Raiders wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey had a rookie season that he would just as soon forget.
That's not bound to happen when you're the seventh pick in the draft, get a contract that guarantees you $23.5 million and the immediate return is nine receptions in 11 games.
Rather than sulk or place blame elsewhere, Heyward-Bey went to work soon after the season ended in an attempt to become a more productive player.
"It hurt him what happened last year," Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. "Naturally, he didn't feel good about the things that were said. It's not like it was a secret. He knew that he didn't play well. That hurt him. This year, it looks like he's had a different purpose. He's going out and doing well."
Coach Tom Cable singled out Heyward-Bey early in the offseason as having made significant strides since the end of last season.
The changes aren't difficult to spot. Heyward-Bey has bulked up to 215 pounds, 10 pounds more than last season. He no longer drops passes on a regular basis in practice, and he plays with an edge not seen at any point last season.
"If you're here, you can play in this league," Heyward-Bey said. "You just have to go out and make it happen."
To that end, Heyward-Bey makes it a point of staying after practice most days to work one on one with Asomugha, a two-time Pro Bowler.
Asomugha shows Heyward-Bey ways to disguise his pass routes, how to read a defender, anything to gain an edge.
Finding ways to improve has dominated Heyward-Bey's mind-set the past seven months or so. No energy gets wasted looking back.
"The biggest thing is how he handles it," Cable said. "If he does have a drop, if he does make a mistake, (it's) how he handles it the next play. That's the greatest growth I've seen in him. Real maturity."
Now Cable is eager to see that maturation carry over into games.
"The amount of pressure that was put on that kid from all angles, the scrutiny came the day he was picked, probably unfair, but, hey, this is the NFL and that's what it is," Cable said. "But with his work ethic and his character, he's going to be what he's supposed to be."
If the Raiders gave lazy, undedicated JaMarcus Russell ample time to prove himself, they are certainly going to give Heyward-Bey plenty of chances despite his shaky rookie season. The Raiders have certainly improved at quarterback with Jason Campbell and have some easy games on their schedule, but Heyward-Bey would need to light it up in preseason to be anything more than a late-round selection.