Filed for print . . .
Maurice Jones-Drew has a message for all the skeptics who doubt that he and Darren McFadden can erase two seasons of injury and ineffectiveness.
“Everybody can say what they want,’’ Jones-Drew said Tuesday as the Raiders began a three-day mandatory minicamp. “Just don’t be the same guy in a couple of months saying, `Oh, we knew they could do it.’ Hold yourself accountable like everyone holds us (accountable).’’
As recently as 2011, McFadden and Jones-Drew were considered among the top running backs in the NFL. McFadden was averaging 5.4 yards per carry when he went down with a Lisfranc injury to his foot. Jones-Drew had a career-high 1,606 yards rushing.
In 2012, Jones-Drew had a Lisfranc of his own and played in just six games, gaining 414 yards while McFadden was gaining 3.3 yards per carry as the Raiders switched to a zone scheme.
Last season was even worse. Jones-Drew averaged 3.4 yards per carry in 15 games, needing 234 carries to gain 803 yards. McFadden, even with a return to the power blocking scheme, again averaged 3.3 yards per carry in 10 games, again battling injuries.
Jacksonville made no effort to re-sign Jones-Drew, who led the franchise in rushing with 8,071 yards and touchdowns with 81. The Raiders brought McFadden back in part because they could get him at fraction of what he made in his first five seasons.
It isn’t often running backs with a handful of years in the league return to form once they fall to well under 4 yards per carry. There were whispers following the 1981 season Walter Payton was wearing after averaging 3.6 yards per carry, only to gain 7,707 yards over the next five seasons and powering his way to the Hall of Fame.
While no one is suggesting Jones-Drew and McFadden are Walter Payton, coach Dennis Allen likes what he sees through three weeks of organized team activities and a day of minicamp.
“When you watch ‘em practice, you see guys that still have explosion, guys that still have run skills, guys that still make people miss,’’ Allen said. “I don’t pay a lot of attention to what the statistics may say. I just see what I see with my eyes, and I see a copule of guys that if they can stay healthy, have the ability to perform at a high level.’’
McFadden said he and Jones-Drew have become good friends, but haven’t talked about their struggles over the past two seasons.
“It’s something that’s unspoken,’’ McFadden said. “We just go out there and play ball. We don’t think about what’s happened in the past. For me, the past is behind me. I don’t even care to even talk about it, really. I’m moving forward. The only place I can go is up.’’
Quarterback Matt Schaub said the real test will come in pads at training camp, but sees both running backs showing good burst in the open field. He likes their ability to pick up blitzing linebackers and also be explosive in the screen game.
“Just the way they complement each other is going to be a key to our success,’’ Schaub said.
– Before practice began, Allen had Raider legends Howie Long, Jim Plunkett, Raymond Chester and former coach Tom Flores say a few words to the team.
– Cornerback DJ Hayden remains out with a right ankle sprain but is expected to be ready for training camp. Allen conceded Hayden’s absence is a setback but “not the be-all and end-all.’’
Cornerback Carlos Rogers was also out with a calf injury, with Chimdi Chekwa working with the first unit alongside Tarell Brown.
Allen said the only player who probably won’t be ready for training camp is guard Lucas Nix, who he said had a “knee procedure’’ Tuesday.
– Rookie quarterback Derek Carr worked with the second team ahead of Matt McGloin and made some nice throws in what was generally a shaky day for the passing game s a whole.
– Miles Burris worked with the first team at weak side linebacker ahead of Sio Moore. Allen warned not to make too much of which players were first team, but did say Burris is completely healthy and has “put himself in the mix.’’
– Owner Mark Davis, who was not at any of the organized team activities over the past month, made his first appearance at practice since the rookie minicamp.