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Ronald Curry is shaping up to be the Raiders' most dependable receiving threat again this season.
NAPA _ Another training camp, another search for a No. 1 receiver. It is becoming an annual event as July turns to August on the fields behind the Napa Marriott, as predictable as the running of the Wine Train on the tracks alongside Highway 29.

It never happened in Oakland for Jerry Porter, whether it was his Cold War with Art Shell, an ill-timed injury or his own inability to step up and make the most of what seemed to be a top-drawer skill set.

Randy Moss, revered in New England, was reviled in Oakland for his disinterest in contributing to what he believed was a lost cause.

The latest candidate to put up Tim Brown-Jerry Rice numbers is Javon Walker, who is bringing in more baggage than Moss, if that's possible. Walker departed Green Bay and Denver on bad terms, and conceded there is a perception that he leaves teams when unhappy.

He also said it is his right as an American to do just that.

The guess here is when it comes to third-and-8 and JaMarcus Russell drops back to pass, he won't be any different than Kerry Collins, Aaron Brooks, Andrew Walter, Josh McCown or Daunte Culpepper in one regard.

He will look for Ronald Curry and keep the chains moving.

And the good news for the Raiders is that their leading receiver the past two seasons might also be their most improved player in 2008.

Freed from the maintenance and rehab that comes with serious injury, Curry discovered the weight room and muscles he never knew he had. He weighed 212 pounds last season and is now 204.

``He looks like he got skinny but he got cut,'' strong safety Jarrod Cooper said. ``Once you start seeing changes in your body, you buy into it.''

Curry never had any great aversion to weightlifting, but the demands of his roles as a college quarterback and point guard at North Carolina prevented total immersion. Now he is one often one of the last players to emerge from post-practice workouts and stretching.

``I guess I got caught into the quarterback-basketball way of lifting, not really too hard, more of not wanting to mess up the jump shot and stuff,'' Curry said. ``It kind of became me. But I don't mind working. I like working, actually. It's just something else to work toward. You get in there and see results and you feel results.''

The genesis of the new Curry was a bit of locker room humor, with the hard-muscled Porter chastising him about the shape of his body. Curry played the season with a bone spur in his left foot and still caught a team-high 55 passes for 717 yards.

But there were more dropped passes than usual, and at the end of the season coach Lane Kiffin told Curry he wanted more.

``Kiff came to me and said they would really like to see me hit the weights hard this season, so I did,'' Curry said.

He had surgery to remove the bone spur _ small potatoes for a guy who may be the only athlete to have rehabbed from three Achilles' tears and still compete at a high level.

The Raiders are letting him take off a practice now and then on double days, but Curry has been catching everything in sight. He looks more fresh and fast than at any point during his career in Oakland.

``He's improved as much as anybody out here from the end of last season until now,'' Kiffin said. ``He's changed his body structure completely. We just talked a lot about it toward the end of last season. He it took it to heart and he's changed himself.''

Keep in mind the ``old Curry'' was pretty special. His athletic prowess in high school is unrivaled in Virginia, where he was Parade All-American in football and basketball. Corey Maggette, the newest Golden State Warrior, lost a slam-dunk contest to Curry at the McDonald's All-America game.

Curry is the guy whose skill forced Tim Brown off the roster. He led the Raiders in receiving the past two years and owns two of the most spectacular catches in franchise history, his one-handed miracle in Denver in 2004 and a leaping catch of a Culpepper pass in Minnesota last season.

Last season, 30.9 percent of Curry's receptions were third-down conversions. That's a higher rate than Moss, Terrell Owens, Reggie Wayne or Chad Johnson and one of the best figures in the NFL.

Curry shakes of Achilles' tears as if they were hangnails. Nothing he does surprises his teammates.

``He's an anomaly to the game,'' cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. ``He'll get injured, it will be the most serious injury ever, then he'll come back and look like he hasn't lost anything.''

Call off the search for the Raiders' No. 1 receiver.

It's the same guy it has been for the last two years.

Only better.

Contact Jerry McDonald at jmcdonald@bayareanewsgroup.com.