Saturday's solo practice, coming hours before the Raider Nation celebration and on the heels of what was widely recognized as one of the team's most lethargic workouts, had a significantly different feel to it.
Players seemed more on point, quarterback JaMarcus Russell looked good in a beat-the-clock drill for the most part and the intensity level was noticeably raised, as evidenced by the devastating block that running back Darren McFadden laid on defensive lineman Ryan Boschetti.
Boschetti, getting work at defensive end after being signed as a D tackle, was coming through the line when McFadden _ 100 pounds lighter _ leveled him with a hit that left the rest of the Raiders roaring their approval.
"Great job by our team to come back out and push through," head coach Tom Cable said. "That's really important right now, where they're at in terms of their fatigue and everything."
Getting players to get through "the wall" as it's called is one of the biggest challenges NFL head coaches face during training camp. It's particularly true when dealing with young players, who often get overwhelmed with the complexity and volume of plays, not to mention the physical part of things.
On Friday, the Raiders went through a mostly lackluster practice but rebounded nicely 24 hours later.
In addition to McFadden's hit on Boschetti, the other big highlight was a goal line drill in which the intensity _ and hitting _ were noticeably raised.
The starting defense, which was called for numerous offsides penalties earlier in the day during 9-on-7 drills, allowed an early rushing touchdown but shut the door on the offense after that. Three straight running plays from inside the 5-yard line netted no points. The second defense also shut the offense out of the end zone.
Cable explained his way of pushing the players through the dog days of camp.
"One, you talk them through," Cable said. "You tell them what you're doing and why, what the purpose is, and then you really have to rely on your leadership and your veterans to keep showing them the way, if you will. How to take care of your body, how to get up a little earlier. You've got a bunch of veterans that are up here at 6:15 in the morning, already starting to take care of their bodies and get warmed up and all that before they ever eat or anything. So, it's just teaching them how to do that."
Other news and notes from Saturday:
-- Quarterback JaMarcus Russell has had his issues with accuracy in camp and continued to deal with it Saturday, throwing a pass behind Todd Watkins that landed in the arms of safety Hiram Eugene for an interception.
But Russell looked better in a drill from midfield in which the offense was down by six points with 50 seconds left to play. He rifled two long completions down the middle of the field _ his best back-to-back throws of camp _ to get the offense down close, then missed on his final throw on a pass that should have been intercepted by linebacker Ricky Brown near the goal line.
The pass to Brown aside, Russell looked confident and comfortable running the offense and seemed to actually play better under the gun than he usually has operating the offense in normal drills.
"Where I've seen a lot of growth at this point in just a short amount of time is he's getting confidence that people will be where they belong and the ball's coming out faster," passing game coordinator Ted Tollner said. "Everything happens so fast from the college level to the pro level as far as pass rush and protection, you can't put your offensive line and protectors in jeopardy by hanging onto the ball. The stress that (QB coach Paul Hackett has) had with him to fit into our whole scenario right now is we have to get the ball out on time. He's buying in and he's doing it and he's making plays and making throws. And then the strong arm comes out. Instead of waiting for everything to happen and then gunning it in there, anticipate it, it's even more effective."
-- Cornerback John Bowie, the player the Raiders got with the draft pick obtained from New England in the Randy Moss trade, had a rough morning. Rookie Louis Murphy abused Bowie at the line of scrimmage with a quick juke to avoid Bowie's jam attempt and create a two-yard separation, then later made another nice reception against Bowie. Chaz Schilens also burned Bowie for a long completion in wide receiver vs. defensive back drills.
-- Cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha (hip) and Chris Johnson (knee) returned to practice but the rest of the injured players (wide receiver Javon Walker, quarterback Jeff Garcia, guards Robert Gallery and Mark Wilson, and tackle Khaliff Barnes) were held out.
-- Middle linebacker Kirk Morrison continues to get the majority of his work with the second-team defense. Still too early to say he's lost his starting job to Ricky Brown, but the more he doesn't work with the starters, the more it raises questions.
-- Defensive tackle Gerard Warren led the defensive turnaround later in practice, easily collapsing the pocket and getting to Russell for what would have been a sack.
-- Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey looks infinitely better than he did during his first training camp practice. The first-round draft pick still isn't as sharp as he needs to be, but at least he's hanging onto the ball better. He made a very nice sideline catch on a pass from Bruce Gradkowski, beating cornerback Jason Horton.
-- Horton, who has had troubles staying with receivers early in camp, intercepted a pass from Gradkowski in the end zone during the beat-the-clock drill but then made the foolish decision to come out then stepped out of bounds at the 3-yard line.
-- The defense showed a 3-1-7 look, which is essentially the prevent. Thomas Howard was the only linebacker on the field.
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