ALAMEDA (AP) — Oakland Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave plans to have rookie Clive Walford watch footage of a few other tight ends in the NFL this offseason.
That list will almost surely include San Diego’s Antonio Gates, the eight-time Pro Bowl tight end who Walford will get a firsthand look at this week when the Raiders play the Chargers.
For now, however, Oakland’s coaches only want Walford to focus on continuing to catch up with the rest of the offense after the third-round draft pick missed large chunks of training camp with a variety of injuries.
Walford showed he’s getting close in the Raiders’ Week 5 loss to Denver when he caught a pass from quarterback Derek Carr, broke a tackle and turned it into a 33-yard reception that set up Oakland’s only touchdown of the day.
It was only one play but the Raiders hope it’s the beginning of something more important.
“It felt great to actually go out there and make a play for the team,” Walford said. “It’s a matter of being comfortable out there. By me making that play hopefully the coaches can see that I’m capable of doing big things and my snaps will increase.”
Oakland scored 64 points in back-to-back wins over Baltimore and Cleveland but has scored just 30 points in the two games since then. Some of the problems on offense have stemmed from opponents doing a better job of defending wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree.
The Raiders’ tight ends as a group haven’t been much involved in the passing game. They’ve caught just 16 passes through five games, nine by Mychal Rivera. Lee Smith, the more accomplished blocker of the three, has four receptions while Walford has three.
Gates, who recently returned to the Chargers after sitting out the first four weeks while serving an NFL suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, has 18 catches in the past two games alone.
Musgrave, who is in his first season as Oakland’s offensive coordinator, believes Walford could learn from watching tape of Gates. He just doesn’t want his rookie tight end getting distracted by it now.
“During the season he’s really focused on our side of the ball,” Musgrave said Thursday. “Our game plan . definitely in the offseason we have projects and we’ll have projects where we can study guys to glean from their successes. Antonio Gates would be a very good candidate (to watch).”
While Smith is used primarily as an extra blocker and Rivera is the more polished receiver of the two, Walford is a hybrid of both. He’s got the size (6-foot-4, 250 pounds) and strength to go against defensive linemen coupled with speed and reliable hands that helped Walford catch 121 passes for more than 1,700 yards in college.
Oakland coach Jack Del Rio fully expects Walford’s role in the offense to continue to grow now that he’s healthy.
“I think he’s a guy that will begin to emerge more and more,” Del Rio said. “He’s a good size guy that is a very capable blocker, who is also a guy who has the athleticism to be a threat as a route runner. So when you combine those things, you feel like he’s got a lot of upside in terms of being a complete tight end, a guy who can do a little bit of both. Good to see him getting more involved and we’ll continue to look for ways to do that.”