Oakland Raiders: Darren McFadden Leads a Deep Backfield
John Doublin – May 21, 2012
To continue Raider Nation Times' series on the depth at every position of the Oakland Raiders, it's time to discuss perhaps the most talented squad on the team—the running backs.
For all of their faults over the last decade, the Raiders have always had a strong running game, with few exceptions. Sometimes it didn't manifest in points or wins because other positions on the team were so bad, (the endless cavalcade of horrific quarterbacks since the Rich Gannon era).
Teams simply stacked the box and the Raiders' entire offense was neutralized.
Assuming Raider Nation is correct and a full off-season with his teammates and coaches will bring Carson Palmer back to his Pro Bowl caliber self, quarterback play will no longer be an issue and the Raiders' running game will experience a return to is once-dominant glory.
To help with the renewal and growth at this position, general manager Reggie McKenzie has brought in a lot of young, hungry talent.
Beginning with the half backs...
Darren McFadden: Until going down with a debilitating Lisfranc injury, McFadden was on pace for a career year. Reports from camp are suggesting that he is working out at full speed—even making cuts and running routes. This is welcome news for Raider fans because as McFadden goes, so go the Raiders.
Assuming he is at full strength, McFadden has the opportunity to complete the season he started last year. In 2011, the speedy tailback from Arkansas was averaging 5.4 yards per carry and on pace to reach 1,755 total yards from scrimmage and 12 total touchdowns.
If McFadden can simply finish the season and come close to those projections, Raider Nation will stop talking about his injury issues, and start talking about how great he really is.
McFadden will enter the season as the unquestioned starter.
Taiwan Jones: This second year back from Div-II Eastern Washington has the tools to be great. Blinding speed, ridiculous agility and the heart of a lion. Unfortunately, he too was struck by the injury bug in 2011.
Jones suffered perhaps the most common of running back injuries—a severe hamstring pull. These types of injuries are notoriously difficult to come back from and only time can heal them fully. Jones has had since Week-11 last year to heal up and if he isn't bothered by this again, he could be a nice number two option for the offense.
Jones must clean up his pass blocking and route running skills, but adds value to the team by being capable of returning punts or kicks. It's difficult to cut a guy like that.
Jones will likely begin the 2012 season as the primary back up to McFadden.
Mike Goodson: Acquired this off-season in a trade for under-performing offensive lineman and workout warrior Bruce Campbell, Goodson has something in common with McFadden—they were both serious Heisman Trophy contenders in college.
Goodson shows well on tape, but managed to slip in the 2009 NFL Draft for reasons unknown. A fourth round pick of the Carolina Panthers, Goodson managed to make the team, but never saw meaningful playing time due to the log jam in the Panther back field known as DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
If Goodson can apply himself to the NFL game, learn the playbook and stay healthy, he has what it takes to not only push Jones for the number two spot, but actually find himself spelling McFadden on a regular basis if he can improve on the finer aspects of the position, like pass protection.
Goodson has a shot to unseat Jones as the number two back, but will most likely make the team as a special teams player and third rushing option.
Rashawn Jackson: When Michael Bush left for Chicago, Raider Nation went insane wondering how the team would replace such a big, physical back. Enter, Jackson. His 6'-0", 243 pound frame is very similar to Bush, but Jackson is much faster and more ellusive.
Jackson's receiving abilities aren't where Bush's were, but they're good enough to pose a legitimate threat to defenses. However, just like Jones and Goodson, Jackson has a lot of work ahead of him trying to grasp, understand and execute pass protection responsibilities.
As long as Jackson works hard and proves to be coachable, his receiving will improve and pass protection flaws can be cured. With improved blocking skills, Jackson's size could prove formidible to linebackers rushing off the edge.
If Jackson can improve enough to impress the coaches, he should find himself on special teams and as an emergency fourth option.
Lonyae Miller: Miller was an undrafted free agent of the Dallas Cowboys. In four games of action for Dallas in 2010, the only statistic he earned was one fumble recovery. The Raiders signed Miller to their practice squad at the start of the 2011 season where he remained the entire year.
This doesn't leave much to go on when trying to predict his fate on the Raiders in 2012. It's likely Miller will find himself in the same position as last year—on the practice squad.
Now, on to the fullbacks.
Marcel Reece: Reece will be the undisputed starter when training camp starts—if he decides to sign his exclusive rights tender offer and gets himself to practice.
In a previous article, a case was made that Oakland doesn't actually need Reece, but that the team would be better with him. This, like most everything, boils down to money. If McKenzie decides to pay Reece a salary that makes him happy, or if Reece decides he's willing to play for the $550,000 tender salary, he will enter camp and be named the starter—period.
Reece is a unique talent and a match-up nighmare for defenses. His run blocking needs to improve, but if a deal is not reached with Reece, the next player on this list is the likely "next man up."
Owen Schmitt: Signed early last week, Schmitt is the type of player that offensive coordinator Gregg Knapp likes. He's big, physical and tough. Schmitt is almost the "Bizzaro-Reece." He can't run away from a sloth, but he can put a Rhino on his back-side! A throwback fullback that fits perfectly with Knapp's philosophy as stated in the aforementioned article about Reece.
If Reece shows up to camp, Schmitt will be the number two and the lead blocker in big formations and goal line. If Reece doesn't show, Schmitt will be the stater.
Manase Tonga: Tonga made the team as an undrafted free agent last season and saw time in eight games after Reece was injured. He showed Raider Nation that he can be a servicable fullback, but not much more.
A solid blocker and hard worker, Tonga got his shot and did fairly well with it providing decent lead and pass blocking services for Bush and Palmer.
Unless tragedy strikes both Reece and Schmitt, Tonga will most likely be relegated to the practice squad once again.
TreShawn Robinson: A rookie from the University of Idaho, Robinson is what you'd expect from an undrafted free agent—a raw talent brought in as a "camp body."
His 5'-11", 246 pound body would suggest that Robinson can be a proto-typical fullback, but a of lack truly excelling at any one thing means he is most likely the first running back candidate to be cut from the Raiders' 2012 roster.
Final analysis: When all the dust settles, look for the Raiders to keep a total of no more than six running backs on the 53-man active roster: Halfbacks Darren McFadden, Taiwan Jones, Mike Goodson and Rashawn Jackson along with fullbacks Marcel Reece, (assuming his contract situation is remedied) and Owen Schmitt.
As for the other three, don't be surprised to see Lonyae Miller and Manase Tonga signed to the practice squad, while TreShawn Robinson will have to pursue his NFL dream with another team.
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