Russell participated in the Raiders’ entire practice Thursday morning after being limited by a sore right elbow in each of the previous two workouts. The second-year quarterback didn’t have his usual zip on a few of his throws but showed no problems otherwise and even uncorked a 50-yard pass at the end of the practice.
“I just wanted to get out here today just so I could get back in practice,” Russell said. “I don’t really like sitting out and watching guys bust their behinds when I can be out there doing something. Just anything out there I can help.”
Russell had most of his right arm encased in ice after the morning session, which is not unusual for quarterbacks and not an indication that there is anything seriously wrong with the elbow.
The Raiders broke into position groups early in practice and Russell warmed up there with several short throws before heading to a team scrimmage. Curious to see how the young QB would respond, the coaching staff called five straight pass plays. Russell threw incompletions on the first two, hit running back Louis Rankin on a screen pass, was incomplete down the middle to tight end Tony Stewart before finding fullback Oren O’Neal for a short gain.
After Andrew Walter and Marques Tuiasosopo took their turns, Russell returned and went 2-for-5.
“You can see a little bit of velocity issue with him right now, different from normal,” Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin said. “I think that will go away here pretty soon. You could just see the difference with velocity that he’s just not letting it go, which is fine.”
The same can’t be said of Henderson, the second-year offensive tackle who continues to struggle in camp at a time when Oakland is desperately trying to upgrade its offensive line.
Henderson looked lost a year ago when he didn’t play a single snap and suited up for only one game. Not much has changed since then, either.
During Thursday’s practice the Raiders gave right tackle Cornell Green the morning off. But instead of using Henderson -- Green’s backup on the team’s depth chart -- Oakland moved Seth Wand over from the left side to work with the first team.
Afterward, Kiffin didn’t hold back in his criticism and shot down any notion that Henderson might be pushing Green -- who has struggled somewhat himself in camp -- for playing time.
“No, he’s not pushing him,” Kiffin said. “Mario is not improving the way we’d like him to so we’ll just continue to push him. But it’s not close right now.”
Asked what specifically Henderson needs to work on, Kiffin was succinct.
“It’s everything right now, unfortunately,” he said.
Javon Walker, who has been limited to one practice a day, was also the target of some criticism from Kiffin, who said the veteran wide receiver hasn’t made the type of progress the team was hoping for.
Other news and notes from Thursday morning’s practice:
· Once again the featured event of the day was the running backs vs. linebackers drill. The running backs haven’t had much success in the drill and that pretty much held form Thursday, as linebacker Kirk Morrison destroyed Justin Fargas in one matchup. Before that Ricky Brown used a quick move to leave Michael Bush trying to block air, though Kiffin said he is encouraged by the progress the backs are making.
“To what we did yesterday and then today, there’s been a major change,” Kiffin said. “(Running backs coach Tom Rathman) starts them about eight in the morning to start thinking about it on the days we have pass … hours before they ever go to that drill, to make sure they‘re ready to go. It‘s as much technique as it is just being physical, and they have to be ready.”
· Andrew Walter had an up-and-down day. He continues to have problems throwing the deep ball, though he caught a big break when Todd Watkins made a phenomenal leaping catch on one overthrown pass. Walter later made a couple of nice throws down the middle, following up on the progress he showed in the previous two practices.
It was a few comments Walter said off the field that caught the most attention, however.
Of his role as a back-up to JaMarcus Russell after being buried on the depth chart hearing his name come up in trade rumors throughout the 2007 season: “Anything’s better than last year. I understand JaMarcus is the starter. That is what it is, so that’s not going to change … barring injury, of course. Am I happy with that? No. I want to be a starter. I’ve always said I don’t want to be a backup in the NFL. Some guys didn’t get their shot until they were 30, 26. Rich Gannon comes to mind. Steve Young. So if that’s in the cards, it’s in the cards. But yeah, I’m not satisfied just being a backup. That’s not something I’m thrilled about but that is the role and I have to embrace it.”
Then there was this nugget on the Art Shell/Tom Walsh season of 2006 when Walter, after criticizing the play-calling late in the season, was benched:
“I wouldn’t say it shook my confidence. I would say it was a fiasco and I would say it was as clueless of a staff as I've ever heard. We had guys in the NFL with 200 years of experience in the locker room. Some guys 10 years, some guys 13, 15 years, talking to those guys, it was a complete joke. So,that was a hard situation. To be a quarterback who has never played, in that situation, certainly was difficult. I've said many times to come out the other end of that and still survive, I can't name another guy in the NFL who has been through that type of situation at the quarterback position. I can't name one.”
· Defensive tackle Terdell Sands is playing at a lower weight than he did a year ago and he’s been complimented early in camp by head coach Lane Kiffin. That’s a significant change from 2007 when Sands, after signing a four-year, $17 million extension, essentially fell off the radar.
The 6-foot-7, 335-pounder blames himself for what happened, though in truth Sands was only guilty of being human. His mother passed away in February and he spent the entire season dealing with the emotional aftermath.
“You lose anything like that, some things take tolls on you,” Sands said. “You lose things that are aspects of life right there. It put behind a big rock, because I wasn’t doing cardio like I should and conditioning, so I kind of got behind in my workouts and stuff. So it was a big part of last year. That’s behind me. I gotta push on this year.”
Sands said he did more conditioning earlier this offseason and changed his diet. That’s good news for the Raiders, who need the veteran defensive tackle to help improve a run defense that has been terrible the past four years.
“I feel real good,” Sands said. “I feel (more) in shape than I was last year, so it’s a big plus for me.”
· Cornell Green and right guard Cooper Carlisle were both given the morning off, meaning the Raiders were without the right side of their offensive line. Seth Wand, the backup left tackle, moved to the right side to take Green’s place while utility man Fred Wakefield replaced Carlisle.
· The offensive linemen got a boost in a drill pitting them against their defensive line counterparts. Left tackle Kwame Harris buried defensive end Kalimba Edwards and knocked him to the turf. Before that Aaron Boone completely dominated William Joseph in back-to-back tries.
· Speaking of Joseph, the former first-round draft pick of the Giants hasn’t done much this camp and has been more noticeable for what he hasn’t done than anything else.
· Cornerback DeAngelo Hall suffered an undisclosed injury to his hand and was held out of the final few plays of the morning session. No word on whether he’ll work out in the evening.