ALAMEDA, California — For a player who spent the past two seasons as one of the primary targets for Oakland Raiders quarterbacks, tight end Mychal Rivera is surprisingly comfortable being out of the spotlight this year.
The additions of wide receivers Michael Crabtree and first-round draft pick Amari Cooper, coupled with Oakland's efforts to revive a running game that was non-existent for much of last season, have combined to limit Rivera's opportunities.
And he's just fine with it.
"The tight end role this year is awesome," Rivera said Friday. "We're all contributing, we all have our skills that we're really good at and the coaches know that. They're putting us in the game to do what skills we're best at."
For Rivera, that used to mean catching the ball and providing a safety net for his quarterback.
A sixth-round draft pick in 2013, Rivera caught 96 passes for 941 yards and eight touchdowns over his first two seasons.
Rivera was such an integral part of Oakland's offense that he was targeted 91 times in 2014, tied for second on the team behind wide receiver James Jones and the seventh-most in the NFL among all tight ends.
This season has been completely different.
Through the first two games Rivera has caught just four of the seven passes thrown his way for 19 yards. Walford, a third-round pick this year who missed much of training camp while injured, has two catches for five yards while Smith has one catch for six yards.
Rivera isn't concerned with the numbers. Having spent the offseason working on his blocking skills, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound tight end gauges his games in other ways.
"My job is to play the tight end role however the coaches want me to play it," Rivera said. "As long as I'm a part of the game plan, man, that's all that matters to me. There are a lot of X's and O's that people watching TV or the fans don't see. It takes 11 guys to make a play work."
This week, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave acknowledged the need for the Raiders to get their tight ends more involved in the passing game. That might be easier said than done as long as Crabtree and Cooper stay healthy.
After a shaky start in the season-opener two weeks ago, the two emerged last week as potent threats in Oakland's offense. Crabtree caught nine passes for 111 yards and a touchdown while Cooper had seven receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown.
It marked the first time since 2005 that the Raiders had two wide receivers with at least 100 yards and one touchdown in receptions in the same game.
Oakland coach Jack Del Rio, though, insists the tight end remains a key part of the Raiders' passing game.
"Really it's a game plan week to week, how we're going to attack people," Del Rio said. "We do have more weapons available for Derek but the reality is Mychal is a guy that we really appreciate and respect. We know that he's going to get his catches and his opportunities throughout the season."
Notes: DE Justin Tuck (knee) and S Charles Woodson (shoulder) practiced without limitations and are probable for Sunday's game in Cleveland. ... Backup FB Jamize Olawale (ankle) was limited and is questionable. DT Justin Ellis (ankle) and DE Benson Mayowa (knee) did not practice and are out.