NAPA, Calif. -- Javon Walker broke off the line, ran a comeback route and pulled in a pass from Jeff Garcia.
What looked like a routine catch in a training camp practice for a former Pro Bowl player, was a lot more considering that Walker has undergone surgery on his left ankle and right knee since last playing in an NFL game more than nine months ago.
"It felt good. Just glad to be out there practicing," Walker said after Monday's practice.
Walker had been on the physically-unable-to-perform list since camp opened last month following a mysterious offseason knee operation that he isn't quite ready to talk about. Walker's first season in Oakland ended early with a broken ankle, meaning he was coming back from two serious injuries.
So while Monday was a big step in his comeback, it felt a lot easier running some routes and catching passes than the rehabilitation has been these past few months.
"The rehab part is the hard part. The easy part is being out there practicing and catching balls now," he said. "The rehab part, that's the part that gets you ready for going out there and competing with those guys. That made the transition real easy."
Walker said some of his teammates didn't even recognize him out there at first since it's been so long since he has practiced. But it all came back quickly to him.
He spent more time catching passes from former quarterback and current intern Danny Southwick than he did running patterns as the Raiders try to bring him back slowly. Walker is expected to play on Saturday against New Orleans.
"He looked a little rusty but he ran some good routes, caught some balls, looked decent in individual," coach Tom Cable said. "We'll kind of bring him along a little more each day as we go through the week."
Walker had a difficult first season with the Raiders after signing a $55 million, six-year free-agent deal. He was criticized by former coach Lane Kiffin for being out of shape during offseason workouts, was seriously injured during a robbery in Las Vegas, and then contemplated retirement early in training camp.
He had just 15 catches for 196 yards and one touchdown in eight games before going down with a season-ending ankle injury. He renegotiated his contract to take a $27 million pay cut in the offseason before surprising the Raiders by undergoing the operation on his knee in an undisclosed foreign country in April. He has not revealed what kind of procedure it was, saying only that it will change sports medicine when people find out.
Walker appears to be back to his old self again, saying his knee has never felt any better and his task know is getting back into rhythm.
"Basically a lot of it is getting timing with the quarterbacks and playing football," he said. "I felt comfortable about my ability. It was just getting out there and doing it with everybody else. Trying to make sure I was doing everything right."
Walker missed eight games in 2007 for Denver because of an injury to the knee and said it bothered him most of last season.
He hopes to be back to the level he was at in 2004, when he had 89 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns for Green Bay. He had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns in his first season with the Broncos in 2006, but has only 1,545 yards in his other five seasons combined because of injuries and other factors.
The Raiders are counting on Walker this season because he is one of the only experienced receivers on the roster. Rookies Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy started the most recent preseason game. Second-year receiver Chaz Schilens had emerged in training camp as JaMarcus Russell's go-to receiver but could miss the first month of the season with a broken bone in his foot.
Of the 10 other receivers on the roster, four are rookies including first-round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey, two others have never caught a pass in the NFL, and only one, Samie Parker (110 catches), has more than 30 receptions in his career.
Notes: Cable said he has not been contacted by the NFL or by the Napa police in response to reports that he got into a fight with defensive assistant Randy Hanson that left Hanson with a broken bone in his face. ... The Raiders signed LB Napoleon Harris and released CB Ricky Manning Jr. Oakland needed depth at MLB after losing Kirk Morrison for two weeks to a dislocated elbow
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press