NAPA -- No matter how many passes DeMarcus Van Dyke breaks up during training camp, he realizes that every time the ball hits the ground, there's someone in Florida looking for him to do just a little bit more.
"I went home and my mama told me, 'DeMarcus, I'm your No. 1 fan, but you dropped way too many interceptions last year,' " Van Dyke said.
Following a rookie season where he learned about life as an NFL cornerback the hard way, Van Dyke has been one of the Raiders' most impressive defenders through three days in training camp.
During Wednesday's first padded practice, Van Dyke went stride-for-stride with wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey some 40 yards downfield and broke up a Carson Palmer pass at the top of his leap.
It's one of at least a half-dozen pass breakups Van Dyke has had through three practices during drill work and team sessions. He's slapped away long sideline passes, sideline routes and slants.
Working with the first unit as free agent signee Ron Bartell rests a tender hamstring, Van Dyke looks like a budding football player rather than another combine flash taken by the late Al Davis.
Although he didn't start much of his senior year at Miami, Van Dyke torched the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine with a time of 4.28. The Raiders took him in the third round with the 81st overall pick.
Van Dyke appeared to have little going for him other than all that speed and an affable manner. Reed-thin at 6-foot-1 and 177 pounds, he was thrown into the mix in the exhibition season and promptly gave up a 43-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald in the 2011 exhibition opener.
He worked his way onto the field because of injuries to Chris Johnson and fellow rookie Chimdi Chekwa, but then struggled. Van Dyke took a shot to the ribs on Nov. 6 against Denver, surrendering his starting spot to veteran Lito Sheppard, who was signed only a week earlier. He rarely saw the field the rest of the season.
Free safety Michael Huff thinks Van Dyke's confidence may have taken an early hit last season. Van Dyke conceded losing playing time the second half of the season was discouraging, but said, "I tried to stay positive, because positive thoughts create positive outcomes."
Cornerback Shawntae Spencer, signed as a free agent and in line to be the other starting cornerback, has been impressed.
"He's made some very, very good plays," Spencer said. "He's a very quick corner, a very fast corner, and a very long corner as well. He has great instincts. I'm very impressed with the young man's game."
Raiders coach Dennis Allen likes what he's seen, but wants more.
"He's been consistent. He still makes some young-player mistakes that we've got to get coached out of him, but he makes a little bit of progress every day," Allen said. "He's not where he needs to be yet, but he's got to continue to work and continue to keep getting better and learn the little nuances of the game."
For Van Dyke, the next step is satisfying his mother.
"Pass breakups are nice, interceptions are better," Van Dyke said.
"I feel like I had a pretty decent practice, so I know I can compete, now it's just about getting better," Crawford said.