Instead of pads, head coach Dennis Allen had his players in shorts and shells during Wednesday morning’s practice. The players were originally slated to wear pads for the ninth consecutive practice, but Allen decided to ratchet down the intensity because the players had been giving good effort. The injury to Mike Goodson during yesterday’s practice likely factored into Allen’s thinking as well.
Allen said Goodson was sore, but doing better. In the interim, Lonyae Miller, Rashawn Jackson and Marcel Reece split the load at tailback behind Darren McFadden.
Reece was getting work as a tailback on Tuesday prior to Goodson’s injury and Allen said Reece is not only filling in at running back out of necessity. “Some of it is trying to put him back there and hand the ball off to him and see where he’s at and see how he fits the scheme.” Allen said.
Miller has impressed Allen with his understanding of the zone scheme and ability to get yards despite not being as explosive as McFadden, Goodson or Taiwan Jones. Miller will get extensive action on Monday night against Dallas. “I would expect that he would be tired after Monday night’s game,” Allen said.
The players probably welcomed the lighter practice before Thursday’s day off, everyone except veteran cornerback Ron Bartell who hasn’t worn pads since last September. Bartell missed most of last year with a neck injury and the first six practices of training camp with a hamstring injury. Due to the new collective bargaining agreement, Bartell was eligible to put the pads on for the first time on Wednesday.
“I was actually looking forward to getting full pads on.” Bartell said. “I’m probably the only guy on the team that felt that way.”
Bartell has performed well the past few days without pads and he might get even better when he can add the physical element to his game. Bartell has routinely had good coverage, particularly on Darrius Heyward-Bey .
Probably the only reception against Bartell on Wednesday was a well-executed post pattern from Carson Palmer to Jacoby Ford. Bartell, unlike Stanford Routt, has a short memory and could not recall the play after practice. Ford’s speed is very difficult to cover without pads and being able to forget those plays will be a positive for the Raiders’ No. 1 cornerback.
As one of the veteran cornerbacks, Bartell has seen his fair share of receivers. Not only has he seen them, but his job is based upon studying them. So far, Bartell is impressed with the two rookie receivers, Rod Streater and Juron Criner.
“They are both young, inexperienced.” Bartell said. “Both have really good size, good hands. They’ve learned a lot; they’ve come a long way since OTAs. It’s good to see them with pads on because guys who do a lot when you don’t have pads on, make a lot of plays, and as soon as you throw the pads on they fall off a little bit, but those two guys they still stood out. I think they both have a bright future.”
Criner says he’s fighting through the grind of camp just by staying eager. “Never take a day off.” Criner said. “Even when I know something, I’m getting better at taking mental reps. That’s been something that’s really been helping me a lot.”
Some of those mental reps come in the form of a quiz from his roommate Streater. The two rookies have been quizzing each other on the playbook in hopes of being able to grasp it better.
As a rookie, there’s always going to be things for him to work on and Criner said he’s trying to become a better blocker. Criner’s already a pretty polished route-runner and has nice soft natural hands, so adding blocking to his game is the next logical step. “I watch even some of the other receivers see all their aggressiveness with blocking.” Criner said. “That’s something I have to get installed in my body.”
Cornerback Pat Lee has moved ahead of Chimdi Chekwa on the depth chart. Lee was getting time with the No. 2 defense on Wednesday, something Allen said was earned based on his performance.
Richard Gordon continued to flash his ability as a receiver on Wednesday. Gordon made a least two nice grabs in a drill that excluded the offensive and defensive lines. Already the team’s best blocking tight end, it has to be an encouraging sign for the team when a guy mostly known for his blocking is able to make a few plays in the passing game.
Gordon seems to be making steady improvement under the tutelage of former offensive coordinator Al Saunders and has probably solidified himself as the No. 2 for the time being.
Matt Leinart has been a consistent presence at quarterback for the Raiders throughout all of training camp. Leinart clearly has a firm grasp of the offense and is able to execute the plays. Among his few misses on Wednesday were two passes that skimmed the fingertips of tight end Troy Humphrey, which are the types of passes that improve as the players get to know each other.
Leinart has been on target with his short and intermediate passes almost every day. He’s the clear-cut No. 2 quarterback and one of the few in the league who could probably take over without much of a drop off.
Terrelle Pryor seems to be improving steadily, but he’s far too inconsistent. Pryor will make a really nice play and follow it with an inaccurate throw. His legs are his best weapon, but the Raiders seem content developing him as traditional quarterback.
The starting offensive line has been a constant since the first day of training camp. Jared Veldheer, Cooper Carlisle, Stefen Wisniewski, Mike Brisiel and Khalif Barnes have been consistently good at opening holes in the running game and have done a pretty good job keeping the pass rush off Carson Palmer. There have been occasional lapses in pass protection, but nothing that hasn’t been solved by a Palmer check-down pass to McFadden.
Shawntae Spencer had another solid day. It seems that Spencer has played much better since Bartell returned to practice on Monday. Spencer has limited Ford, Heyward-Bey and Streater in coverage and has been particularly effective in red-zone drills.
Mike Goodson (neck)
Jack Crawford (foot)
Richard Seymour (ankle)
Denarius Moore (hamstring)
Eddie McGee (hamstring)
Taiwan Jones (hamstring)
Shane Lechler (knee)—NFI list
Aaron Curry (knee)—PUP list
Christopher Hansen is a Lead Blogger at Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.