ALAMEDA Rod Streater spent last December preparing with Temple for the New Mexico Bowl in what he believed would be the final football game of his career.
With only 19 catches as a senior, Streater understandably drew little notice from NFL scouts and was resigned to pursuing a career with his degree in communications and public relations.
A year later, Streater is proving he belongs in the NFL as he has become a trusted target for Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer and a key part of the Raiders' future.
"It's a crazy feeling," he said. "I thought football was over for me. I was just looking at getting a job. Then you come here and the game's on your hands. It's a lot of pressure and then it's not. It's what you prepare for. It's what you want to do as a kid growing up. It's a good feeling."
Streater is tied for sixth among NFL rookie wide receivers with 28 catches and has 429 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
After hitting the proverbial rookie wall near Thanksgiving when he fell behind fellow rookie Juron Criner on the depth chart, Streater has gotten a second wind and put together his two most productive games the past two weeks.
"That's part of being a rookie," coach Dennis Allen said. "It's a little bit of a roller coaster ride, and you have some ups and downs. Criner was getting a little bit more playing time and (Streater) was getting a little bit less playing time, and then he got the opportunity and made a few plays. That's what it's all about. When you make plays, you play a lot more."
Streater bounced back from a zero-catch performance in Cincinnati on Nov. 25 to catch three passes for 96 yards and a touchdown against Cleveland the following week. Then on national television Dec. 6 against Denver, Streater had four catches for a career-high 100 yards.
"I feel like I'm improving each week," he said. "No matter what it is, I always want to get better. Next week, I'll try to go better than 100. I just try to get better."
Streater acknowledged that succeeding in the NFL takes much more work than he was used to putting in during college. He credits his improved play on the field to more work off it that has helped him better recognize coverages. Streater said he is making fewer mistakes during games and is adjusting to the faster pace in the NFL.
"Rod is doing great," Palmer said. "I love what he brings to the team. He's a rookie, but you'd never know it. He's athletically gifted, he's fast, he catches the ball really well, and does not think the game like a rookie. He thinks the game like a veteran. He's doing phenomenal."
That's quite a compliment to a player who wasn't drafted.
Streater didn't get much of a chance to show what he could do in college. He played defensive back and wide receiver for two years at Alfred (N.Y.) State before transferring to Temple. The Owls weren't much of a throwing team, and Streater had just 49 catches in two seasons there.
"He's been making plays since he's been here," said Raiders receiver Jacoby Ford.
Notes The Raiders were granted a one-day extension to sell enough tickets to avoid a local blackout of Sunday's game against Kansas City. The team has been blacked out just once the past two years.
Safety Tyvon Branch missed his third straight practice because of injuries to his neck and ankle.
Linebacker Rolando McClain had nothing to say about his recent two-game suspension, saying "coach covered everything."