NAPA -– Raiders linebacker Malcolm Smith spent his first four NFL seasons in Seattle, primarily as a reserve.
This season in Oakland, Smith has a real chance to start. He has been working with the first team from the offseason program through training camp, while incumbent starter Sio Moore recovered from various injuries.
Moore healed up from offseason hip surgery and is now battling what is believed to be shoulder issue. Even when he was healthy enough to practice, Smith stuck with the first unit.
Moore could eventually take that job, but Smith is making his case to stay put. The fifth-year pro has had a strong camp, and always seems to be around the football.
He recovered an Amari Cooper fumble –- it was forced by cornerback Keith McGill -– and easily scored during Wednesday’s practice.
Smith can play either outside linebacker position, and is familiar with coordinator Ken Norton’s demands after working with him in Seattle and in college at USC.
“Malcolm understands what we’re trying to get done,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s got a knack for stripping the ball. He seems to come up with turnovers almost every day. I’m really excited about the way he’s working at it, applying himself. He’s been very good for us.”
Defense forcing turnovers aplenty
The Raiders defense has been forcing turnovers in bunches lately. On Wednesday, they got three. The defense got two more in addition to McGill’s forced fumble and Smith’s recovery.
Linebacker Ben Heeney intercepted a Christian Ponder pass during 11-on-11 drills. Cornerback Neiko Thorpe forced a fumble recovered by linebacker Horace Miller just a few plays later.
“Out job is to get the football,” defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson said. “Turnovers can change games, and we’re pushing to create big moments like that in games.”
Top O-line remains constant
Raiders offensive line coach Mike Tice said he might make some adjustments to his position group following a Monday off day. A few days later, his top line remains the same. Left tackle Donald Penn, left guard Gabe Jackson and center Rodney Hudson aren't going anywhere, but right guard J'Marcus Webb and right tackle Menelik Watson held their spots.
Catch of the day
Veteran receiver Kris Durham has made some quality catches working primarily with the third team, but a Wednesday effort might’ve been his best. Durham leaped up and over his defender on a deep route and snatched the ball out of the air for a long gain.
Receiver Michael Crabtree was at practice, but did not participate in team drills. Head coach Jack Del Rio didn't say anything was wrong with the receiver, who was likely getting some veteran's time off.
Moore missed his fourth straight practice with a shoulder ailment, meaning it’s extremely unlikely he’ll play on Friday against the St. Louis Rams.
Roy Helu Jr., Brandian Ross and Rod Streater did side work with trainers and seem to be close to a return to action. Tight end Lee Smith also remains out, and went through some individual blocking drills during practice.
The Raiders have been conservative with injuries, choosing to bring players back slowly. Expect that trend to continue during the preseason, in an attempt to prevent injuries from recurring.
Other notes from Raiders practice
-- Receiver Seth Roberts, who spent most of last season on the practice squad, has seen snaps with the first unit and has made some nice catches against tough competition throughout this training camp.
-- Right tackle Menelik Watson returned to practice on Tuesday and immediately hopped back in with the first team. He’s played well and is getting comfortable playing next to right guard J’Marcus Webb.
-- Guard Jon Feliciano spent time as the second-unit center in Wednesday’s practice. That spot has been held by Tony Bergstrom, who is fighting to be the backup center. Bergstrom played left guard on Wednesday as he tries to earn a roster spot as a reserve interior lineman.
-- Undrafted safety Tevin McDonald made some nice plays on Wednesday, including an athletic break up of a Christian Ponder pass.
-- Tight end Clive Walford made several nice catches in his second practice back from a hamstring strain. He worked with several units, including the first team.
-- Running back Latavius Murray showed great vision and cutback ability on a long run through the secondary during an 11-on-11 drill.
Daily transactions: None
Returned to practice: None
Did not practice: LB Sio Moore, RB Roy Helu Jr., FB Jamize Olawale, TE Lee Smith, S Brandian Ross
Non-football illness: WR Rod Streater
Next practice: The Raiders will conduct a private walk-thru on Thursday morning in advance of Friday night’s exhibition opener against the St. Louis Rams at O.co Coliseum.