ALAMEDA — It was like Christmas morning for Raiders coach Tom Cable on Friday.
At his disposal were the numerous gifts bestowed on him in recent months in the form of free-agent signings, draft selections and re-signed players.
Naturally, Cable went straight for the biggest package, the one with the shiny wrapping and eye-catching bow. He just couldn't wait any longer to take the wraps off rookie wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Cable lined up Heyward-Bey to the left with the starting offense on the first play, opposite All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Then Cable stood back and watched.
Heyward-Bey broke from the line of scrimmage, called upon the speed that compelled the Raiders to select him at No. 7 in the NFL draft last month and sprinted downfield.
Heyward-Bey broke off his route, cut inside and turned his head toward quarterback JaMarcus Russell as the ball traveled toward his outstretched hands.
Asomugha played off Heyward-Bey's body language, broke for the ball at the same time, cut in front of the tall, strapping receiver and reached the ball before Heyward-Bey knew what happened.
"I came back,"and I just went, 'All right, I'm not in college anymore,'" Heyward-Bey said of his welcome-to-the-NFL moment,
No, he's not. He's in the NFL as a high-profile member of a Raiders team that is counting on him to deliver the kind of plays that were few and far between in the Raiders passing game last season.
Heyward-Bey, 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, was the first receiver selected in the NFL draft this year. The Raiders targeted him ahead of Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree and Missouri's Jeremy Maclin, in part, because of his ability to get open downfield and run under deep throws.
Yet, as Heyward-Bey learned during Oakland's mandatory three-day minicamp over the weekend, he has a way to go before he reaches the comfort level he enjoyed in three seasons at Maryland.
"He needs to get it all thrown at him as quickly as possible," Cable said, "so we can get through some of those hurdles that you know are coming to a rookie. But he's a brilliant young man, so he's going to handle this rather quickly."
Heyward-Bey's growing pains intensified Saturday during the morning practice. He dropped catchable passes on three straight plays in a drill without defenders.
He didn't need anyone to tell him that he has to make those plays. Still, veteran quarterback Jeff Garcia pulled him aside and offered encouragement. Heyward-Bey seemed to take things in stride.
"There's no pressure," Heyward-Bey said. "Football's football. It's just that this is the best level. Now you just have to go out here and perform. "... If I'm healthy, I'm going to be able to make plays."
That self-confidence was in evidence on a play Heyward-Bey made Friday, when he slowed for an underthrown pass, adjusted his body and made the catch.
"Those are the reasons we took the kid," Cable said. "The kid's going to be a really fine player, and we'll just let it play itself out. "... A lot of the criticisms that were spoken, he'll just keep proving that they're not true."
Notes: Cable explained Heyward-Bey's failure to practice Saturday afternoon by saying he suffered from fatigue and soreness. Heyward-Bey said: "I just tightened up. My legs are a little too tight "... Running too fast." That last part was punctuated with laughter. "... Receiver Javon Walker said he is pain-free on the heels of the surgery he had on his right knee last month. He is sidelined until training camp in late July. He estimated that he played last season at 65 percent, at best, and that his right knee hasn't been pain-free since he sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in 2005. "... Rookie receiver Louis Murphy and rookie safety Mike Mitchell also missed practice with soreness. Left guard Robert Gallery (calf), defensive tackle Gerard Warren (pectoral) and defensive tackle Derrick Burgess (flu) were among the veterans who didn't practice. "... The Raiders convene again for voluntary organized team activities May 19-21, Cable said. They will participate in 12 OTA days overall, ending in mid-June.
Contact Steve Corkran at firstname.lastname@example.org