ALAMEDA – Clive Walford entered Raiders training camp with high expectations. They were lowered some by injury. The third-round pick missed most of the preseason with a hamstring strain, followed by a knee injury shortly after a three-day return to health.
A player expected to start from Week 1 is now a reserve behind Mychal Rivera, though he played 24 snaps in the regular-season opener against Cincinnati, two thirds of which were spent as a receiving option. He had one reception for a yard in the contest, but Walford got his feet wet.
The Miami product didn’t have the immediate impact people expected this offseason when he was touted by analyst Mike Mayock as the most explosive tight end in the draft. Walford has shown flashes of potential. The kid’s a tremendous athlete, and can be a real receiving weapon in the middle of the field.
Walford is behind after missing so much of the preseason, a critically important period for rookie development. He has practiced healthy for nearly a month now.
“He’s been able to get more time in and more familiarity with the things we’re asking him to do,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s had a good couple of weeks now leading into this ball game.”
Walford is a dormant weapon at this stage, preparing for use when ready. He believes he’s getting closer.
“Even though I missed that month, I’m still trying to get that feel and get up to speed with the team,” Walford said. “I’m been really excited to be back out there with the boys and to be in the huddle with (quarterback Derek Carr) and the guys. It’s been good. I’m working hard.”
“Everything I’m going through is a learning experience. I’m trying to absorb as much as I can from Lee Smith and follow in his steps. I’m growing, and I need to keep doing that.”
Walford wants his role expanded, and knows he has to earn it in practice. That isn’t easy for two reasons: 1) The Raiders spent significant time game planning at this stage and 2) Rivera has been solid in the leading role.
The Raiders need tight end to be a deep, strong position group that adds unpredictability to offensive proceedings. That will truly happen with Walford gets heavily involved, something he’s trying to do with a game every week. He has to earn his role. That’s no easy task for a young player at this stage.
“At the end of the day, you do what you can,” Del Rio said. “Those who are prepared do it. Certainly, having reps is important for the younger guys in particular, establishing that you know what you’re doing opposed to a veteran guy that maybe has some skins on the wall. You might trust a little more with a veteran guy. But yeah, that’s why we practice.
"It’s important to get the timing down. It’s not about any one guy. It’s the ultimate team sport, so it’s about getting on same page with guys around you.”