NAPA, Calif. – After four days of limited contact drills, the Oakland Raiders will hit for the first time Monday.
Rookie Lamarr Houston can't wait.
Houston was one of the Raiders' most noticeable players during offseason workouts, as much for his frequent flare-ups with teammates as for his play. Don't expect much change when the pads go on.
"That's just how I am," Houston said Sunday, taking a break from the team's two-a-day workouts. "I love the game and I love to play. Until they tell me not to play, I'm going to go out there and play to the fullest."
That attitude — and a need to plug one of the NFL's weakest run defenses — is precisely why the Raiders made Houston the 44th overall pick in April's draft.
Since 2002, Oakland hasn't finished higher than 22nd against the run. Over the past seven seasons, the Raiders are allowing a league-worst 143.7 yards per game along with 146 rushing touchdowns. Last season they were 29th in run defense, allowing 155.5 yards per game.
That has been a big factor in the team's run of seven consecutive seasons with at least 11 losses, a league record for futility.
Coach Tom Cable and defensive coordinator John Marshall have wasted no time throwing the rookie into the mix. Houston opened training camp as Oakland's starting left defensive end, lining up alongside five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Richard Seymour.
"I ask (him) everything I can ask," Houston said. "He's been in the league for a long time and he has so many Super Bowl rings. Anything I can ask, I ask him during meetings and after meeting. Sometimes I just sit down with him and ask him about techniques and stuff."
The Raiders focused on improving their run defense during the offseason. The used their first-round pick on middle linebacker Rolando McClain and immediately selected him to be a starter. They also added veteran defensive tackle John Henderson and franchised Seymour.
Cable didn't rule out Houston playing as much as McClain, either.
"I don't see why not," Cable said. "Certainly, we'll find out as we go. But that's why we picked him, really."
Houston played primarily defensive tackle in college, though he was an end during his first two years at Texas. Raiders scouts were impressed by his athleticism — Houston is a former high school running back — and it didn't take long for his teammates to come to the same conclusion.
That is, when Houston wasn't getting into a scuffle or two.
During the Raiders' organized team activities and minicamps, Houston managed to get into tussles with veteran offensive linemen Robert Gallery and Langston Walker, as well as running back Rock Cartwright.
Now comes Oakland's first day of hitting.
"I'm excited, it's been a long time since everybody's been in some pads," Houston said with a grin. "Working technique in pads will be a lot different than just working in jerseys. It should be fine. Without pads, some guys get a little frustrated, and you just know with pads on, it will be a little bit different."
Notes: WRs Chaz Schilens (foot) and Louis Murphy (head) sat out practice again. Murphy was kneed in the head by cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha during Saturday's practice. ... The Raiders will hold one practice Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but will go twice a day on Tuesday and Thursday.