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Raider receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey during a mandatory mini-camp at the Raiders training facility in Alameda, Calif. on Friday, April 30, 2010. (Dean Coppola/Staff)
Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey had his best practice in a Raiders uniform Wednesday, and I can tell you precisely at which moment I began taking notice.
When quarterback Jason Campbell threw about a 40-yard pass into the end zone, I asked colleague Jerry McDonald to remind me who was wearing the No. 85 jersey while making that touchdown reception. Either I forgot that Heyward-Bey changed his number from 12 to 85 this offseason, or I've never seen Heyward-Bey actually catch a pass instead of slapping it to the ground.
Later in practice, Heyward-Bey made a tip-toe catch in the back left corner of the end zone on a perfectly thrown fade pass by Campbell. A corner fade, by a Raiders quarterback? A touchdown catch, by Heyward-Bey? What a bewildering day.
When Heyward-Bey slipped past million-dollar-a-game cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha on a short reception, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson loudly and playfully mocked Asomugha.
"I don't think there's any question, Darrius was really on today," Raiders coach Tom Cable said. "A lot of things went into that. The quarterbacks threw him a lot of balls on time. He caught the ball well, made a move with it after the catch that was most impressive. That was a very good day for him."
The quarterbacks threw on time? Yes, folks, the JaMarcus Russell era is done. Campbell looked smooth, sharp and genuinely efficient.
All that optimism should be kept in check, somewhat. Organized team activities are set up in such a way (non-contact) that passing games SHOULD be looking dominant.
Any positive strides are giant ones for Heyward-Bey after a terrible rookie season. Drafted seventh overall last year, he had nine catches for 124 yards and one touchdown -- all season.
Other notes I jotted down from this week's lone media-friendly session: The Raiders' defensive line looked rawer and thinner than usual, and that's because not only is franchised-player Richard Seymour still absent but Tommy Kelly was "excused" from Wednesday's session, according to Cable. If a deal can be made for disgruntled Redskins millionaire Albert Haynesworth, the Raiders should do it. Heyward-Bey practiced like a No. 1 receiver, and he entered practice as the default No. 1 considering the thin receiving corps. Dare the Raiders add Terrell Owens. They should have done so a couple years ago. Owens is 36 and more consumed with being a reality star than a real receiver. Still, he would give the Raiders a physical presence their receiving corps lacks. Second-year defensive tackle Desmond Bryant got into a scuffle with backup guard Brandon Rodd. Rookie defensive end Lamarr Houston seemed to love it. Not sure what it really did for anyone else, though. Bryant has bigger battles to face this season if the Raiders don't get him more help in their line rotation. Kyle Boller threw a 35-yard rocket into the end zone to Yamon Figurs. I'll project the Raiders' season-opening quarterback depth chart as: Campbell, Bruce Gradkowski (assuming his pectoral is healed) and Boller, with Charlie Frye missing the cut. Lamest moment of the day -- but hopefully an inside joke among them -- was an end zone celebration that took place after Heyward-Bey caught a touchdown pass. Jubialintly joining him in the end zone were Tony Stewart, Marcel Reece and Louis Murphy. Celebrating a touchdown in a May OTA? Well, considering Heyward-Bey had only one touchdown catch as a rookie, maybe this was in the vault for too long. All that said, my column for Thursday focuses on left tackle Mario Henderson. Without him protecting Campbell, there won't be any great days like Wednesday's for Heyward-Bey & Co. For more on Raiders OTAs, here is Jerry Mac's blog entry: http://www.ibabuzz.com/oaklandraiders/2010/05/26/raiders-finally-come-to-pass/
Look for Cam Inman's Web-only "Candid Cam" takes whenever there's a breaking sports story, or whenever Cam's got something to say _ in short, just about every day. You can reach Cam at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him at twitter.com/CamInman.