Oakland Raiders wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey with the Raiders receiving corps (photo by Levi Damien)
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders leading receiver last season, took a considerable leap in production from his first two seasons. He looks to improve upon his near 1000 yard 2011 season but that is not what is most important to him or coach Dennis Allen. According to them, their priority is not leading the team in receiving yards but leading the receivers. Period.
Head coach Dennis Allen expects a lot out of DHB as he is now the most veteran receiver in this young Raiders receiving corps.
Said Allen of his veteran receiver: "Really at the end of the day the leaders are the guys that are going to do things the right way, that are going to be exactly what we talk about in being smart, tough football players that are going to do it the right way no matter what the situation is, and then they're going to hold everybody else accountable to the same standard. That's the thing that I'm looking for, him to take the leadership role in that room. I'm not big on stats. I don't pay much attention to it.
"We've got enough good football players that we can spread the ball around. We're not concerned with who catches 75 or 100 balls. I'm concerned about how well he's blocking on the running plays, I'm concerned about how well he's running routes and I'm concerned about his mindset going into the season. So far I've been pleased."
DHB got off on the wrong foot with his new head coach when he was arrested for driving under the influence last April. He recently plead no contest to the charges in court and has been trying to put the incident behind him. It certainly doesn't fit with his duties of being a leader on this team.
The other, younger receivers on the team have long spoken of him as their go-to guy for advice both on and off the field. Although, DHB will tell you he isn't usually one to approach a player and offer instruction but rather that they will approach him.
"Any time the young guys come up to me and ask me a question, I'm there to help, because I'm trying to win," said Heyward-Bey. "I'm trying to win the AFC West, I'm trying to win championships here. So, if any of the younger guys want any advice, I'm out there to give it to them. That helps me out. That keeps me on top of my toes and wanting to do better."
"Last year, I was a leader in that room... I don't say much but I just try to go out there and lead by example. Run hard. Anytime we have anything going on, the guys look toward me, and I have no problem, with that."
On the practice field, DHB has long been a fantastic example to follow. He is one of the hardest working players on the team. He has had to work hard to improve his game after the Raiders chose the raw receiver with the number seven overall pick. Those practice habits are a good thing to emulate for these young guys.
"I think there's a lot of different ways that you lead," Said Allen. "People talk about leading by example. He can be a guy that can come out here and do it the right way every time. There's nothing that says a guy, even though he might not be a vocal guy, that says he can't get on somebody if they're not doing it right. We're all held to a certain standard, and at the end of the day, we've got a job to do and we've got to make sure we get our job done no matter who's called to do what."
"I watch his every move," said Criner. "If he sneezes I'm there to say bless you. I take as much as I can from a guy like that. All of them.
Sure, DHB is not what one would consider an all-around receiver. He still has deficiencies in his game. But when you look at where he's come compared to where he started, there is no question the tremendous work he puts in is paying off. Criner notices.
"I definitely see the progress he's made. That just goes to let me know even if you have a down year it's not about what you did, it's about the following year. And there's always a way to get better and bounce back and he's definitely a player who did that.
"You can always get better. Especially when you first come in, you're far from having it figured out."
Criner may have all the talent in his hands that DHB doesn't but unless he can institute the kind of work ethic DHB has, it won't take him far. The same goes for Streater or indeed any receiver on this team.