ALAMEDA Big, versatile, playmaking tight ends are all the rage in the NFL.
The Patriots' Rob Gronkowski set single-season records for receiving yards and touchdowns last year. The Saints' Jimmy Graham was not far behind, joining Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez as former basketball players excelling at the position.
Through three games this year the Raiders' Brandon Myers has been, at least statistically, right there with the best. Myers ranks fifth among NFL tight ends with 15 catches and third with 206 receiving yards. At 6-foot-3 and a solid 256 pounds, and regarded as a strong blocker out of college, he's cut from a slightly different mold than the Grahams of the football world.
"I used to play basketball, what are you talking about?" Myers said this week, chuckling. "I may not be 6-7, but ."
But early in the season, Myers has been the most reliable passing target for the Raiders and quarterback Carson Palmer. Palmer has targeted Myers on 15 throws, and Myers has caught all 15.
"He's kind of a sleeper," Palmer said. "He's probably got the best hands on the team."
Myers' lone catch on the Raiders' final drive in their 34-31 win over the Steelers last Sunday was pivotal. On third and 10 from the Raiders' 25, Palmer found Myers crossing over the middle and hit him in stride for 15 yards and a first down. The drive ended on Sebastian Janikowski's game-winning field goal.
"He's a lot faster than he looks, and he kind of catches guys off guard," Palmer said. "And before you know it he gets by you, just like he did on that play."
Palmer said Myers, being covered by a slower linebacker, was his first read on the play, something that has become more common this year under coordinator Greg Knapp.
Getting the tight end involved in the passing game, Knapp said this week, helps keep defenses honest because linebackers have to account for the tight end in the middle of the field and can't simply drop in coverage to help blanket a receiver.
"What I watched (of Myers) on tape last year reminded me of some guys in the past that I had who maybe weren't elite status tight ends coming out of college, as far as high-end draft picks and athletic ability," Knapp said.
"But he had the knack to run routes and create windows. His strength is his route-running."
On the 15-yard catch against Pittsburgh, the ensuing hit by Steelers safety Ryan Mundy left Myers with a concussion. Myers has not yet been cleared to play Sunday against the Denver Broncos but said he "absolutely" plans to play.
Myers shrugged off his 15-for-15 start to the season "I don't pay attention to that stuff" and said he still takes pride in blocking.
He did add that he feels he and Palmer are developing some on-field chemistry. "He got here in the middle of the season last year, so it's taken some time," Myers said. "But now with the tight ends that we have, he's finding us in the offense. It's not just me catching balls. Other guys are catching balls, too."
Tight end David Ausberry has three catches for 56 yards including an eye-popping 31-yard catch-and-run in Miami and Richard Gordon caught a one-yard touchdown pass against the Steelers out of a goal-line formation that featured all three tight ends.
"Obviously that's a position that was a little bit of a question mark coming into the season," said coach Dennis Allen. "So the fact that we've gotten some production out of those guys, and all of them have had production in their own way and they've brought different aspects to our offense, that's been a positive."
Et cetera The Denver Post reported that Broncos linebacker Joe Mays will not play against the Raiders after an NFL appeals panel upheld Mays' one-game suspension stemming from a helmet-to-helmet hit on Texans quarterback Matt Schaub on Sunday. Veteran Keith Brooking is expected to start in Mays' place.
The Raiders signed linebacker Carl Ihenacho to the practice squad and released defensive back Akwasi Owusu-Ansah. Ihenacho was cut from the active roster Tuesday to make room for linebacker Vic So'oto.
Defensive tackle Richard Seymour (knee) practiced Thursday after sitting out the day before. Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (concussion, neck strain), offensive tackle Khalif Barnes (groin) and cornerback Shawntae Spencer (foot) were the only absences.
The St. Louis Rams claimed offensive tackle Joe Barksdale off waivers. The Raiders cut Barksdale, a third-round pick in 2011, on Wednesday to make room for defensive end Andre Carter.