In the unpredictably competitive first week of the season, the Raiders displayed dominance on both sides of the line of scrimmage in the first half. They also showed glaring weaknesses that eventually caused their demise and was so naturally expected in public opinion.
One of those weaknesses was JaMarcus Russell’s ability to complete passes to his wide receivers. In his 12-for-30 stat line, Russell only completed three to wide receivers, all to rookie Louis Murphy.
Whether this lack of wideout completions can be blamed on Russell’s accuracy issues, his duo of rookie receivers, chemistry, or play calling, it’s apparent that an efficient passing game is going to be a work in progress for the entire season.
First-round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey doesn’t seem to be worried at all about his performance, although he had no catches and his head coach thought he saw a “real nervous, uptight young man” during the game.
“Naw man. I felt the same I always did since I’ve been playing in high school,” Heyward-Bey said Wednesday. “I started high school football late and I’ve been feeling the same ever since.”
He’s not even worried about that whole, “being on the same page as your quarterback” thing.
“I really don’t look at it as they have chemistry or anything like that. I think that’s a stupid thing to say,” Heyward-Bey said. “The plays are designed, you’ve got to have the reads and that’s who he throws the ball to. I’m just sitting back doing my job. That’s what I got to do. I play the 'X.'
“I’ve got the backside of things. I’m supposed to pull that safety over; I’m supposed to make this side of the field easier for JaMarcus to read. So that’s my job.”
It seems Heyward-Bey doesn’t understand why he was drafted. Yes, teams will respect your speed and roll coverage, which in turn will open up other receivers. It is also your job to be a viable receiving option, a No. 1 receiving option, to get open even in the blanket of rolled coverage, and make plays other wide receivers cannot.
It would be unfair to expect these results to be on full display in his first year, but the implied attitude that attracting a safety is good enough will make you Troy Williamson-esque and not a receiver on the fast track to success.
One rookie wideout who does look like he’s on the fast track is Louis Murphy. Murphy had four receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown, with another potential score being called back on a controversial overturn.
“I was devastated, man,” Murphy said of the play. “I had three hours of sleep. I played a good game, an OK game, but ultimately I want to win. I don’t want to go through this season saying, ‘All right, Murph had a good game but we lost.’ Nah, that’s not our goal.”
Unfortunately, Murphy’s potential touches are expected to decrease when Chaz Schilens returns from his foot injury some time in the coming weeks. For now his starting spot is safe as the Raiders travel to Kansas City to face the Todd Haley-led Chiefs.
Haley, with a long history of coaching receivers, understands the daunting task of getting rookie receivers up to par to be productive in their first year.
“The receiver position is a tough position to play and adjust to,” Haley said. “I’ve coached it for a long time and...even for high picks it’s rare to come in and make a smooth transition. The speed of the game is so different. The complexity of the coverage’s that you’re seeing is so great.
It just makes for a tough transition, and it’s rare that young guys can come in and make a huge impact and when they do, I’m really impressed.”
Here’s hoping Louis Murphy continues to impress—and here’s praying Darrius Heyward-Bey starts catching the ball.