ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — The Oakland Raiders returned from their bye week on Monday by signing former Pro Bowl cornerback Lito Sheppard and are planning a workout for former Pro Bowl receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Houshmandzadeh played in Cincinnati with new Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer and was coached by current Raiders head coach Hue Jackson, but has been out of the league so far this season.
Houshmandzadeh had been working out with Palmer in Southern California before the Raiders traded for the quarterback two weeks ago. Houshmandzadeh will work out for Oakland on Tuesday.
Jackson said the decision to look at Houshmandzadeh had been in the works for a while and did not have to do with getting a receiver who had worked previously with Palmer.
“What I need to do is find out what he is,” Jackson said. “I’m going to do everything I can to improve our football team. I mean, he may not be what he once was. He may be what he once was. But I get the opportunity to see him, and see him up close and personal and go from there.”
Houshmandzadeh was at his best with the Bengals with Palmer, catching a career-high 112 passes for 1,143 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2007. After averaging 89 catches, for 1,012 yards and seven touchdowns over a five-year span in Cincinnati, Houshmandzadeh struggled the past two seasons in Seattle and Baltimore.
He had only 30 catches for 398 yards and three touchdowns with the Ravens last season and had a key drop late in a playoff loss to Pittsburgh. No one picked him up this offseason but the Raiders are ready to take a look to see if he can regain his old form.
“He’s a born leader,” said safety Chinedum Ndukwe, who played with Houshmandzadeh in Cincinnati. “He’s a competitor. He gets open. You can’t really explain it. He might not be the fastest guy, he might not look like the greatest athlete but he gets it done. In the slot, I don’t think there’s any better in the league in the slot.”
The Raiders had an open spot on their roster this week and used it on Sheppard. He spent time in training camp with the Raiders and played in the final exhibition game before being cut. He had not caught on with any other team and was brought back by the Raiders, who have two cornerbacks banged up in Chris Johnson and Chimdi Chekwa.
Sheppard worked out for a handful of teams over the last few months, including the Raiders a few weeks ago.
“I’ve been preparing as if it was going to happen that next day each day,” Sheppard said. “But it was a relief because I felt like I was doing a pretty good job here and I kind of couldn’t understand it (being released) but then they called me back so they appreciated some of what I was doing so that was a big help.”
Sheppard is a former Pro Bowler but started only two games for Minnesota last season. He started nine games for the New York Jets in 2009 and three for Philadelphia the previous season. He had been a starter for the Eagles before that, intercepting 14 passes from 2004 to 2006.
His coverage numbers have dropped in recent years, according to STATS LLC. Sheppard allowed quarterbacks to complete 58 percent of their passes in his direction the past three seasons with 10 touchdowns, two interceptions and a 97.6 quarterback rating. In his first five seasons, Sheppard allowed opponents to catch 56.7 percent of their passes with 11 TDs, 17 interceptions and a 72.3 rating.
“He was somebody that I always watched, especially when I was a rookie,” Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt said. “He has always had good feet, good instincts and for someone that is undersized, he plays much bigger than his size. He is definitely someone that helps the secondary out physically as well as from a mental aspect.”
The Raiders officially took the past four days off, but the receivers worked with Palmer on their own to build up some rapport with the new quarterback. Receiver Jacoby Ford said that work helped improve the timing of the passing game, which Jackson said was evident at practice
“I thought he looked really sharp today,” Jackson said. “He did some really good things today. He really has a grasp of what we’re trying to accomplish. I think when I heard of what those guys did on those two days, spending time together really showed out here.”
Notes: RB Darren McFadden (foot) did not practice and Jackson had no information on what his status would be for this week. … MLB Rolando McClain (ankle) and K Sebastian Janikowski (hamstring) were among the other players who did not practice.