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Walker looks to return to form coming off knee injury

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Javon Walker has some experience bouncing back from knee surgery and a change of teams to return to his level as an elite wide receiver in the NFL.

The Oakland Raiders are hoping he can pull off the trick once again. After a torn knee ligament cost Walker all but one game in Green Bay in 2005, he was traded to Denver where he caught 69 passes for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns in his first season with the Broncos.

The revival lasted only one season as Walker injured his right knee again last year and was limited to just eight games and 26 catches in 2007, leading to his release by Denver in February.

Walker signed a six-year, $55 million deal with the Raiders shortly after that and says the latest injury should be of little concern.

"Sometimes injuries are like a tuneup," he said Thursday. "When you get a car that goes 100 miles per hour and wastes so much gas, when you bring it into the service shop, you service it, and it's as good as new.

"I feel good. I feel faster. I feel lighter on my feet. Obviously, when you do have something injured, you tend to work a lot of the little muscles that you don't work when you're healthy. It just strengthens up everything around it. So, I'm excited. It's early in the year, we still have a long way to go. But as far as how we're running around out here, I feel good about things."

The Raiders are still taking things slow with Walker, limiting him to one practice a day at this week's mandatory minicamp. Coach Lane Kiffin said that Walker is picking up the new offense well, but that conditioning remains an issue.

"Javon's a little heavy right now so we're going to continue this offseason to get him down by training camp and the regular season, the final thing that counts," Kiffin said. "He's picking up the offense fine but we've got a long way to go."

A healthy Walker will be a big key to the Raiders having a shot at a successful season in 2008. He provides the big-play threat that was lacking last season after Randy Moss was traded to New England.

Walker was a Pro Bowler in 2004 in Green Bay when he caught 89 passes for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has scored 30 touchdowns over his past three healthy seasons.

He's part of a unit in Oakland that has plenty of questions. Ronald Curry had the best year of his career in 2007 with 55 catches for 717 yards and four touchdowns, but has been injury prone throughout his career and is out right now recovering from foot surgery.

Drew Carter was also signed as a free agent this offseason, but has only 71 career catches for 977 yards and eight touchdowns as he has also struggled with knee injuries.

The rest of the receivers are rookies or unproven players with only limited experience in the NFL, putting more pressure on Walker.

"When you got somebody who goes out and makes plays, it only trickles down to every receiver out there wanting to make plays," Walker said. "I'm my own worst critic, so if I do something wrong or if I drop a ball, it's pretty much self explanatory. Coaches don't have to tell me anything but knowing that I'm going to get another opportunity. I'm going to work on whatever I need to work on to clear it up."

Having quality receivers will only help in the development of quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the No. 1 overall pick a year ago who started just one game as a rookie.

Walker and Carter are spending the offseason trying to build a rapport with Russell so they are all in sync once the season begins. Walker might have a bit of a head start in that respect because he has experience playing with a quarterback with such a strong arm after beginning his career in Green Bay with Brett Favre.

"He has a good arm. I've been fortunate enough in my career to play with a quarterback who had a strong arm, and that's something I developed into, catching a fast ball," Walker said. "He's one of those guys that has that ball. The more and more we work together, the better that we're going to be."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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