NAPA – Clive Walford must be at his best during Raiders training camp. Most rookies have margin for error to start a professional career, but the third-rounder from Miami is already locked in a training camp battle.
He could end up the Raiders’ first-team tight end come September, but only if he shines over the next four weeks. Incumbent Mychal Rivera is a competitive sort, and won’t give up snaps without a fight.
Walford isn’t locked in on Rivera. His focus remains inward as he prepares for his first NFL season.
“I do have my personal goals and my personal expectations, but I’m just trying to get better,” Walford said Thursday morning at the Napa Valley Marriott. “I don’t want to look too far ahead. That’s what training camp is for, is trying to earn a spot on the roster and a starting job. That’s what I’m aiming for.”
Walford has been in camp mode since Sunday, when rookies, quarterbacks and previously injured veterans checked in. They’ve had pre-camp workouts heading toward Thursday, when experienced players joined the group. The first full-squad practice is set for Friday morning and the pads come on Monday.
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"It was good to get out here and get our feet under us, get the blood flowing and get out here before the veterans get out it,” Walford said. “It was great … because we got away from (football) for like a month. To get back out with the coaches and to actually go over some of the plays that we’re going to be running is good for myself and the other young guys.”
Walford’s gotten extra time with Derek Carr this week, a bonus after working with Christian Ponder for most of the offseason program. Building chemistry with Carr is important, but he’s got plenty to learn for more experience position mates as well. That includes Rivera, who was a productive player as a rookie in 2013.
“I try to learn a lot from him and (veteran blocking tight end) Lee Smith because they’re the older guys,” Walford said. “I see things that they do and say. I always have my eyes open and watch them.”
Rivera and Smith have echoed the keys to a productive training camp: Stay healthy. Remain consistent.
The Raiders are in Napa through Aug. 25, a long stretch designed to bring the team closer together and refine schemes for the regular season. Training camp is a grind, but Walford must stay mentally strong each day while engaged in a position battle.
“You have to know your assignments, and when your number is called you have to make plays,” Walford said. “You have to always be ready.”