Raiders rookie wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey had a quiet game in his NFL debut on Monday night, but he was quite vociferous on Wednesday toward those who questioned his impact, ability and readiness.
Heyward-Bey started against the San Diego Chargers opposite fellow rookie receiver Louis Murphy. Heyward-Bey dropped one pass, had another hit off his hands and finished the game without a reception.
Murphy caught four passes for 87 yards, including a 57-yarder that resulted in a go-ahead touchdown with 2:34 left in a game the Raiders lost 24-20.
The day after, coach Tom Cable said it appeared Heyward-Bey was "real nervous" and an "uptight young man, (with) a lot of big eyes."
Heyward-Bey, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft, had a different take.
"I felt the same I always did since I've been playing in high school," Heyward-Bey said while preparing for Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs. "I did what the coaches asked me to do when it came to running routes and everything, so I felt it was pretty solid.
"As long as the coaches notice, that's all that matters. I don't really care what the fans think or what anybody else thinks. As long as they see I'm doing the job they want me to do, they're the ones paying me."
Look beyond the statistics, Heyward-Bey said. Don't pay so much attention to the fact that he didn't catch any of the four passes directed his way.
His role transcends catching balls, he said. Oftentimes, his primary job is to draw attention away from the other receivers, Heyward-Bey added.
As evidence, the rookie from Maryland pointed to the production of Murphy, a fourth-round draft pick, and tight end Zach Miller. They combined for 10 catches for 183 yards and a touchdown.
"Just the fact that I'm out there, Louis had four catches and Zach had six," Heyward-Bey pointed out. "That's more than what any receiver had all last year put together almost. If you look at it that way, it's great. If you look at it the other way, you're like, 'When is it going to happen?' I look at it the other way. We're improving as a team."
Cable agreed Heyward-Bey's speed and deep-threat ability force teams to account for him at times with two defenders, which helps out elsewhere.
"He's already pulling coverage toward him because of his speed, and that definitely showed up," Cable said Wednesday. "That is a part of his responsibility, and a big part. But at the same time, he's got to grow in all facets, whether it's blocking, catching, running the route, pulling the coverage, whatever that is. You just want to get him as close to a complete player as quickly as we can."
Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe is in his third NFL season. He said it's understandable for a young receiver to start off slow.
"Oh, man, my first NFL game, I got hit so hard that I didn't know where I was, first of all," Bowe said in a conference call with Bay Area media Wednesday.
Bowe finished with three catches for 42 yards in his first regular-season game. He said encouraging words from veteran players calmed his nerves and helped him find his way before long.
"I had jitters until I got my first catch (two plays into the opener)," Bowe said. "Can you just imagine (what it's like) just shaking? If you're a playmaker, you're a playmaker. Once you tell yourself that and don't lose confidence, all the great receivers drop balls, mess up here and there, but it's how you come back that makes you special."
Raiders receiver Javon Walker said it's too early for the veterans to chime in. Heyward-Bey just needs to listen to his coaches and plug along until it becomes natural.
"It is something that should be expected," Walker said of the early struggles. "You got two rookies starting in their first game ever. I was a rookie at one point in time, but I never got put in that position. Eventually as time goes on, they will get more comfortable. You take what you know, and eventually you will go out and play football."