OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 25: Fans of the Oakland Raiders cheer against the New York Jets at O.co Coliseum on September 25, 2011 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
DeMarcus Van Dyke has come a long way from his rough introduction to life in the NFL.
Picked apart in the preseason and throughout training camp, the Oakland Raiders' rookie cornerback is coming into his own after getting thrust into a starting role.
Despite being targeted regularly by teams that have tried to avoid throwing at the more-accomplished Stanford Routt, Van Dyke is holding his own. He has allowed just 10 completions on 26 passes thrown toward him so far this season, according to STATS LLC.
That's the eighth-best rate of any cornerback who has had at least 20 passes thrown his way.
``Like I told you before, once you know you're a great player your confidence is never shaken,'' Van Dyke said. ``I came in with the confidence and I am just trying to run with it now.''
Van Dyke started just three games at Miami as a senior but stood out at the NFL combine, where he ran a 4.25 40-yard dash. Along with the sprinter speed that made him so attractive to the Raiders, coach Hue Jackson has praised his loose hips, 6-foot-1 size and makeup as attributes that should help in man coverage.
But because he weighed only 180 pounds, some people questioned whether he could hold up against more physical receivers. Van Dyke struggled at times in training camp and was exposed in the preseason. On his first play as a professional, he lined up against five-time Pro Bowler Larry Fitzgerald and was beaten for a 43-yard gain. He later allowed a TD pass in that game as the Cardinals picked on him repeatedly. It only got worse in the third preseason game on national TV, when New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees beat Van Dyke four times on
the opening drive.
But the Raiders kept believing in Van Dyke and ended up cutting two cornerbacks taken in last year's draft, Jeremy Ware and Walter McFadden. That belief is paying off now for the Raiders.
``It was just how fast he could get used to the speed of the game at this level,'' Jackson said. ``Obviously he took his lumps early in the preseason. People went after him. I think what people
are finding out is he's very resilient. He keeps working at it. He's not going to back down now. Now he's starting to make some plays. He's made an interception here or there. I think people are
starting to see this guy's got ability and talent, and I think his confidence is growing because of it.''
Van Dyke started the season playing behind veteran Chris Johnson and missed the third game of the season with an injury. But with Johnson sidelined with an injury since September, Van Dyke moved into the starting lineup against Houston on Oct. 9 and has been up to the challenge. He allowed one completion on five throws in his direction in that win over the Texans.
He was targeted 12 times the following week by Cleveland's Colt McCoy and held his own, allowing five catches for 63 yards. Kansas City threw at him eight times the following week and he allowed four catches for 33 yards and intercepted a pass.
``The main thing is that he is just settling in,'' Routt said. ``They kind of went after him in the preseason, but he has done just fine the last three games. He is just getting comfortable.
It's also helped that you guys aren't on his back anymore, with all the plays that he gave up or whatever early. He is playing the way he played at the U.''
Van Dyke's transition has been eased by the teaching he gets on the Raiders, who have two Hall of Fame cornerbacks on their staff in Rod Woodson and Willie Brown. Woodson has pressed his cornerbacks since the start of training camp to be aggressive and
``pull the trigger'' _ something Van Dyke struggled with at first. But as evidenced by his interception in his last game, Van Dyke is showing signs of improving at playing the ball, which was a major weakness when he arrived a few months ago.
``It's been a process from preseason on to Week 8,'' Van Dyke said. ``Got to just keep grinding. Got a long season. Got to keep doing what Coach Woodson wants me to do. I feel more comfortable out there every rep I take in practice and in games. As the season goes along, I think I should get better every practice.'' Notes: The Raiders announced that Sunday's game is sold out and will be broadcast locally, marking the first time since 2006 that they have started the season with five sellouts. ... RB Darren McFadden (right foot) once again missed practice and it appears as though Michael Bush will get the start Sunday. ... MLB Rolando McClain (ankle) and K Sebastian Janikowski (hamstring) also missed practice but Jackson is hopeful they will be able to go Sunday.