Raiders tight end Clive Walford didn’t have a great summer. He spent most of it in the training room with hamstring and knee injuries, absent for training camp practices vital to rookie development.
That’s when young players really learn how to be a pro and how to function in a new scheme. Walford tried to stay abreast in meetings, but he couldn’t help but fall behind in a preseason where he played just 22 snaps.
That was a difficult blow for the third-round pick from Miami, expected to make an immediate impact as a blocker and receiver.
“Going back to me missing training camp, I wish I had those 30 days back,” Walford said this week. “That would’ve made a huge difference. I probably could’ve made an impact way earlier.”
Better a little late than never.
Walford has really come on the last two weeks, with eight catches for 100 yards in that span. He has 21 catches for 251 yards and three touchdowns on the season. His targets have gone way up, as he saw just six targets from quarterback Derek Carr in his first four games.
“It’s obvious that the chemistry between me and Derek has gotten stronger and is getting better each week,” Walford said. “We’re always working on it, before and after practice. We want to keep getting better and keep growing.”
That chemistry was crucial in last week’s victory over the Denver Broncos, when receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree were essentially taken out of the game by a crop of elite cornerbacks.
Tight ends became feature players in that contest, with Walford and Mychal Rivera taking center stage in the comeback win. Walford had three big catches and Rivera led the team in receiving yards and scored the game’s deciding touchdown.
Tight end production adds another dimension to a Raiders offense with star power on the outside. Every game, every target is based on matchups and coverage reads, but having options inside is a bonus.
“I don’t think it would be fair to overplay Amari when you have guys like Crabtree, myself, Seth Roberts and Mychal Rivera who can also make plays,” Walford said.
The rookie is a versatile player getting steady snaps throughout the year, and one of several skill players under contract for several seasons, giving Carr a dynamic set of options going forward.
“He’s developing. He’s growing in our system,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “You see it every day in preparation out there on the practice field. There is just less hesitation, more knowing what to do. We can put him in different spots. He has a bright future, and you’re right, he and Derek are establishing a more comfortable rapport where Derek can know exactly where he’s going to be and not have as many unknowns.”