Houshmandzadeh practices for 1st time with Raiders

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) - T.J. Houshmandzadeh finally gets the chance to put his bitter ending to last season in the past.

Nearly 10 months after his dropped pass ended Baltimore's playoff chances, Houshmandzadeh is back in the NFL with Oakland, hoping a reunion with his old quarterback and his former position coach will help lead the Raiders to the playoffs.

"That was the biggest reason me going to Baltimore last year and, again, when it mattered, I dropped the ball," he said Wednesday. "That's something I really don't do so I'm eager to get that behind me also."

Houshmandzadeh practiced for the first time with his new team a day after signing with Oakland. But he needed no introductions to quarterback Carson Palmer, his teammate for six seasons in Cincinnati and longtime offseason workout partner, or coach Hue Jackson, his receivers coach for three years with the Bengals.

That familiarity played a role in Jackson's decision to add Houshmandzadeh to a young mix of receivers still trying to build a rapport with Palmer, who has been here just over two weeks.

"That plays a part in it, too. That wasn't a total part," Jackson said. "Again, I got a group of young guys who are very, very talented, and having somebody that you can really look to, that can show you a little bit of the rope of what it's like of being a pro in this league, week in and week out, day in and day out, will make a difference with this football team."

Houshmandzadeh averaged 89 catches over a five-year span in Cincinnati. His best season came in 2007, when he caught a career-high 112 passes for 1,143 yards and 12 touchdowns.

He teamed with fellow receiver Chad Ochocinco and Palmer to give the Bengals one of the league's most dynamic offenses.

"He's really another quarterback on the field," Palmer said. "He knows more about offensive and defensive football than any non-quarterback I've ever been around. He understands concepts, he understands schemes, alignments, all the little things a lot of receivers overlook. He's a student of the game and it's going to be a really big help, especially for these young guys to have him around."

But he struggled after leaving the Bengals. He had 79 catches for 911 yards and three touchdowns in Seattle in 2009 before bottoming out last season with the Ravens when he had only 30 catches for 398 yards and three touchdowns.

His tenure in Baltimore ended when he dropped a potential first down on fourth-and-18 with just over a minute left in the Ravens' 31-24 loss to the Steelers.

The Raiders don't need Houshmandzadeh to be the Pro Bowl player he was four years ago, but they hope he can help improve a passing game that has not gotten a lot of production from its speedy wideouts so far.

Third-year player Darrius Heyward-Bey leads the team with 27 catches for 434 yards, but no other wide receiver has more than 15 catches so far this season.

"They're all fast. But they don't really have a guy who can work the middle of the field and can run routes," Houshmandzadeh said. "I think I can bring that to the table. With those guys on the outside and the way Carson throws the ball and his ability to understand what a defense is trying to do, I think we can be really good if we put this thing together real fast."

While Houshmandzadeh is expected to play Sunday, the status of star running back Darren McFadden is less clear. McFadden is still on crutches after spraining his right foot in the first quarter of a 28-0 loss to Kansas City on Oct. 23.

Despite being limited to 4 yards on two carries against Kansas City, McFadden is still eighth in the league in rushing with 614 yards. He is averaging 5.4 yards per carry, has scored five touchdowns and is Oakland's second leading receiver with 19 catches for 154 yards.

McFadden has been at his best recently against the Broncos, rushing for 434 yards and scoring four touchdowns in his last three games against Denver. McFadden's 6.3-yard-per-carry average in his career vs. the Broncos is the highest of any back since the merger.

If McFadden can't go this week, Michael Bush would get the start and rookie Taiwan Jones would be the change-of-pace back. Bush rushed for 99 yards on 17 carries against the Chiefs and has 237 yards and three touchdowns on the season. He had 288 yards and three touchdowns in the three games McFadden missed last season with injuries.

Notes: To make room for Houshmandzadeh on the roster, the Raiders released receiver Derek Hagan, who had 11 catches for 114 yards and was a key contributor on punt coverage and other special teams. ... MLB Rolando McClain (ankle) and K Sebastian Janikowski (hamstring) also did not practice.


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