Notes from Raiders OTA - Thursday, May 22

JaMarcus Russell looks incredibly trim for a player many people speculated had ballooned to 300 pounds in the offseason. That's why the rumor mill is a dangerous thing.

Russell actually seems slimmer in his mid-section than he was a year ago and proved it during the team's OTA on Thursday.

He moved around particularly well during Thursday's practice and showed good ability to throw on the run. He and wide receiver Jay Watkins — who had been turning heads before dropping a pair of easy catches earlier in the workout — hooked up for a touchdown in traffic during 7-on-7 drills, Russell putting a nice touch on the ball to get it over three defenders.

More importantly from the Raiders standpoint, Russell has adapted easily to his new leadership role as the unquestioned starting quarterback.

"I like that he hasn't tried to fake it," head coach Lane Kiffin said. "He's kind of let it come naturally and smoothed into it and he did it before he got out on the field. He did it by what he did this offseason, showing up in shape and his weight the way it is, and the way he's working out and lifting with the guys. We all see this out here but there's hours and hours that they spend lifting in that weight room together and running and meeting so I think you see the players coming alive around them as well."

The Raiders drafted Russell to revive their vaunted deep passing game but the team for now is working to get him to work through his progressions and take the dump-off throws when needed.

"We've got to get him into that 65 percent completion hopefully and you don't do that by throwing the ball all the time downfield," Kiffin said. "There's times that we've got to stretch the field but he's got to know when those are within the calls, and he's doing a good job. Especially this week, better than the week before, his completion percentage and using his backs and tight ends instead of trying to force it."

Other news from the OTA:

· Newly acquired safety Gibril Wilson woke up with a sore quadriceps muscle and was among a handful of players held out of Thursday's workout. Ronald Curry (foot), Tommy Kelly (knee) and Jake Grove (knee) also attended practice but did not take part in any of the drills.

· Defensive end Derrick Burgess did not attend but is expected for the mandatory mini-camp in June while running back LaMont Jordan was missing as well. Jarrod Cooper, who is coming off knee surgery, was also absent.

· Quarterback Andrew Walter made a nice throw during a 7-on-7 drill, throwing a crisp touchdown to Drew Carter. Walter later hooked up with tight end John Madsen for a 17-yard touchdown but his good fortune didn't hold up. During a team scrimmage Walter, whose biggest problem so far has been his propensity for hanging onto the ball too long, got chased out of the pocket and took what would have been a 10-yard sack at the hands of rookie Trevor Scott, the Raiders' sixth-round draft pick.

· With no Burgess, Jay Richardson and Kalimba Edwards were the defensive ends when the Raiders sent out their starting defense while Gerard Warren and Josh Shaw lined up at defensive tackle.

· Running back Darren McFadden had a problem with fumbling while at Arkansas and the Raiders have gone to great lengths to correct the issue with their top draft pick. It seems to be paying off.

So far in the practices that he's been allowed to attend, McFadden hasn't fumbled once despite the Raiders' defense making a concentrated effort to try and strip him of the ball.

"That's all done on purpose," Kiffin said. "We do that with all our guys, but especially Darren. Our defensive guys know that there's an emphasis on that all the time, to get the ball out and especially with him. The last thing we'd ever want to do is take it easy on him."

· Kwame Harris is penciled in as the starting left tackle and Cornell Green will head into training camp as the starter at right tackle, but beyond that the Raiders don't have much depth. Seth Wand, who started 16 games for Houston in 2004, worked behind Harris with the second offensive line while Mario Henderson subbed in for Green.

Henderson, a third-round draft pick who did not play on offense at all as a rookie last year, could be the eventual replacement for Green but he's still too raw. Henderson appears to have shed some weight, which will only help his cause.

· The word on Curry, who had offseason foot surgery, is that he's still on pace to be ready for the team's mandatory mini-camp in June. That's critical because Russell is still trying to get a rhythm going with his receivers. So far that's been tough to do but Russell has formed a steady groove with Drew Carter.

· Linebacker Thomas Howard, who led all NFL linebackers with six interceptions in 2007, made a nice play to break up a short pass from Russell to McFadden. Howard has always been one of the fastest players on Oakland's defense and after a relaxing offseason the third-year veteran looks as if he's ready to pick up where he left off.

· Chris Morris continued to take snaps at center with the first-team offense while veteran John Wade worked with the back-ups. That's an interesting situation to watch because there really is no clear-cut front-runner for the job. Grove would apparently have the edge considering his experience but he's also had a history of injuries that have hindered his progress. Odds are the Raiders won't know who their starting center will be until midway through training camp but it probably won't hurt the team much. Line coach Tom Cable has already proven he's one of the best in the business so Oakland's brass isn't stressing about the situation too much.

· Oakland spent about $120 million upgrading its secondary in the offseason so it was worth noting that only cornerback DeAngelo Hall and safety Michael Huff were the only projected starters on the field.

Wilson was given the day off to rest his leg while cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha remains unsigned. The Raiders placed the franchise tag on him but as of yet Asomugha hasn't signed the one-year tender. The two sides are negotiating on a long-term deal but so far no agreement has been reached.

Hall made a pair of interceptions in practice Wednesday, according to Kiffin, but the secondary didn't have a single pick during Thursday's workout.

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