NAPA — Chimdi Chekwa has dealt with so much in his first two NFL seasons that a matchup with wide receiver James Jones in practice seemed fairly easy in comparison for the Oakland cornerback.
At least that’s how Chekwa made it look Thursday.
The former fourth-round draft pick dropped back into coverage, stopped, then made a quick break forward and got in front of Jones to knock away the pass thrown by quarterback Matt Schaub.
Not intercepting the ball left Chekwa shaking his head as he jogged back to the huddle.
“James does a great job of getting to the ball, regardless of where the ball’s thrown,” Chekwa said. “It’s hard to pick off a ball that’s going to James Jones but it should have been a pick.”
Chekwa has made several similar plays during the first week of training camp since stepping in for injured projected starter D.J. Hayden.
Hayden, the 12th overall pick in 2013, is recovering from offseason surgery and likely to miss the first month of camp. He has spent his afternoons watching practice from the sidelines, another blow for a player Oakland was banking on to play a major role in the secondary.
The Raiders initially mulled moving nickel back Carlos Rogers to the left corner spot before opting to go with Chekwa.
“He did some things in the spring that we were impressed with,” Oakland coach Dennis Allen said. “Since I’ve gotten here he’s continued to get better and better every day. He’s very, very valuable to us on special teams, so if he continues to improve, I think Chimdi’s a guy that can help us this year.”
Chekwa played in 15 games last season, most of his work coming on special teams. That followed two disappointing years in which the former Ohio State starter was beset by injuries and circumstances.
He spent nearly all of his rookie campaign on injured reserve in 2011, was cut by the Raiders at the end of preseason in 2012, and then was re-signed to the team’s practice squad.
Chekwa is a rare breed in Oakland: He’s one of just nine players on the roster who were drafted by late owner Al Davis.
Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie have overhauled the team in their two-plus years together, ridding the roster of much of what the Hall-of-Fame owner had put together.
The majority of players who were kept had already compiled fairly impressive resumes in the NFL. Chekwa, in the minds of many, seemed like an afterthought.
Instead, the 26-year-old has emerged as the likely starter if Hayden’s recovery doesn’t go as planned.
“It was a difficult road but that builds character in an individual,” Chekwa said. “When you’re out there and you’re having a difficult time, that’s what helps you dig deep and finish plays. It’s all part of my road to doing what I want to do out here.
“I came into this league expecting it to be difficult. The one thing I always harp on is to get better every day and see where that takes you.”
Still, Chekwa’s history has taught him to take nothing for granted.
“My goal is higher than working with the starters,” he said. “So it’s hard to sit back and appreciate it when I’m working toward something else.”
Notes: Safety Charles Woodson intercepted Matt Schaub’s passes on back-to-back plays. After his first pick, Woodson ran over to the nearby bleachers and celebrated with fans. … First-round Khalil Mack drilled Mychal Rivera on a running play, knocking the second-year tight end on his back. … Brandian Ross returned an interception for a touchdown on a pass thrown by rookie Derek Carr. … NFL referees were on hand for the first time this camp.