Heyward-Bey is trying to catch on


First things first. Before Oakland Raiders rookie Darrius Heyward-Bey uses his blistering speed to scald opposing defensive backs, he needs to secure the football. That hasn't been easy.

Heyward-Bey, the No. 7 pick in April's draft, dropped several catchable passes in training camp practices Sunday and Monday, prompting Coach Tom Cable to concede the Maryland speedster is putting too much pressure on himself.

"He understands his job is to catch footballs," Cable said. "He's just pressing. You know he wants to impress you. That's what it is. It's just a process of gaining confidence and getting comfortable every day."

It's hard to knock Heyward-Bey for feeling the heat of expectation. He just signed a contract worth $23.5 million, and the Raiders are banking on him making an immediate contribution.

Teammate Nnamdi Asomugha, a Pro Bowl cornerback, knows how it feels to be a first-round pick in the spotlight.

"I don't know if you get out of that mode; I'm still in that mode," said Asomugha, taken by Oakland in the first round of the 2003 draft. "Every play that I've been in I've pretty much thought that all eyes are on me. I think it helps you lift your game and rise to another level. I've always felt like everyone's watching on every snap.

"I don't think there's a bad thing with that. I think it's OK."

And so far, Heyward-Bey seems to be taking the slip-ups in stride. After dropping four passes Monday, one of which was intercepted when it bounced off his hands, he said his confidence is unaffected.

"They tell me all the time, 'Forget about that one, move on to the next one,' " Heyward-Bey told reporters. "I'm just trying to work through the kinks. That's football. It happens."

*--* 2008 REC YDS AVG LG TD Maryland 42 608 14.5 80 5 *--*

Heyward-Bey is far from the only first-round pick under pressure to make plays right away this season. Among the others:

QB Matthew Stafford, Detroit: The No. 1 overall pick has looked good in camp so far, but he's got a big challenge in front of him. Not only were the Lions an unprecedented 0-16 last season, but also their defense has been ranked last each of the last two seasons.

*--* 2008 CMP ATT YDS PCT TD INT Georgia 235 383 3,459 61.4 25 10 *--*

QB Mark Sanchez, New York Jets: The Jets gave up a lot to move into the No. 5 spot to select Sanchez. Those fans are notoriously hard on their quarterbacks, too, especially if/when things start heading south.

*--* 2008 CMP ATT YDS PCT TD INT USC 241 366 3,207 65.8 34 10 *--*

DE Larry English, San Diego: Seeing as the Chargers already have elite pass rushers in linebackers Shaun Phillips and Shawne Merriman, English was a bit of a surprise pick at No. 16. But Merriman is in the last year of his contract, and San Diego is expecting the Northern Illinois star to step right up, play well as a rookie, and give the club options at the position.

*--* 2008 TCK AST SCK FF FR PD N. Illinois 26 11 8 3 0 0 *--*

WR Percy Harvin, Minnesota: Leading up to the draft, the character questions swirling around Harvin scared off some teams. The Vikings rolled the dice, though, taking him with the 22nd pick. He sat out the first two days of camp, ironing out the details of his contract. The Vikings will be asking a lot of him, not only at receiver but also as an occasional running back and fleet-footed return man.

*--* 2008 REC YDS AVG LG TD Florida 40 644 16.1 67 13 *--*

RB Chris "Beanie" Wells, Arizona: Wells has a chance to make a dramatic impact on a franchise that last season made its first Super Bowl despite the league's lowest-ranked running game. First, though, he's got to get healthy. The 31st pick was carted off the field Saturday with an injured ankle. His coach doesn't seem too concerned about the severity of the injury.

*--* 2008 ATT YDS AVG REC TD Ohio St. 207 1,197 5.8 8 8 *--*




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