Darrius Heyward-Bey, is that really you?
Just a year ago, the wide receiver was impossible to miss in the Raiders' offense, mostly because he missed everything thrown his way.
But at Wednesday's team workout, Heyward-Bey continued his emergence as a stunningly central figure in the Raiders' passing attack, and for only positive reasons.
At one point, Jason Campbell dropped back and threw in perfect rhythm to Heyward-Bey, who raced past two defenders on a post route, leapt and hauled in a 30-yard touchdown.
Later, Heyward-Bey shook off tight outside coverage by Walter McFadden, then made a quick move inside as Campbell heaved a prayer after avoiding a heavy rush.
Result: Another TD,
Even in a noncontact June workout, this was crazy stuff to witness after Heyward-Bey's flustered, properly criticized rookie performance last season.
This year, Heyward-Bey has a new number (85, after wearing No. 12 last year) and a new quarterback (Campbell in, JaMarcus Russell out), and he has always had Al Davis in his corner.
Heyward-Bey was lost last year. Now, he's found? Well, he's at least on the road to figuring it out.
In these OTAs, Campbell clearly is looking to DHB with a purpose — reflexively zeroing in on him even when he isn't the first option.
"He's looking for me," Heyward-Bey said brightly of Campbell. "When I'm out there, I'm just thinking the ball's coming to me every down, no
Wait. Let's repeat that: The QBs are looking for Heyward-Bey.
"Yeah, they are," said coach Tom Cable, smiling. "I think when you haven't had many big plays and you're having that kind of explosiveness, as a quarterback, you want to get hooked up with that."
Of course, neither of the Raiders' starting cornerbacks were at Wednesday's voluntary workout. Plus, in a no-contact situation, the offense usually has the upper hand.
But the Raiders' offense has floundered many times in similarly favored situations, and Heyward-Bey has never looked this much like an actual NFL receiver.
After Davis selected him seventh overall in the 2009 draft, DHB batted around the decent passes thrown his way and made dismal efforts when Russell was off target.
Result: nine catches in 11 games, for 124 yards, with a paltry long gain of 24 yards for one of the fastest men in the NFL.
The 49ers took Michael Crabtree three picks later, and though he missed the first five games in a holdout, he still ended up with 48 catches for 625 yards.
"Everybody said the spotlight was on me," Heyward-Bey said. "But I don't look at it that way. I came out here, I tried to become a good teammate, good player for this team, and I'll take it for what it is.
"Last year's last year; this year's this year."
The affable Heyward-Bey is clearly a popular figure with his teammates. Other receivers constantly were in his ear with praise Wednesday, and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson bellowed with joy at several deep plays.
After practice, Heyward-Bey walked off the field alongside Darren McFadden, both smiling and chuckling.
This wasn't a one-day fluke: DHB has been starring in these workouts for a few weeks. What's the difference now?
"I've just been using my speed to my advantage," Heyward-Bey said. "I can move the defense around the way I want to, and that's just by listening to Hue and to Coach (Sanjay) Lal about how to use my speed out there."
This week, receiver Chaz Schilens got back to practice after foot surgery, which means, with Louis Murphy and DHB, the Raiders have their top three projected receivers working with Campbell.
But Wednesday afternoon the NFL and players union announced that, because of unspecified violations of the OTA rules, the Raiders must cancel two scheduled workouts next week.
That's not necessarily a huge deal (it's June!), but any repetitions are important for Campbell, Heyward-Bey and the rest of the offense in the post-JaMarcus era.
"I'm just going to focus on who's here now — Jason's here," Heyward-Bey said. "He's focused, he's ready. And he really wants to do well out here. A quarterback like that, I'm happy that he's on our team right now."
In fact, Heyward-Bey said he and Campbell went out for lunch together Tuesday.
It's all part of a more convivial locker room, mostly due, Heyward-Bey said, to Campbell, fullback Rock Cartwright and other veteran newcomers.
"Everybody's wanting to go out to eat, go over to San Fran, get some dinner, go to the movies or something," Heyward-Bey said. "It's more of a team this year.
"I don't know if that's because Jason came, but the teammates we have here all want to come together and be one."
So, they're bonding, the quarterback is leading, and DHB is an OTA go-to guy. It's only June, but it's the Raiders' best June in years and years.