New rookies eager to prove doubters wrong

Two weeks after hearing more questions than compliments after being picked by the Raiders in the first two rounds of the NFL draft, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and safety Mike Mitchell made their long-awaited debuts in Oakland on Friday. Find out what they had to say and what else went down on the beginning of the team's three-day mini-camp.

No two players were criticized more during the NFL draft than Darrius Heyward-Bey and Mike Mitchell, the Raiders' top two picks. Everyone from ESPN's Mel Kiper to NFL Network's Mike Mayock ridiculed Oakland for making the selections, sentiments that were echoed by other writers around the country and some Raider fans.

Heyward-Bey and Mitchell? They heard it all and just shrugged it off.

Well, sort of.

While Heyward-Bey took it as an accepted part of his path into the NFL, Mitchell used it as motivation.

"I had planned to take time off to kind of enjoy (being drafted) but that was the spark I needed to make sure I was back in the weight room that Monday and going hard," Mitchell said after his first NFL practice. "I knew I had a lot to prove but that just made it even more evident I had to prove myself … even more."

The Raiders top two rookies didn't have to prove anything to Oakland's coaching staff during the mandatory mini-camp.

With Javon Walker sidelined after undergoing knee surgery in the offseason, Heyward-Bey took several reps with the Raiders starting offense. He frequently matched up with Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who nearly intercepted a pass in front of the youngster early in the morning practice.

"He's a good player so every day I'm going to have to learn a little bit more so I can make sure I make that play," Heyward-Bey said. "I came back and went like, all right, I'm not in college no more."

It was the first opportunity for the Raiders to see how their new pieces fit into the puzzle. Heyward-Bey is projected to be the future primary target for quarterback JaMarcus Russell but didn't catch a pass from the third-year QB during his first practice.

But Heyward-Bey, who ran the fastest 40 time at the NFL Combine this year, did make a nice jumping catch on a ball thrown by third-string QB Brad Gradkowski and showed some skills in adjusting to the underthrown pass. He later beat Darrick Brown to haul in a deep pass from Gradkowski.

"Those are the kinds of things if you listened and people wrote that he couldn't do some of those things, and you saw it for yourself," head coach Tom Cable said. "Those are the reasons we took the kid. The kid's going to be a really fine player and we'll just let it play itself out."

Mitchell worked at both free safety and strong safety with the Raiders' second team defense, pairing with former first-round pick Michael Huff. The two are listed behind starters Tyvon Branch and Hiram Eugene on Oakland's depth chart.

Other news and notes from the first day of the mini-camp:

X The team announced the signing of veteran fullback Lorenzo Neal, who the team acquired as insurance while Oren O'Neal continues to recover from major knee surgery.

"That guy has proven over time he probably can run any run scheme in the NFL because he's been in them all, and been very good," Cable said. "I'm not sure there's been as good a lead blocker in football maybe in the last 15, 20 years as that guy. And it's been documented by a lot of people. So I'm glad he's on our team, I'm glad we got him, and he definitely fits."

Neal had talked with other teams – Houston and Baltimore primarily – before signing with Oakland.

X Defensive end Derrick Burgess, who has one year remaining on his contract, did not practice after waking up Friday with the stomach flu.

X Louis Rankin has been the forgotten man in Oakland's backfield but the young running back looked strong in practice and isn't going away quietly. Twice he made quick cuts through small openings and made it into the secondary before the defense reacted.

Rankin is also wearing a new number this season, changing from 41 to 40. Neal is now wearing 40.

X Mario Henderson took all the reps at left tackle with the starting offense while newly acquired veteran lineman Khalif Barnes worked out with the second unit. Cornell Green, whose starting right tackle job is in jeopardy, practiced with the starters but had a tough morning workout and was tossed to the ground twice by an opposing defensive lineman.

X Jon Alston appears to be the front-runner for the strongside linebacker spot, a job he inherited last year when Ricky Brown suffered a groin injury. Brown is healthy and worked out at middle linebacker with the second- and third-team defenses, leaving Alston to handle the starting chores.

X Stanford Routt is the second-string cornerback behind Asomugha and Chris Johnson but will get the first crack at being Oakland's nickel back.

X Second-year wide receiver Chaz Schilens made the catch of the day when he made a leaping grab near the sidelines on a high pass thrown from backup quarterback Jeff Garcia.

X Heyward-Bey lined up to return punts in the afternoon practice, an experiment that lasted barely more than a minute. The rookie misjudged a kick from four-time Pro Bowl punter Shane Lechler and let the ball land far to his left. He then walked to the sidelines and began playing catch with an assistant coach.

X Defensive tackle William Joseph is wearing a new number – 94 – and seems to be playing with renewed energy. Joseph, who was cut in training camp last season before re-signing with the Raiders late in the year, made a nice play to bat a Garcia pass down at the line of scrimmage.

X All three quarterbacks had problems getting the snap from center. Gradkowski fumbled the exchange five times, Garcia four and Russell once. Part of the problem was that projected starting center Samson Satele is still recovering from offseason surgery and won't be practicing with the team during mini-camp. That left John Wade and Chris Morris to handle the workload, and the two centers and the three struggled to find a smooth rhythm.

X Tight end Zach Miller, who was the Raiders leader in receptions and receiving yardage in 2008, did not practice because of a sports hernia and isn't expected to be able to work out with the team until near the end of OTAs.

X Andrew Walter is the apparent odd man out in the Raiders quarterback race but remains on the team's roster. Walter didn't do much during practice and instead spent most of his afternoon watching while Russell, Garcia and Gradkowski worked the offense.

"He hasn't been part of the offseason program, and those other guys have and that's why you didn't see him really get any reps today, cause they're all prepared and ready to do this," Cable said. "And there's been some change in what we're doing offensively and so forth, so he's got some catching up to do."

X Defensive tackle Gerard Warren batted a Garcia pass into the air, allowing linebacker Thomas Howard to get under it and make the interception.

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