Training camp notebook, July 27

Darren McFadden had yet another impressive day of practice Sunday but the star of the Raiders' training camp so far has been wide receiver Todd Watkins.

A productive and talented receiver in college who has yet to crack an NFL roster since leaving BYU in 2006, Watkins has caught almost every pass thrown his direction and has made several diving catches as well.

Watkins came up with the best catch of camp so far during individual positions drills Sunday when he made a leaping, twisting one-handed grab on a pass from wide receivers coach James Lofton during the evening practice session. Watkins later made two diving catches during a team scrimmage, including one in which the ball popped free as Watkins lay on his back before reaching up and pulling it back down.

It was just the latest in a series of strong practices for the 25-year-old Watkins, who also had a solid offseason with the Raiders after signing a free agent deal in February. It also puts him in the lead for one of the remaining receiver roster spots that are up for grabs.

Javon Walker, Ronald Curry and Drew Carter are locks to make the team while Johnnie Lee Higgins, the front-runner for the punt returner job, would appear to be as well. That leaves one, maybe two, spots left for seven receivers to fight for.

Rookie Chaz Schilens had a rough go in the evening practice. He made a bad cut while running one route, drawing the wrath of Lofton, then dropped another easy catch later in the same drill. The seventh-round draft pick later made a nice catch on a pass from JaMarcus Russell but is still lacking consistency in his workouts.

Jonathan Holland, who spent all of last season on injured reserve, made two spectacular plays, diving into the end zone to haul in a throw from Marques Tuiasosopo during the morning practice then leaping high to make a sideline grab on another throw from Tui in the evening workout.

Other highlights from Sunday's practices:

· McFadden and fellow rookies Tyvon Branch and Arman Shields were among a handful of players who took turns returning kickoffs during the special teams portion of the evening practice. Second-year player Johnnie Lee Higgins has been handling punt return chores.

"If we were to play today, preseason, we'd look at Branch on the kickoffs and Johnnie Lee on the punts," head coach Lane Kiffin said. "Johnnie Lee's fielding the ball really well for what situations we can put him into now. We've just got to see it carry over to the game because he had some ball security issues last year. His confidence continues to grow as a receiver and as a returner. We've always got Darren there as well if we need to use him at a certain time."

· The Raiders split their special teams practice in half, having the returners and wedge blockers work out at the south end of the field while the up blockers worked out at the north side. Later they worked together as an entire unit. In the past, Oakland's special teams have worked entirely together rather than splitting up.

· Guard Mark Wilson was taken to Queen of the Valley Hospital in Napa to have X-rays on his left leg after being carted off the field during the evening practice. Wilson was blocking on a kickoff return when he went down and grabbed at his leg. He limped off the field and was checked on the sidelines by a team trainer before being placed on a cart and driven away.

· Owner Al Davis made his first appearance of camp, taking in the evening practice.

· Safety Michael Huff made his second interception off JaMarcus Russell in as many days. This time Huff grabbed a ball out of the air after it bounced off the hands of Drew Carter.

· Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha also had his second interception in two days, picking off Russell during a 7-on-7 drill.

· Greg Spires has been making up for lost time after sitting out the first practice of training camp with a sore hamstring. Spires quickly moved up the depth chart at defensive end and has shown great speed coming off the edge. Picked up on one play by guard Robert Gallery, Spires zipped into the backfield and grabbed the quarterback for what would have been a sack.

· Kicker Sebastian Janikowski made two 43-yard field goals but was wide left on a 57-yard attempt at the end of practice after offensive line coach Tom Cable iced him by calling a timeout just as Janikowski was lining up to kick.

· Because of their intent to run the ball this season the Raiders have been having their quarterbacks work on selling the play-fake. JaMarcus Russell has done the best job so far while Marques Tuiasosopo also has fared well. During one play Tuiasosopo ran a perfect fake and had fullback Justin Griffith open streaking down the left sidelines before rookie linebacker Malik Jackson raced over to break the pass up.

· McFadden hasn't made many mistakes during his first NFL training camp but he did drop a slant pass while being covered by linebacker Thomas Howard, prompting running backs coach Tom Rathman to yell, "D-Mac, make that play!" McFadden was lined up at wide receiver on the play.

· Wide receiver Drew Carter made what looked like a leaping catch on the sidelines on a pass from Andrew Walter but had to outwrestling cornerback Chris Johnson for the ball while both men were on the ground.


SB Report Top Stories