Michael Huff walked into the locker room and was immediately surrounded by a gaggle of reporters.

Shane Lechler yelled out, "Huff, you're not used to this. Want me to hold your hand while you do this?"

Huff has gone from the forgotten man in Oakland after losing his job last season as starting free safety to the playmaking safety the Oakland Raiders have been waiting for ever since picking Huff seventh overall in the 2006 draft.

Huff leads the NFL with four takeaways this season, doubling his total in his first 48 career games. Huff intercepted two passes last week in Kansas City to give him three on the season, adding to his fumble recovery in the opener.

"It's only two weeks into the season," Huff said. "I try to take it with a grain of salt. There's a long way to go in the season. Hopefully I have 10, 11 more picks in me. I try not to get too riled up about the first two games. I want to go out there and be consistent and prove it week in and week out."

After the way his first three seasons went, Huff knows well not to get too excited too soon. He entered the NFL with lots of hype when the Raiders bypassed Matt Leinart to take Huff.

Huff was a dynamic safety at Texas who helped the Longhorns win the national championship. But he struggled from the start as he was forced to play out of position at strong safety, where he lacked the size to take on tight ends and offensive linemen. That led to questions about whether the Raiders made a mistake selecting Huff, which ate away at his confidence.

"Of course it's going to affect you mentally sometimes, but all I've tried to stress to him is to focus on the positive, you know leave the negative alone," Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. "There's always going to be negative. Even when you're playing great, there's going to be negative. But I try to tell him to stay away from always looking for what people are saying and reading your own mail and that type of stuff."

Huff has leaned heavily on Asomugha for support, getting "therapy" sessions from a former first-round pick who took until his fourth season to really break through as a player.

Huff and Asomugha also have extra film sessions where Huff can learn how a cornerback approaches each play to help him understand what to do as the free safety.

"Luckily, I have Nnam here because he's been in that situation," Huff said. "In his first three, four years he struggled. In his fourth year is when he got his eight or nine picks. He's been right there where I'm at now. So, I've just tried to kind of be like him. We hang out a lot, watch film, kind of just study and work out in the offseason. So, just seeing him grow through the same thing just helps me kind of stay focused."

Huff has done just that, earning praise from coach Tom Cable for being in the right spot at free safety, positioning the defense properly and being aggressive going after the ball. Huff has made his impact as a reserve, playing mostly on passing downs.

He could get back into the starting lineup this week because of a calf injury that held Hiram Eugene out of practice. Losing the job to Eugene last October marked the low point of Huff's career.

Cable made the switch in one of his first big changes after taking over from Lane Kiffin. Cable praised Huff this week for not complaining about the demotion. Huff said he couldn't complain about it because he knew how badly he was playing.

"I was watching the same film," Huff said. "I wasn't playing up to par, I wasn't playing like the No. 7 overall pick. I knew I was struggling so I wasn't surprised that it happened."

What's showing up on the film this year is quite different. Huff is playing with confidence as the lone deep safety in Oakland's man-to-man defense, aggressively attacking the ball and making big plays.

His interceptions against Matt Cassel last week kept the Raiders in the game long enough for Oakland to pull out a late 13-10 victory.

"It takes some players a little time to mature in this game and understand what the NFL is all about," former star cornerback Deion Sanders said on NFL Network this week. "He has now hit that point of maturity."

NOTES: Erik Pears will start at left guard in place of injured Robert Gallery. ... WR Johnnie Lee Higgins (right shoulder) was limited in practice but could return after missing last week's game. If Higgins and Eugene can't play, Darren McFadden will line up as punt returner under orders to call for a fair catch on each kick, Cable said.