Lofton makes presence felt

Watching the Raiders work out in the offseason it's become clear the team still has a number of question marks at wide receiver, much of it due to the overall youth and inexperience at the position. But it's also clear James Lofton might be the right person to get Oakland's receivers on track.

In a profession in which so many of the coaches seem distanced from the players, both in terms of age and thinking, Lofton gets instant respect from the players. Many of them grew up watching Lofton dance his way past defensive backs on the way to the end zone during a stellar 16-year NFL career that ended with an induction into the Hall of Fame in 2003 and so there isn't the gap, say, as there was between Art Shell and his players.

But Lofton has also earned his stripes as a wide receivers coach, a fact that has been driven home to Oakland's young receivers during the Raiders' offseason workouts. His voice booming through the air, Lofton is constantly working the receivers on the tiniest of nuances, from the precision of cutting routes off to the placement of a player's hands when catching passes near the sidelines.

Still flexing his athletic ability, Lofton is the one throwing the passes to the receivers during the position drills. Several teams will have the third-string quarterback handle that job but Lofton's passes look every bit as crisp and tight as anything thrown by Andrew Walter or Marques Tuiasosopo.

That's not surprising. Lofton attended the pro day workout of former Cal wide receiver DeSean Jackson this past offseason, and when no one showed up to throw passes to Jackson, Lofton took over and filled in, allowing Jackson to get his workout in for the scouts.

Drew Carter, who signed with Oakland as a free agent in the offseason, said it was the presence of Lofton on the coaching staff that convinced him to sign with the Raiders.

"James Lofton was very, very influential in why I came here," Carter said. "He's definitely a great coach and definitely can teach me a lot of things as a receiver. I feel I'm the type of receiver he was, taller guy, faster guy and I feel he's helped me out so much already and it's only been three months."

Several of Oakland's other receivers agree. Chaz Schilens, the team's seventh-round pick this year, had the Raiders tabbed as his top team to try to sign with as a free agent had he not been drafted.

"He's an honest man, he tells it how it is," Schilens said. "I felt like he gave me the best chance to learn the most."

The development of Schilens, fourth-round pick Arman Shields and the Raiders other young receivers is critical. Javon Walker has a history of knee problems and was overweight, according to head coach Lane Kiffin, during the team's most recent mini-camp. Ronald Curry is coming off of foot surgery and wasn't able to work out at the June mini-camp.

If either of those two aren't able to go at full strength, Oakland will need one of the youngsters to step up. Walker and Curry are both in their seventh year while Carter is entering his fifth NFL season. Of the other nine receivers who were on the mini-camp roster, three were starting their second seasons while the other six were rookies or first-year players.


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