NAPA – Clive Walford hit a bump on his ATV he never saw coming. It was jarring for sure, and disrupted his balance enough to separate the Raiders tight end from his ride.
The tumble left him in some pain, nothing he considered major.
“I didn’t realize how serious it was until I got to the hospital,” Walford said after Saturday’s practice at the Napa Valley Marriott. “So, I thought maybe I just need some stiches. They told me I was going to be out for a while, so I had to inform the team.”
Walford informed the Raiders he had a knee injury that would keep him out a while. He ended up missing the entire offseason program, a setback neither team nor player was happy about.
The 2015 third-round pick was set to miss time after sitting out most of last training camp with football-related issues. He started slow after missing last preseason, but recovered well and ended up with 28 catches for 329 yards and three touchdowns on 49 targets. Walford plans to play a far bigger role in this season’s offense, and any lost time hinders that quest.
The good news: Walford has plenty of time to play catch up. He was healthy and ready to go for this training camp. He isn't starting from scratch, but he still must make up for lost time.
“That’s crucial because we missed a lot of time with Clive over the last number of months,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “Even this time last year, he was on the shelf. So it’s good to have him out there, again, for Derek (Carr) and the quarterbacks to have a feel for the way he runs his routes.
“...It’s great to have him out there. He has a lot of ability, and we’re looking for him to be a big part of what we do.”
Walford should be the primary tight end this season, with the versatility and athleticism to fit into most formations. That opportunity increases odds a breakout season, as a safety valve for Derek Carr over the middle.
“With those two great receivers that we have (in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree), they’re going to draw a lot of attention,” Walford said. “So, you can’t double team one or the other, so that leaves a lot of one-on-one matchups.”
That’s why this training camp is so crucial. Walford must earn Carr’s trust in Napa, so he’s a primary option when it matters most.
“It was a great thing that I had the opportunity to play with him last year,” Walford said. “During the offseason, when the coaches and some of the training staff allowed me to, I went out with him and caught some balls. So, I think the chemistry is still there, I just have to get back into football shape.”
That will come in time, especially during an early-camp grind with 11 practices in the first 13 days.
Walford’s work ethic has been strong when he’s been able to practice. Missing most of his rookie camp was a hindrance as was the ATV accident that sidelined him during the offseason program. Those issues are in the past and, when he’s healthy, the Raiders see real potential.
“We feel good about that and the player he’s going to become,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “Clive was able to also begin work (Friday) and we see him as a real key player in our offense. We’re glad to have him back doing his thing.”