Football: Raiders’ Heyward-Bey remains confident despite struggles
ALAMEDA – Darrius Heyward-Bey has done nothing in the first half of his rookie season to quiet the critics who questioned why the Oakland Raiders drafted him seventh overall ahead of many more accomplished receivers.
Brought in for his breakaway speed that Oakland hoped would revive the vertical passing game, Heyward-Bey has only five catches for 74 yards and no touchdowns in his first eight games as a pro.
“I haven’t made the plays I wanted to make, but I’ve definitely been solid just looking at my grades that come out of the game. … I’ve been very solid. There’s always room for improvement as a whole receiving corps. We’ve been all right. We’ve been all right.”
Oakland’s receivers have once again been one of the worst groups in the league, catching just 28 passes the entire first half of the season.
But coach Tom Cable last week singled out Heyward-Bey’s performance in the previous two games as one of the highlights of the first half. Heyward-Bey had three catches for 38 yards in those two games, hardly the production expected out of a top 10 pick but better than what he had done in the first six games.
The Raiders drafted him ahead of receivers like Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin in part because he was the fastest player at the NFL combine. The pick was roundly criticized but the Raiders defended it, saying that Heyward-Bey’s experience in a pro-style offense at Maryland would make for an easier adjustment to the NFL.
But that has not been the case as Heyward-Bey has failed to develop a chemistry with quarterback JaMarcus Russell and failed to match the numbers put up so far by Crabtree and Maclin.
Maclin has caught 25 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns for Philadelphia, while Crabtree has 14 catches for 167 yards despite missing five games in a contract holdout.
Heyward-Bey just has the five, including none on passes that have gone more than 21 yards in the air – what was expected to be his specialty. Heyward-Bey said he didn’t have any specific numbers as his goals this season.
“I didn’t come in thinking any crazy numbers or anything,” Heyward-Bey said. “I just want to help this team win. We’ve only won two so I’m not helping.”
The Raiders have started a pair of rookies at receiver all season, with fourth-round pick Louis Murphy lining up opposite Heyward-Bey. While Murphy has better production that his rookie teammate with 16 catches for 232 yards and a touchdown, he has dropped six passes and has let mistakes linger and bring his entire performance down.
Murphy said the bye week came at a perfect time as he works on his adjustment to the NFL and expects a strong second half starting with Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
“It’s like being on a merry-go-round and it’s spinning real fast, you’ve got to hang on,” he said. “So it’s starting to slow down, starting to get adjusted, starting to get my game, playing together, and just my preparation for the game, settling and getting adjusted to the NFL.”
The rookie receivers will get a boost this week with the return of Chaz Schilens from a broken foot that has sidelined him since training camp.
Schilens struggled for much of his rookie season a year ago before breaking through with six catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns in his final two games. Schilens had just nine catches and no scores his first 14 games and hopes to see similar improvement late this season from Oakland’s rookies.
“They’re both confident guys,” Schilens said. “They’ve been out there for eight games now and I feel like they’re making improvements, now it’s all about making plays and continually growing. It’s not accepting what you did last week as being good enough, making plays, being assignment smart, all that stuff. And they’re doing it. They’re working on it.”
NOTES: DE Greg Ellis did not practice while recovering from minor operations on his knee and shoulder. He still could play this week if he can return to practice by Friday. … Cable has not decided on his starters at WR or RB for this week.