Second in a series of posts analyzing Raiders position groups with players scheduled to report to Napa in seven days:
Projected starters: HB Darren McFadden, FB Lorenzo Neal. Backups: RB Justin Fargas, RB Michael Bush, RB-FB Gary Russell, RB Louis Rankin, FB Luke Lawton, FB Oren O’Neal, FB Marcel Reece.
More often than not, it was McFadden taking snaps with the first team during the offseason, although both Fargas and Bush got considerable work as well. Apparently healed after having his season derailed by turf toe, McFadden is Oakland’s most explosive offensive player as a runner/receiver, and his paycheck befits a lead runner. Neal has been a body guard for the likes of LaDainian Tomlinson, Eddie George and Corey Dillon during their biggest seasons and coach Tom Cable says he moves well enough in space to be a zone blocker.
As much as the coaching staff likes Rankin, making the 53-man roster will be tough with three running backs accounted for as well as the arrival of running back/fullback Russell, who got a lot of work upon arrival this offseason.
Lawton could be the odd man out assuming Neal holds up and O’Neal is healthy. We’ll find out in a week if O’Neal can indeed join the contact fray or if he is still rehabbing a severe knee injury.
The key battle: Fargas vs. Bush. Fargas is a favorite of the coaching staff because he runs without fear and no regard for his personal safety. The feeling is it gives the offense a sense of toughness. But he’s largely a between-the-20s player because of limited receiving skills with just six rushing touchdowns and on 618 carries over the past three seasons (he has now receiving touchdowns during that span).
Bush compiled most of his 2009 stats on the strength of games in Week 2 against Kansas City and Week 17 against Tampa Bay, but he is such a force when on a roll it will be hard to justify not significantly increasing his workload.
What I think: Considering the attrition rate at the position, injuries will help determine the rotation. If McFadden, Bush and Fargas are all healthy, attempting to split the load three ways could prevent any of them from getting in a good rhythm.
Ideally, McFadden should get at least 225 carries and 50-plus receptions. Fargas will at some point be de-emphasized in favor of Bush. It’s just a matter of when.
Keep what the Raiders did with Greg Biekert in the back of your mind with regard to Fargas. Biekert was a starter, every bit as respected as Fargas. When it was determined Napoleon Harris would become the starting middle linebacker, Biekert was told he could take a paycut befitting his new role or be released and attempt to be a starter somewhere else. He chose the latter.
If Bush comes up huge in Napa . . .
What could go wrong: McFadden gets hurt again, suddenly making durability an issue after being an extremely durable back in the SEC. Bush isn’t quite the operator on a week-to-week basis that he was in two games last year, meaning the leading rusher is once again Fargas. Not bad, but not what the Raiders have in mind, either.
Rod Woodson’s legacy