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Raiders want more from Heyward-Bey
Oakland Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey makes a catch in front of Chargers defensive back Antoine Cason on Jan. 1. - photo by Photo by WAYNE THALLANDER

NAPA (AP) — Oakland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey doesn't put much stock in the numbers he put up last season, even though he had career highs in catches, yards and touchdowns.

The way Heyward-Bey sees it, he was just in the right place at the right time.

"Things just went my way," Heyward-Bey said Friday. "I caught the ball better, ran better routes, we won games. So things just rolled my way."

Raiders coach Dennis Allen isn't a big statistics guy, either. He'd prefer to see production on the scoreboard and in the standings.

Still, it's hard to ignore the progress Heyward-Bey made last season when he emerged as Oakland's top receiver. He caught 64 passes for 975 yards — the most by a Raiders wideout since 2004 — to go with four touchdowns.

Heyward-Bey had Oakland fans cheering again on Friday when the Raiders (tied 23rd in AP Pro 32) held their first practice that was open to the public since the team returned to Northern California prior to the 1995 season.

He caught a deep pass from Matt Leinart and raced into the end zone during a 7-on-7 drill, then later beat safety Tyvon Branch across the middle for another long gain on a pass from Carson Palmer.

"I think he's improved as a receiver, as a total receiver," Allen said. "His route running's better, he's catching the ball cleaner. His blocking has been good. He's really our most veteran receiver, so we're expecting him to stand up and be a leader for us."

Heyward-Bey's season totals in 2011 were more than double what he did in his first two NFL seasons combined.

He had three 100-yard games and averaged 15.2 yards per catch, the second-highest mark from a Raiders wide receiver in more than 20 years.

The former Maryland star did that despite playing in a system built around the running game and having to catch passes from three different quarterbacks.

It was a monumental leap in output following two mostly disappointing seasons that had many labeling the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft a bust.

Now Heyward-Bey is having to learn his third offense in four years while also trying to adhere to Allen's call to become the leader of an otherwise young group of receivers.

"It's coming along," Heyward-Bey said. "It's still the first week of camp. We still (have) to get things going. But it's work, and we're willing to put it in. It's going to get right."

At just 25 years old, Heyward-Bey is the elder statesman among Oakland's receiving group that includes seven rookies on the training camp roster.

That, along with his increased production a year ago, is one of the primary reasons Heyward-Bey was tapped by Allen to become more of a leader in the locker room and on the field.

An offseason arrest for misdemeanor drunken driving threatened to derail those plans.

Heyward-Bey has since apologized to his teammates and the coaching staff for the April 7 incident. He's hoping to put it behind him, just like he's trying to do with his 2011 season.

"I see myself making more plays," Heyward-Bey said. "You build off of last year's momentum, but you can't look back and be satisfied with last year's stats or whatever plays you made. You just have to build off of that."

Notes: An estimated crowd of 1,000 fans watched practice with larger crowds expected for Saturday and Sunday. In previous years, only selected season ticket holders and luxury suite holders were invited to attend practice. ... WR Denarius Moore returned to practice after sitting out Wednesday with a sore hamstring.