ALAMEDA (AP) — Jacoby Ford was happy making the Oakland Raiders roster as a backup kick returner. With injuries sidelining two of the team’s top three wide receivers, the rookie is being pressed into a starting role this week.
Ford, a fourth-round draft pick, will replace Louis Murphy and make his first NFL start Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. Murphy has a chest contusion near his lung, an injury suffered when he collided with teammate Marcel Reece while both were trying to catch a pass in last week’s 59-14 win over Denver.
“It’s really no different for me preparing,” Ford said Thursday. “I just have to go out there and make some plays when my number’s called. I know all of (the positions) really well, so I’m pretty much comfortable in every single position.”
Ford has only two catches this season, both coming last week against the Broncos. One went for a first down, the other set up Reece’s 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Ford also ran the ball twice on reverses for 29 yards.
Along with Nick Miller, who also made his first career reception against Denver, Ford is part of Oakland’s young receiving corps that is getting more attention this season due to the injuries to Murphy and Chaz Schilens.
Schilens was projected to be the Raiders’ No. 1 receiver this season but hasn’t played at all while recovering from offseason knee surgery. The team originally tabbed him back for the Week 6 game against San Francisco but Schilens’ recovery has gone slower than expected.
“There is progress, it’s just slow,” coach Tom Cable said of Schilens. “But there is progress.”
Murphy has not practiced this week and has already been ruled out of Sunday’s game against Seattle. That robs Oakland of its leading wide receiver. Murphy’s 21 catches for 337 yards are second on the Raiders only to tight end Zach Miller, who has 33 catches for 453 yards.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, the Raiders’ first-round draft pick in 2009, has 14 catches for 161 yards but felt ill after the first series against the Broncos and sat out the remainder of the game.
That moved Ford into the lineup after he previously played almost strictly on special teams. Ford replaced Yamon Figurs as Oakland’s kickoff returner early in the season and has averaged 21.2 yards a return ever since, including a season-high 64-yarder against Houston on Oct. 3.
“Jacoby is improving daily and the game’s not too big for him,” Cable said. “(Ford and Miller) both have a good understanding of what we’re doing so it’s just an opportunity for them to go out and make some plays.”
Ford and the rest of Oakland’s receivers should get plenty of work this week. Seattle has the NFL’s second-ranked run defense and will try to shut down Raiders running back Darren McFadden, who is third in the AFC and eighth overall with 557 yards. He rushed for a career-high 165 yards and matched a franchise record with four touchdowns, three on the ground, in the record-setting win against Denver.
If the Seahawks have a defensive weakness, though, it’s in the secondary, something Ford hopes to take advantage of.
“It’s going to take a good effort on our part, running good routes and just trying to beat them in transition,” Ford said. “No matter what, they’re still going to be on our hip so it’s going to take a lot of technique and discipline on our part to be able to get open and have some good plays against these guys.”
Notes: QB Bruce Gradkowski is improving but hasn’t been cleared to play yet. … Besides Murphy and Schilens, DT John Henderson (foot) and CB Chris Johnson (concussion) did not practice.
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