious, I'm happy with the way the team is handling the situation. It's hurting Bey's rapport with Russell and his development, and it's hurting Mitchell's ability to view the game at speed and understand pro routes and technique. But there's no need to expose your young players to the risk of serious injury.
If either or both of the injuries are serious, the team needs to look into the long-term health of the kids and do whatever is necessary, this season be damned. I know that would hurt us all tremendously, and it would set the team back at two key positions that need improvement. But if these guys are close to as good as we all hope they can be then I want them around for the long haul. I don't want them burning out their tires after one lap around the track this season. Their long-term success with the Raiders is of paramount importance.
If both players are healthy for training camp, then I believe things will work out fine. They'll have to work harder to catch up on what they've missed, but they both have high football IQ's and strong work ethics. The training staff has to make absolutely sure they stay hydrated and stretch as much as possible. Hopefully Bey attends Russell's workout session, if only to learn and observe if he's not healthy.
If they aren't healthy for training camp, it will cast a bit of a dark cloud on an otherwise sunny offseason. The optimism we're all feeling will dwindle just a little bit as we all get the familiar "here we go again" feeling in our gut. We all want to see what they can do. I still think the team will be much improved either way, but without our new toys we won't know just how much better the team could be.
All we can hope is that the injuries are minor, treated well, and healed up in time for the kids to learn some Raider football.