Oakland Raiders wide receiver Eddie McGee watches OTA practice (photo by Levi Damien)
Over the past few seasons the Raiders have been working to build a solid corps of receivers. Several times over those seasons they have thought they had a group with which they could succeed. But it never seemed complete and each year they were yet again looking to fill a void through the draft or free agency. That missing piece at wide receiver may just be Eddie McGee.
To say McGee has flown under the radar would be an understatement. He came to the Raiders as an inexperienced, unheralded, undrafted free agent and earned his way onto the team's practice squad last season.
He never got the call to join the team last season and was eligible for the rookie minicamp last week. But he had a hamstring strain and was relegated to rehabbing. It was to be his first as a Raider because when he was originally signed, there was a lockout going on.
Then Monday came the first OTA and he could only watch as the rookies and veterans got to show their stuff. Most notably rookie Juron Criner who put on a show, making several acrobatic catches. Criner is someone with whom McGee is in direct competition for a spot in the Raiders' deep receiver rotation.
"Sitting back and watching is hard." Said McGee. "I hate watching practice and not being involved. I hate watching. Last year, I mean, I didn't hate it but every time you see somebody out there, not necessarily your teammates but other guys, you watch practice or just watch games in general, you wanna be out there. I have a long memory so I'm sitting there watching plays and making [mental] notes and waiting for my chance to get back out there."
McGee has been waiting a while to find his niche as a football player. The former quarterback didn't play a single snap at wide receiver in high school and didn't make the switch until his senior season in college. He was recruited to Illinois as a quarterback but was relegated to a few wildcat plays in games for his first three seasons there. Then he made the tough decision to switch to receiver as he thought it was in the best interest of his future in football.
"At this level the more you can do, the more valuable you are," said McGee. "So I just thought, I talked to my coaches, my family and everything, and just had a conversation that the more valuable you are, the more you can do, the better chance you have of being successful and making it to this level and making a stand at this level.
"I'm the type of guy that's just all about the team. Doesn't matter if I have to go and play H-back, I don't care, I'll do it."
The transition to receiver is one that has been asked of many athletic former quarterbacks. Those who are more successful have been known to resist the idea. Recent examples would be Tim Tebow and current Raider Terrelle Pryor. But the transition is often a very successful one. Some examples include Hines Ward and former Raider Ronald Curry.
McGee sees his quarterback experience gives him a decided advantage as a receiver.
"I kinda look at the game as a receiver from a quarterback's perspective. Knowing what coverages and what the quarterback should be thinking on that play. Just knowing hots and those type of responsibilities helps a lot too. So I think that my quarterback history helps me as a receiver."
But uncovering a guy like McGee, who was a little-used quarterback in college with limited experience as a receiver, isn't easy.
Then to make matters worse, any opportunity to impress upon an NFL team would have to wait for the 2011 NFL lockout to end... and he had no way of knowing just how long it would take.
As the lockout dragged on, McGee watched as there was no post-draft flurry of undrafted free agent signings along with no rookie minicamp. Then OTA's were lost and minicamps. It wasn't until just as training camp was to begin that a deal was struck. And that's when the long wait ended and his phone rang.
"I came out the lockout just waiting to get a call, my agent was on the phone with teams... The Raiders were very interested. I felt like it was a good situation to go into and just made that decision."
At the time McGee arrived, the Raiders had another receiver in Chaz Schilens of whom they had been hoping would be the big red zone target they needed. But Schilens was rarely healthy enough to play and the team had reached the end of their patience with him.
McGee is being seen as a strong candidate to be the kind of receiver Schilens was supposed to be for the Raiders. The hamstring tweak aside, McGee is seen as a guy that can bring the level of talent Schilens had, sans the injuries.
"I appreciate it, It's a great comparison. Chaz is a great player, he's a great guy. But I'm just out here trying to do my own thing. Everybody's going to have their expectations and I appreciate that but I try not to feed into what other guys think. I'm just out here trying to be productive."
"I'm just a guy, hard working guy, blue collar guy, make the plays when they're supposed to be made, when they need to be made. [If the] ball's thrown my way, catch it and just do my job. I'm the type of guy who just goes out there, balls to the wall, full speed every play. Just doing my job, catch everything, block whoever.
"I think I can do it all-- speed, hands, jump ball. You know I think I got all the SS, all the tools. You know, like I said, when a pass is thrown to me, it's my job to make the play so I do."
McGee wasn't always this confident in his abilities as a receiver. He worked hard to get here. He admits he was very raw coming into camp last offseason and credits Raiders' former wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal (now with the Jets) for his development. The fact that, despite how raw he was, the team still kept him around on the practice squad, is a strong indication of the level of potential he possesses.
He progressed through last season but was looking for ways to continue to get even better in the offseason.
"I talked to Carson before the end of the season saying I would like to work out with him just because that's a great quarterback. The more I can learn from him the better I can be so I hit him up, he told me he was gonna be in LA so I flew straight out there."
"There was a couple of other guys down there, [Denarius Moore] came out, [Darrius Heyward-Bey], came out. I was out there, Dave [Ausberry] was out there too... I was out there for about a month, man. Just trying to learn as much as I can from him and workout and just finding my craft... We worked out about three times a week. We picked it up as we got closer to reporting here"
In addition to his working on his receiving skills, he has also packed on a few pounds of muscle mass. According to the 6-3 receiver, he has gone from his weight last season of 208 pounds to 215 pounds. It shows too. A lanky receiver in last year's camp, he has now filled out his 6-3 frame and looks more like a receiver than a quarterback.
The wide receivers who are virtual locks to make this Raiders team are Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford and rookie round five pick Juron Criner who has looked fantastic thus far. The fifth receiver spot is between McGee and Louis Murphy. After that, there are a few other hopefuls including Duke Calhoun and UDFA's Rod Streater, Derek Carrier, and Thomas Mayo.
Before and after OTA practice last week, McGee ran light sprints and agility drills to work out and test his tweaked hamstring. He says it is all just precautionary and give him no pain.
His waiting and watching period will end soon and the coaches and the rest of us can finally catch a glimpse of the receiver the Raiders have been hoping will be something special.