NAPA -- Brian Leonhardt is headed home, for a few days anyway.
The Raiders tight end's return will be celebrated by roughly 100 friends and family driving 20 minutes from Blaine, Minn. for Friday’s exhibition at the Minnesota Vikings.
After just a year on the practice squad, Leonhardt isn’t springing for tickets. Despite the massive cheering section, Leonhardt isn’t nervous about playing.
“My parents have never seen me play an NFL game, and a bunch of college friends and coaches are coming, so it’ll be exciting,” Leonhardt said after Wednesday’s practice. “I guess it might a little pressure, but I don’t think it’ll make much of a difference.”
There’s a bit more pressure coming from other sources. The Raiders are hoping Leonhardt can become the top blocking tight end on the 53-man roster, and step into a bigger role with David Ausberry out an indefinite period recovering from knee surgery.
Leonhardt and second-year pro Nick Kasa are in-house options. Leonhardt especially has been solid in practice -- he's earned some first-team reps -- but game performance is what really counts.
“Whether they are or not is to be determined,” head coach Dennis Allen said. “I think that’s why we play these games, to get an opportunity to look at those young players and see what happens when the lights come on.”
The Raiders could look for external options if the young players can’t step up. Leonhardt understands that, and knows he must play well to secure a contributing role on this team.
“This is definitely a window of opportunity here, and I don’t know how long it’ll be open or if it will be close,” Leonhardt said. “It’s really about keeping it simple. It’s about going out and playing my game and doing everything I can every single day.”
Leonhardt is considered a blocker who needs work as a receiver.
While Leonhardt is known as a blocker, he had 112 receptions for 1,431 yards and 15 touchdowns at Bemidji State. Mychal Rivera will be the primary receiving tight end, but he doesn’t have a proper backup with Ausberry out.
Right now, he’s trying to find a niche in this offense. If it means he never makes a catch in 2014 while on the roster, Leonhardt can live with that.
“My strength coming into the NFL was my blocking and I know that,” he said. “Right now that puts me in a role that they need filled. I’m going to do whatever I can to fit into that mold."
Other notes from Raiders camp:
-- Allen refused to clarify the type of knee injury Ausberry suffered. He wouldn’t say what type of surgery he had or even which knee was hurt.
-- The Raiders received a post-practice speech from Charlie DeGrange, a young UCSF patient who was recently diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.
-- The Raiders haven’t had a camp fight yet, though they came close late this afternoon. Guard Austin Howard and defensive tackle Justin Ellis exchanged some shoves before being separated by teammates.
-- Rivera had the catch of the day, securing a long pass from Matt Schaub by the fingertips. He made an effective double move on safety Charles Woodson, which created enough separation to make the catch.
-- Receiver Greg Little continues to impress. He made a few more quality catches on Wednesday, including a touchdown in close quarters.
-- Veteran receiver James Jones ran some with the second team, while others played with the first unit. Jones is also second on the depth chart behind Andre Holmes.
-- Running back Darren McFadden continues to show good burst and slashing ability in camp. It was on display Wednesday when he ran a sweep right, broke left through a cutback lane and found considerable open space.
-- The Raiders practiced in shells on Wednesday, easing off the intensity as they head towards Friday’s preseason opener. They’ll conduct a walk-thru on Thursday and travel to Minnesota a day before facing the Vikings.
-- The Raiders made a pair of minor transactions. They signed linebacker Spencer Hadley and waived/injured middle linebacker Marshall McFadden. They also signed safety Larry Asante and waived/injured safety Shelton Johnson. If Johnson and McFadden clear waivers, they can be placed on injured reserve and rehab with the Raiders.
-- Guard Lamar Mady (ankle) was officially ruled out of Friday’s game.
Returned to practice: None
Did not practice: CB Keith McGill (groin), G Lamar Mady (ankle), TE David Ausberry (knee), LB Kaluka Maiava (hamstring), CB Nieko Thorpe (undisclosed)
Physically unable to perform: DJ Hayden (foot), G Lucas Nix (knee), S Usama Young (quad)