Wide Receiver Johnny Holton
It seems simple enough for a wide receiver – just catch the ball.
However, for undrafted rookie Johnny Holton, it was an area of the game that he admittedly struggled with upon arriving in the Bay Area in May.
"When I came here, I was kind of rusty at catching the football because I was out so long my senior year of college," said Holton. "I'd say I got better at catching the football, running my routes, and detail at my routes. That comes from coaching, and learning from my teammates around me."
In particular, one of the teammates the former Cincinnati Bearcat has learned from the most is veteran wide receiver Michael Crabtree who he refers to as his "big brother." Crabtree and Holton share a mutual friend in Indianapolis Colts running back Frank Gore, and once the pair realized the connection, a bond was formed, with the veteran wideout seeing potential in the raw rookie from Florida.
"Crabtree kind of took me under his wing," said Holton. "When I was dropping the ball he used to call me to the sideline, like, 'fam, what's going on? You have to catch the football. You really can do this Johnny, just catch the football.'"
Crabtree urged Holton to spend time additional time on his craft, working on all aspects of his game, but in particular, just seeing the ball, and then catching the ball. Following that conversation, the University of Cincinnati-product changed his approach to the game, and took Crabtree's advice to heart.
"He [Crabtree] told me about getting on the JUGS machine every day after practice, get at least 50 balls in every day after practice," Holton said. "Since he told me that, when I got back for training camp, that's all I've been doing, catching the JUGS machine 50 times after practice, even when I catch all the balls in practice, I still make sure I go to the JUGS machine and never get too comfortable."
That added work has definitely paid dividends for the rookie speedster, as he's consistently flashed his ability throughout the training camp and the preseason, and even earned an impressive compliment earlier in the week from quarterback Derek Carr.
"I told Johnny when we hit training camp, I said, 'you are the most improved player this whole offseason,'" Carr said. "I have never seen someone jump that much since [wide receiver] Seth [Roberts], since I saw Seth make that jump. I'm very happy for Johnny, he's a great guy, he's a very quiet, humble spirit about him which is cool. But then he goes out there and runs a 4.2 [forty-yard dash] past everybody, you know? So, it's fun for me to see, but at the same time, I'm rooting for him because I want him to be able to help this football team."
Holton acknowledged that it's nice to hear the kind words from his teammates and coaches – particularly as an undrafted free agent – but with two preseason games still on the schedule, he knows there is still plenty of work left ahead of him.
"I want to get better overall, my whole game," Holton said. "If I get back there at kick returner, I want to make the right read and run more than 43 yards. I want to run for a touchdown, and I'd say as far as routes, the first games I wasn't really reading coverages that good, so I want to get better at reading coverages, running my routes crispy, and catching the football, and just playing special teams without getting a penalty."
-After working on the side with a trainer during the previous two practices, safety Reggie Nelson did not participate in Thursday's on-field session. However, excluding defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. and tight end Gabe Holmes, he was the only player missing from work.
-Running back Jalen Richard returned to practice earlier in the week, and while he wasn't willing to speculate on his availability for the bout with the Titans, Head Coach Jack Del Rio spoke about it following Thursday's practice.
"He looked like he had a good week," said Head Coach Del Rio. "Anticipate him being ready to play, we've been excited to see him and obviously he had the minor setback. He's done great, had a good week of practice, and we're excited to get a look at him."
-The broadcast team of Dan Fouts, Spero Dedus, and Tracy Wolfson will be on the call Saturday night when the Raiders hosts the Tennessee Titans, and Fouts, like many, is looking forward to seeing how the Silver and Black – particularly Carr – will handle the expectations now surrounding the team.
"The big thing that he [Carr] has to handle, and the rest of the team has to handle, is expectations are so high for himself, and for the team, that if things don't go well; how you handle that," Fouts said. "He has all the tools. He has everything you want, you just need more and more experience, and of course, to get to that next level you're talking about, you have to have a bunch of Ws and get into the playoffs."
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