(Eds: With AP Photos.)By JOSH DUBOWAP Sports Writer
Rod Streater spent last December preparing with Temple for the New Mexico Bowl, what he believed would be the final football game of his career.
With only 19 catches as a senior, Streater understandably drew little notice from NFL scouts and was resigned to pursuing a career with his degree in communications and public relations.
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Just a year later, Streater is proving he belongs in the NFL as he has become a trusted target for Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer and a key part of the Raiders’ future.
”It’s a crazy feeling,” he said. ”I thought football was over for me. I was just looking at getting a job. Then you come here and the game’s on your hands. It’s a lot of pressure and then it’s not. It’s what you prepare for. It’s what you want to do as a kid growing up. It’s a good feeling.”
Streater is tied for sixth among all rookie wide receivers with 28 catches and has 429 yards receiving and three touchdowns. After hitting the proverbial rookie wall near Thanksgiving when he fell behind fellow rookie Juron Criner on the depth chart, Streater has gotten a second wind and put together his two most productive games the past two weeks.
”That’s part of being a rookie,” coach Dennis Allen said. ”It’s a little bit of a roller-coaster ride, and you have some ups and downs. Criner was getting a little bit more playing time and he (Streater) was getting a little bit less playing time, and then he got the opportunity and made a few plays. That’s what it’s all about. When you make plays you play a lot more.”
Streater bounced back from a zero-catch performance in Cincinnati on Nov. 25 to catch three balls for 96 yards and a touchdown against Cleveland the following week. Then on national television last Thursday night against Denver, Streater had four catches for a career-high 100 yards.
”I feel like I’m improving each week,” he said. ”No matter what it is I always want to get better. Next week I’ll try to go better than 100. I just try to get better.”
Streater acknowledged that succeeding in the NFL takes much more work than he was used to putting in during college. He credits his improved play on the field to more work off it that has helped him better recognize coverages.
Streater said he is making fewer mistakes during games and is adjusting well to the faster pace in the NFL.
”Rod is doing great,” Palmer said. ”I love what he brings to the team. He’s a rookie but you’d never know it. He’s athletically gifted, he’s fast, he catches the ball really well, and does not think the game like a rookie. He thinks the game like a veteran. He’s doing phenomenal.”
It’s been quite an impressive performance from a player who was passed over by all 32 teams in the NFL draft.
Streater never got much of a chance to show what he could do in college. He played defensive back and receiver for two years in junior college at Alfred State before transferring to Temple.
The Owls weren’t much of a throwing team and Streater had just 49 catches in two seasons there, including only 19 his senior season.
That was a big reason why he never expected to have a chance in the NFL. But he decided he would keep working out anyway after his final college season and impressed scouts at his pro day.
Despite not being drafted in April, Streater was targeted immediately by Oakland and signed as an undrafted free agent. He made a quick impression at a rookie minicamp and kept up the strong performance throughout OTAs, minicamp and training camp.
A strong exhibition season helped him make the roster and he has been a valuable contributor all season for Oakland.
”He’s been making plays since he’s been here,” said Oakland receiver Jacoby Ford, who has been injured all season. ”He looked up to us. We told him, `You just got to go out there and make plays.’ I told him yesterday, I said, `They’re going to give you guys some opportunities to make plays and they’re going to throw it up. Just take advantage of your opportunity.’ And that’s exactly what he does. He just makes plays week in, week out.”
NOTES: The Raiders were granted a one-day extension to sell enough tickets to avoid a local blackout. The team has been blacked out just once the past two years. … S Tyvon Branch missed his third straight practice with injuries to his neck and ankle. … DT Richard Seymour tweaked his hamstring that sidelined him the past five weeks. … DT Christo Bilukidi returned after missing practice Wednesday with an illness. … LB Rolando McClain had nothing to say about his recent suspension, saying ”coach covered everything.”
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