With rookie receiver Jessie Hester, the Raiders’ philosophy could come right out of the book on street football: “You go long.”
That isn’t the way it will be, though.
Hester--Jessie the Jet as he was known at Florida State--and the other fliers the Raiders drafted last week were all but grounded Thursday at a rookie camp in El Segundo. The only jets in operation were at nearby LAX.
“We used to bring guys in and give it all to them right away--deep corners, posts, comebacks,” Coach Tom Flores said. “But now we don’t like to throw deep too early. These guys have been on the plane, in their hotel rooms and we want to make sure their legs are good and loose.
“Also, we just want to work on basic things and timing rather than jumping right in. They’ve got plenty of things to learn. They’ll get enough of the deep stuff when we get into one-on-one and other competitive drills.”
So Hester, the first wide receiver the Raiders have picked in the first round of the draft since 1972, got to show his speed only in a timed 40-yard dash and on one long, incomplete pass from sixth-round pick Rusty Hilger of Oklahoma State.
With the Raiders, receivers are taught how to run before they can fly.
When the Raiders picked Mike Siani of Villanova in the first round 13 years ago, they also took another wide receiver in the fourth round--Cliff Branch of Colorado. Branch, an Olympic contender who once ran 9.1 in the 100-yard dash, became an all-pro selection, but only after he had learned the nuances of the Raider passing game.
Branch, who missed Raider rookie camps that year because of his track schedule, started the opener but soon was benched and caught only three passes that season. It wasn’t until 1975 that he blossomed, catching 60 passes for 1,092 yards and 13 touchdowns.
What made Branch so dangerous was that he became a proficient short- and medium-range receiver under the tutelage of another all-pro, Fred Biletnikoff. Branch, who’d had little sophisticated receiver training at Colorado, has often attributed his success to landing in the right place at the right time.
The Raiders were still looking for a successor to Warren Wells when Branch came along, and he fit into the system like the final piece of a puzzle.
Only two seasons ago, he helped the Raiders win a third Super Bowl. But Branch will be 37 in August, and a hamstring injury last season prevented him from catching a touchdown pass for the first time since his rookie season. Obviously, his fastest days are behind him.
Enter Hester and Tim Moffett, the Raiders’ No. 2 draft choice from Mississippi. They probably will never have the raw speed that Branch used to turn even short passes into long plays, but at least physically they are receivers in the Raider mold.
Hester, at 5 feet 11 inches and 175 pounds, has a build similar to Branch’s. Moffett is a bigger target at 6-1. Both have run the 40-yard dash at better than 4.5 seconds. Now, they will have to learn the Raider way to use that speed.
“This philosophy is a complete turnaround from what we did at FSU,” Hester said. “It’s different in how you release (off the line of scrimmage), how you run your routes and how you come out of them, and how you attack the defensive backs.
“In college we ran right at the defensive back and made a move. Here, you make several fakes and don’t look for the ball until after you turn and come back to the quarterback. The mechanics are different. I’ll just have to adjust.”
Said Moffett: “It’s obviously a big step up and it’s a lot different. The pass routes are different. They want us to get more depth. But I know I can pick it up.
“We’ve been working mostly on the intermediate and short stuff. We haven’t done much deep stuff, but I know we will because I know how the Raiders like to play.”
The Raiders are about as subtle as a sledgehammer in their desire to go deep. Al Davis has called it “the vertical passing game.” But Raider receivers set up the bomb with comebacks and other short patterns.
When a defensive back gets lulled, he gets burned.
“I think I have the ability to go all the way, and I think the Raiders drafted me because they feel the same,” Hester said. “The Raiders like to go for the long ball, and I think I have that capability.
“Any time you have the speed to go deep, the defense has to respect you and play off you. That means the underneath stuff will be there. That helps open up the long pass.”
Sounds as though he has the idea already.
Raider Notes The Raiders, who don’t have a backup center, are training guard Don Mosebar to play that position. Guards Curt Marsh and Charley Hannah also can fill in at center for Dave Dalby. . . . Mosebar, who beat out Mickey Marvin at guard last season before suffering a back injury, seems to be recovering nicely. . . . Defensive back Bret Clark of Nebraska, one of the Raiders’ four seventh-round draft choices, is under contract to the Arizona Outlaws of the United States Football League and won’t be available in the near future. . . . The Raiders’ other 15 draftees are at the camp. It’s the biggest crop of draftees the Raiders have had since the NFL cut its draft to 12 rounds in 1978.