NAPA The thought of Darrius Heyward-Bey as the leader of the Raiders' wide receivers would have been laughable in the summer of 2009.
That's because Heyward-Bey, the seventh overall pick in that spring's NFL draft, struggled to do one important thing catch the football. That was the main reason some felt the Raiders drafted him too high, even with his speed.
Now, in Heyward-Bey's fourth season, his hands are much better, and he's expected to be a mentor and leader on offense.
Heyward-Bey said more responsibility hasn't changed him.
"I'm the same guy," he said. "I'm hungry, I want to do well, and I want to be that guy on this team that helps bring wins. Since Day One, since Al Davis brought me in, I've been the same guy. The results have been different, but the mind-set has been the same.
"It's just that things just went my way. I caught the ball better, ran better routes, we won games. So things just rolled my way."
Heyward-Bey had career highs with 64 catches for 975 yards and four touchdowns last season. In his first two seasons, he had just 35 catches for 490 yards and two touchdowns.
New coach Dennis Allen wants Heyward-Bey's leadership to extend beyond statistics.
"I'm looking for him to take the leadership role in that room," Allen said. "I'm not big on stats. I'm concerned about how well he's blocking on the running plays. I'm concerned about how well he's running routes. And I'm concerned about his mind-set going into the season. So far, I've been pleased."
Heyward-Bey said that process began last season.
"Last year, I was a leader in that room in the meeting room, just being on top of things," he said. "Just being out on the field, I don't say much, but I just try to go out there and lead by example. Run hard. Anytime we have anything going on, the guys look toward me, and I have no problem with that."
Rookie wide receiver Juron Criner said he's watching Heyward-Bey closely, not only for how he's playing in training camp, but also because he overcame a rookie season in which he caught only nine passes.
"I watch his every move," Criner said. "If he sneezes, I'm there to say, 'Bless you.' I take as much as I can from a guy like that."
Being a leader, however, brings more scrutiny.
Heyward-Bey pleaded no contest last month to driving under the influence, but he said he's moved on from the incident. The NFL hasn't announced any discipline.
"Football's my job, it's my life, and that's what I focus on 100 percent of the time," Heyward-Bey said.
Along those lines, Heyward-Bey knows there's a lot of work to be done on the field. The talk again this training camp is that everyone will contribute, that there's no "No. 1" receiver. And Heyward-Bey is content to lead the committee, even if he doesn't lead in statistics.
"I think every receiver tells himself, I want to be that guy that's going to get this first down, make that play," Heyward-Bey said. "And I think if we all have that mind-set and we play together, we can do it by committee.
"There's always going to be a guy that has more catches than the other, but if we do it and work as a team, the sky's the limit."