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Oakland Raiders' #12 Darrius Heyward-Bey just misses a pass during the afternoon practice session of the team's training camp Thursday, July 30, 2009, at their facility in Napa, Calif. (Anda Chu/Staff)

NAPA — Suffice it to say, this isn't the way rookie wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey envisioned his NFL career taking off.

Surely, he didn't anticipate numerous dropped passes in the first handful of training camp practices, on the heels of the Raiders signing him to a five-year contract that includes $23.5 million guaranteed.

Yet, it's the harsh reality facing Heyward-Bey and the Raiders as Heyward-Bey searches for some consistency and the Raiders for ways to get their prized pupil up to speed.

"He understands his job is to catch footballs," Raiders coach Tom Cable said, "and for him it is just a process of gaining confidence and getting comfortable every day at this level. And he is doing that by leaps and bounds. I am really not worried about it. He is just pressing. He just wants to impress you."

Heyward-Bey's struggles were punctuated by a play during Sunday's evening practice.

A pass from JaMarcus Russell floated toward its intended target without a defender in sight. Managing general partner Al Davis sat in a golf cart nearby as the play unfolded.

Heyward-Bey ran under the pass, raised his hands and "... clank.

Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha sympathizes with Heyward-Bey as a fellow first-round draft pick.

"It's as hard as you make it on yourself," Asomugha said. "When you put that pressure on yourself, it can become very hard."

The Raiders selected Heyward-Bey with the seventh pick of the NFL draft in April, ahead of every other receiver. They did so with the hope that Heyward-Bey's speed and experience in a pro-style offense at Maryland would give him a jump on other rookies such as Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree, whom the 49ers picked at No. 10.


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But speed and experience mean nothing if he can't catch the ball on a consistent basis. He dropped four passes in Monday's practice.

"When you drop a ball, you get frustrated, you say, 'Ah,' but you got to shake it off, go on to the next one," Heyward-Bey said. "I wouldn't say I'm pressing. I'm just trying to work through the kinks. That's football, it happens."

There were indications that Heyward-Bey's hands were a concern coming out of college. His coach at Maryland said as much.

"There would be times in practice he would really struggle," said Ralph Friedgen in a predraft interview.

To be fair, Friedgen also said Heyward-Bey has plenty of room to grow considering he left college a year early.

"He's one of those kids who was not only blessed with athleticism and speed, he's also got a great work ethic," Friedgen said. "He's not a finished product. He's 60 percent of what he's going to be. ... I'm very confident that in time, he'll be one of the top receivers" in the NFL.

Heyward-Bey's drops in training camp aren't an aberration, though. He dropped three straight passes during a May minicamp drill.

"I don't know a receiver that has ever played this game that has not had a drop or two here and there," Cable said. "Really, he is doing great."

The expectations on Heyward-Bey are enormous, for sure. That point was underscored by a post-practice meeting with Davis on Sunday.

Davis spoke with Heyward-Bey and receivers coach Sanjay Lal for several minutes, motioning with his arms and doing most of the talking.

"He just told me, 'We know how you play. We know you play in practice. Just keep doing what you do,'"‰" Heyward-Bey said. "I know what I've been doing for the last three years in college, and when I was in high school. I know how to prepare for games, and I know what to expect out of myself when it comes to the preseason games and regular-season games."