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Rookie tight end Clive Walford has breakout game, earning Raiders trust

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Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Early in the second quarter of Sunday's game in San Diego, the Raiders lined up at the Chargers' 23-yard-line, up 10-3 and looking to take add to it. Derek Carr dropped back and saw his young rookie tight end get position on his defender and he put the ball in the air toward the end zone.

The pass was perfect, and Walford tracked it for a textbook pass and catch for the score and a two touchdown lead just 17 minutes into the game. That was Walford's first career touchdown catch. It was a long time coming for the Raiders third round rookie tight end after five games this season.

"I was just so excited and so thrilled," Walford said of his touchdown connection with Derek Carr. "He snapped the ball and I saw the way the defender played it. I felt like he was going to come at me, so I ran my route, cut back, saw the ball and knew I had to make a play on it."

Over the first four games, Walford had just two catches for 5 yards total. It wasn't the start anyone expected from him, especially considering the expectations the coaches had from him when they may him their third round pick out of Miami (FL).

His slow start to the season was due in large part to an injury that cost him nearly all of training camp and preseason. He was behind third-year tight end Mychal Rivera and veteran free agent addition Lee Smith on the depth chart. As a rookie, having fallen behind, he had a lot of ground to make up. But Jack Del Rio insists they have been making a particular effort to get him involved in the offense since the day he arrived in Oakland.

"He's a talented guy," Del Rio said. "He's got the ability to be a kind of do it all tight end. We just happen to have two good payers that he's sharing time with so he doesn't play all the time but he's starting to play more reps and anytime guys do well with the reps they get we attempt to get them more."

Then in week 5 against the Broncos, he showed his first signs of life when he pulled in a 33-yard grab from Carr that set the Raiders up at the 3-yard-line, where they punched it in for a touchdown two plays later. And you got the feeling that play was the ice breaker that would lead to Walford having an increased role in the Raiders' offense.

"He's definitely getting more reps in practice. He's going to continue to be involved. We think Clive's a good young football player that has a bright future who we want to develop him and grow him and have him be a big part of what we're doing."

It's a long time coming for the Raiders third round rookie tight end. While his fellow rookies Amari Cooper and Mario Edwards had already stepped into starting roles, he was still waiting for his shot. His time for stepping up and being the team's primary tight end target appears to have arrived.

"It's a work in progress," Walford said of his role. "I'm trying to take it day by day. Whenever Coach Musgrave or Coach Del Rio calls my number I just try to make a play so they can have that much more confidence in me."