Raiders to start two rookie receivers against Saints
August 28, 2009
OAKLAND – When the Oakland Raiders offense takes the field for the first time in Saturday’s exhibition game against the New Orleans Saints, there will be two rookies lining up at wide receiver.
Coach Tom Cable said Friday he wouldn’t be concerned sending Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy out as starters when the season starts either.
“Shoot, they’re doing really, really well, both of them,” Cable said. “They just keep getting better as they have progressed all the time. That’s enabled us to do it.”
Cable plans to play his starters for the first half and possibly into the third quarter in what is really the final dress rehearsal for the season opener Sept. 14 against San Diego. The Raiders will likely rest many of their starters in next week’s exhibition finale at Seattle.
That gives Heyward-Bey and Murphy a big opportunity to shine this week after Oakland’s passing offense had its best week of practice yet.
The Raiders are counting on the two rookies, especially with Chaz Schilens out with a broken bone in his left foot and Javon Walker coming back from ankle and knee surgery.
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Walker said he’s looking forward to getting back on the field for the first time since breaking his ankle last November against Carolina. He also had knee surgery in the offseason and missed more than three weeks of training camp.
Cable did not say how long Walker would play Saturday. Walker just wants to show he can still produce and can keep up with the speedy youngsters Oakland added in the offseason.
“These guys have so much speed, I’m basically trying to look like them,” Walker said. “Every generation is a different breed and I guess this breed they brought in here this year all has speed. So, I’m trying to look like them.”
Walker is the only veteran in the receiving corps. No other receiver on the roster has more than 30 career catches so the young players look to Walker for advice.
“He’s that vet we can all lean on,” Heyward-Bey said. “We’re just happy he came back strong. You see him make a play, you want to make a play. Same goes for him. We make a play, he wants to make a play.”
While the Raiders are looking for starting receivers, the Saints have plenty with Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson and Robert Meacham. It’s the running game that has been the priority for New Orleans this season.
The Saints are looking to add balance to an offense that led the NFL with 311.1 yards passing per game a year ago but ranked 28th in rushing at just under 100 yards per game.
“That’s good for us because we still need to work on the run game defensively,” Cable said.
New Orleans released Deuce McAllister in the offseason, turning over the running game to Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas. Bush has only three carries so far in the preseason, gaining 5 yards in the opener against Cincinnati before missing last week’s game in Houston with a strained right calf.
Bush had surgery last December to repair cartilage in his left knee and the Saints have been taking it easy with him this summer. He is questionable for the game.
Thomas will miss this week’s game with a sprained knee, giving even more time to Mike Bell, who has been a star of training camp for the Saints.
Bell had 10 carries for 100 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown run in Houston last week, showing signs that he could be the power back the Saints are looking for to pair with Bush.
“Mike’s a guy ever since he’s gotten here, he’s been better and better, the more opportunities he gets and the more comfortable he gets with the offense as we become comfortable with him,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “He showed what he could do the other night and just ran hard and took advantage of these opportunities. He’s the guy who might be the MVP of training camp. I think he understands what we need from that third running back position. I see him playing a role if he continues to run like that.”
Oakland will be without running back Justin Fargas, who is nursing a hamstring injury. Michael Bush will start this week, with Darren McFadden also expected to get time with the starters.
Backup quarterback Jeff Garcia will play much of the second half, pushing the competition between Charlie Frye and Bruce Gradkowski for the third QB spot to next week.