NAPA — Andre Holmes is the biggest wide receiver on the Oakland Raiders roster.
He’s playing like it, too.
The 6-foot-4-inch, 210-pound has been quarterback Matt Schaub’s most consistent downfield threat since the team began practicing, following up on a surprising 2013 campaign in which Holmes led the club in yards per catch after missing the first five games.
That has elevated the former undrafted free agent atop Oakland’s first depth chart released by the team.
While that holds about as much significance as scoring touchdowns in practice, it’s a definite sign of the Raiders believe that Holmes can solve the question of who will be the team’s number one receiver in 2014.
“A long strider, has a big burst up the field, can separate and then go up and get the football … exactly what you want from a receiver,” Schaub said Monday. “I’m excited to see what he can do in game action. He’s a big, big threat for us.”
Schaub knows the benefits of having a big, physical receivers named Andre. Oakland’s first-year quarterback spent the past seven seasons throwing to 6-3, 220-pound Andre Johnson, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection.
Holmes clearly isn’t on Johnson’s level. He has just 27 career receptions and has scored only one touchdown in 17 games.
Still, for an Oakland team that doesn’t have a clear-cut No. 1 wideout Holmes is currently the closest thing to it.
He certainly looked the part so far, an encouraging sign for an offense that tied for 24th in passing last season.
“It’s a good feeling but I still look to improve in many areas,” Holmes said. “I can’t be complacent. I know that I have a lot to work on and that’s what I’m trying to do right now in this camp.”
Holmes hasn’t dropped many passes in practice and made a pair of nice receptions after the Raiders returned from a day off.
He beat rookie defensive back Keith McGill to haul in a deep touchdown throw from Schaub, then later split the zone coverage of veteran cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Tyvon Branch to make another long catch.
“We’re starting to click a little bit,” Holmes said of he and Schaub. “He knows where I like the ball and he’s been placing it in those areas a lot. He’s starting to get a connection with all of us in knowing where we’re going to be and kind of the timing of the routes.”
The Raiders picked up Holmes off waivers last year but weren’t quite sure what they were getting.
A three-year starter at Division II Hillsdale College, Holmes went undrafted in 2011 and was cut by the Minnesota Vikings at the end of training camp. He spent the next two years with Dallas but played in just seven games and caught only two passes.
Holmes signed with Oakland on May 13, 2013 but missed the first four games after testing positive for a banned substance that violated the league’s performance enhancing drugs.
He sat out a fifth game as a roster exemption and didn’t make his first catch of 2013 until Week 11. Holmes finished with 25 catches for 431 yards and a team-leading 17.2-yard average.
“He has surpassed what we thought we were getting when we brought him in here, and there’s still a lot that he can improve on,” Oakland coach Dennis Allen. “But I’m happy with what we’re getting out of Andre Holmes. He’s going to be a real factor for us. With the nature of the NFL now and kind of trend in the league is these bigger, physical receivers and he certainly fits that mold.
“Sometimes you get these big receivers and they don’t play big but Andre’s one of those guys that not only does he have that physical stature but he plays to that stature.”
That’s something that’s taken Holmes some time to get accustomed to doing.
In college, he used his speed and quickness to get around smaller, slower defensive backs. In the NFL,Holmes has become adept at using his size to his advantage while going up for the ball.
“I actually put a lot of emphasis this offseason and this training camp on being more physical, especially off the line,” Holmes said. “Not necessarily using as much quickness off the line but trying to use my strengths in that I have long arms and I’m at times stronger than the other DB. I put a lot of emphasis in that when I run my routes.”
Notes: Owner Mark Davis was back on the sidelines watching practice after attending the Hall of Fame induction of former Raiders punter Ray Guy. … LB Sio Moore sat out with a sore rib. In his absence, Miles Burris took the reps at outside linebacker with the first-team defense.