Raiders TE Clive Walford makes most of rare opportunity
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By JOSH DUBOW
ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) Clive Walford spent most of the first three months of the season as an afterthought on the Oakland Raiders offense.
With the addition of Jared Cook as the starting tight end and an offense that relied much more on three-receiver sets than using multiple tight ends, Walford got few opportunities to make plays for Oakland.
That all changed last week when starting receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper were sidelined and Walford was called on for a bigger role and delivered in a major way in a 24-17 win for the Raiders over the New York Giants.
"It's just a waiting game. When your number is called, you have to make a play," Walford said Tuesday. "With our starting receivers down, I knew somebody would have to step up and make a play. That's what I did."
Walford exceeded his receiving totals from the first 11 games combined, catching four passes for 57 yards in a season-high 25 snaps on offense. Walford had been averaging fewer than nine snaps a game heading into the contest and had just three catches for 10 yards.
Walford had a key catch on a field-goal drive in the first half that gave the Raiders the lead for good.
"I thought Clive came up big," coach Jack Del Rio said. "He's been patient all year. Obviously, it's tough. We brought in Jared and Jared has a big role. A lot of those things are things that Clive can do as well. Called on him in a bigger role and he responded and had a nice game."
The Raiders expected those kinds of performances out of Walford when they drafted him in the third round in 2015. He showed promise as a rookie with 28 catches for 329 yards and four touchdowns.
But an offseason ATV accident hampered Walford last season when he had 33 catches for 359 yards and three TDs. His numbers plummeted this year following the addition of Cook, who is the team's leading receiver with 43 catches for 546 yards.
But his teammates' belief in Walford didn't waver and left tackle Donald Penn said he made a point of telling Walford he wouldn't congratulate him because he expects those performances.
"You haven't heard Clive complain once," Penn said. "He's a true professional about it. When his number is called, what does he go out there and do? He goes out there and makes great plays and makes great catches. That's how your number gets called more. I'm happy for him. Clive did that last year and the year before for us. That's Clive and what he does."
He just hadn't gotten many opportunities because of Cook. The Raiders used multiple tight ends for at least 20 plays just once the first nine games. But that changed after Crabtree got ejected early against Denver and Cooper had a concussion and sprained ankle in the first half.
Crabtree was suspended last week and Cooper was still hurt, leading the Raiders to use multiple tight ends 43 times the past two games.
But Walford hasn't let the emergence of Cook affect him at all.
"I'm a competitor," he said. "I watched film on him. I know he's a great player. I just thought I could benefit from him. That's the positive thing. I didn't get down at all. I just figured I could learn from him and Lee Smith."
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Updated December 5, 2017