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Getting Darrius Heyward-Bey involved in Raiders offense requires tweaks

DHB with a dropped pass in practice
(TFDSsports photo/Patrick A. Patterson)

Oakland Raiders first round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey has all of one catch for 19 yards through three games. That is only one more than the receiver they passed on who has yet to sign with the San Francisco 49ers, with whom DHB was expected to be inexorably linked.

Much has been made of quarterback JaMarcus Russell’s inability to find any type of consistency with his passing, while a very present and real concern, is also inevitably tied to the inexperience of the wide receivers. It is imperative for the quarterback to know where the wide receiver is going to be before the receiver gets there so the pass can be waiting for him. As of right now, the only receiver that Russell has that connection with is Zach Miller. Chaz Schilens and Russell seemed to be poised to have that connection, as well, but Schilens has been out since the second week of the preseason.

This makes the play of the wide receivers on the field that much more important. The Raiders took a huge gamble by starting two rookie wide receivers in DHB and fourth round pick Louis Murphy. As it stands, this gamble has been a complete bust, as the passing game hasn’t come anywhere close to being in sync. Of the two, Murhpy has been the more reliable receiver, and the pressure is building on DHB, as are the whispers of bust despite his only having three games under his belt.

As disconcerting and publicized as his drops have been, his seeming inability to be in the right place to make a reception is even more of a cause for a concern. Russell gets much of the blame for being off target, but DHB has this habit of being a beat late off the line following the snap. The ball gets snapped, you could almost count one alligator before DHB is out of his stance and into his route. The passing game is predicated on timing, and being a full beat off the line is going to both the timing of any route. It also gives the defensive back a definite advantage in diagnosing the play, as even one second is an eternity during an NFL play. During that second, the defensive back can diagnose by the actions of the line and Russell whether it is going to be a pass play or a run play. If the db sees the run keys, he can abandon DHB just as he would be headed out to his route as a decoy or getting ready to place a block. This is a case where wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal needs to work with the rookie to get that ironed out.

It would seem counter-intuitive, but probably the best thing they could do for DHB right now would be to take him out of the starting role and use him in a more limited role where he can make some catches and make plays after the catch. Using him for some slot and underneath plays where he could be aided by a mismatch would be a good start. They should also try some hitch routes and bubble-screens where it is a short pass with an easy catch, and he can use his speed to make plays with the ball.

As it stands, the pressure will only increase on the young receiver, and it is obvious that having him running the deeper routes on nearly every play is not being effective. The 1999 Rams were known for their “quick strike” ability, but the vast majority of those plays were short to medium range passes, where a member of that track team receiving corps would make someone miss and turn it into a highlight reel touchdown. For that matter, Johnnie Lee Higgins’s 84 yard touchdown catch against Buffalo in 2008 was a 10-15 yard slant that Higgins was able to catch in stride and use his speed to take it the rest of the way for a touchdown.

The definition of insanity is said to be doing the same thing repeatedly, yet expecting different results. By that definition through three games, the Raiders offense is insane.

You can also find Patrick Patterson on EXAMINER.com

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