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Heyward-Bey gets NFL introduction as Raiders open minicamp

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Darrius Heyward-Bey ran an inside route against Nnamdi Asomugha only to see the pass from JaMarcus Russell broken up by the Raiders' All-Pro cornerback.

"I came back and I just went, 'All right. I'm not in college anymore,'" Heyward-Bey said.

Heyward-Bey began his indoctrination into the NFL on Friday at the first day of Oakland's mandatory minicamp, showing signs of the big-play ability that attracted the Raiders and the inexperience he has to overcome after leaving college a year early.

2008 Stats (college)
Catches: 42

Yards: 609

TDs: 5

Take that play against Asomugha. Heyward-Bey tipped off the route with his eyes, a mistake that might not have been an issue against college cornerbacks but is a big mistake against the more experienced competition in the NFL.

"There's some easy giveaways right now. I'll talk to him about that stuff," Asomugha said. "I saw his eyes. He can't give it away with his eyes, but this was his first practice. I wasn't watching him so I don't know how well he did. But he has speed and speed is always a threat."

Heyward-Bey didn't get to show off the blazing speed that made him the fastest player at the NFL combine and helped contribute to the Raiders' much-questioned decision to pick him seventh ahead of more heralded receivers Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin.

But he still impressed his new teammates.

"He's going to open a lot of eyes," Russell said. "No matter who you're up against, they always have to account for him."

Coach Tom Cable praised Heyward-Bey for his intelligence and ability to quickly learn an NFL offense. But Heyward-Bey knows the adjustment won't be easy, saying at one time it was "too bad you can't redshirt here."

Heyward-Bey knows the Raiders can't be patient after losing at least 11 games for an NFL-record sixth straight season. The Raiders need plenty of help at wide receiver after getting just 82 catches from the position last season, led by Johnnie Lee Higgins' 22.

That's why Heyward-Bey opened his first practice with the starters, a signal from Cable that he will be counted on quickly.

"This is the best level," Heyward-Bey said. "Now you just have to go out here and perform. You want to hope you get on the field and make plays. If that's Year 1 or Year 2, you just hope that that happens and just hope that you stay healthy. Because if I'm healthy, I'm going to be able to make plays."

Heyward-Bey caught just 13 touchdown passes in three seasons at Maryland, never reaching 800 yards receiving in a season. He had career lows last season with 42 catches for 609 yards to go with his five touchdown catches.

There were questions about his hands, but he looked good catching balls in a practice setting on Friday. He even showed the ability to adjust on a deep ball from Bruce Gradkowski to make a long catch against backup Darrick Brown.

"Those are the kinds of things, if you listened and people wrote, that he couldn't do some of those things, and you saw it for yourself," Cable said. "Those are the reasons we took the kid. The kid's going to be a really fine player and we'll just let it play itself out."

While Heyward-Bey was projected by almost everyone as a first-round pick, Oakland's second-round choice caused even more consternation among the draft experts.

The Raiders traded down seven spots before drafting safety Mike Mitchell 47th overall. Mitchell was so overlooked that he wasn't even invited to the scouting combine and was projected by most as a late-round pick or undrafted free agent.

The hubbub over the pick turned the overlooked player from Ohio into one of the more scrutinized. The pick was discussed on all the draft shows, his college highlight video became a YouTube sensation and Raiders fans have e-mailed him in support.

Mitchell is fueled by the criticism, deciding not to take any days off after the draft to work even harder so he could prove he's worthy of his selection.

"That was the spark I needed to make sure I was back in the weight room that Monday and going hard," he said. "I knew I had a lot to prove, but that just made it even more evident I had to prove myself even more."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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