Camp analysis: Running backs


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

Here are links to a story by beat writer Steve Corkran on Canton-bound Rod Woodson and a column by yours truly on the season-changing 98-yard interception return against the Denver Broncos.


Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer

  • RaiderJohn

    Dear Jamarcus Russell,
    In a year where all the TV analysts are saying this is your make or break season I disagree. Typically the rule is 3 years before the “bust” tag can be applied and your first year didn’t count because of the hold-out. That contract is done, feed and house your family well and give us fan-family what we deserve; A Super Bowl!! Not this year, no pressure but in time? Yes, I believe in you.
    So as a big fan of yours and an active member of the Raider Nation I have to ask you: ARE YOU READY? Are you ready to quiet the critics? Are you ready to handle the media? And most important are you ready to be the LEADER of the Oakland Raiders for the next 15 seasons? In the huddle, in the locker room, off and on the field, down by 7 with 1:32 in the 4th? ARE YOU READY?
    Your skill is a gift, a god-given gift that was given to you for the purpose of winning and entertaining. And you ARE a RAIDER, so let’s do this huh? I don’t know yet if they gave you that right tools to be a true passer with DHB. Khalif Barnes etc..but only time will tell. And Garcia? They just put him there to light your fire. That’s all. You are the starter for now, but listen to Jeff because he has been around the block a few times seeing that he is 39 years old and all. But also know this, you are 24 years old right? You have your whole life ahead of you, don’t you want to go to the hall of fame some day? I think it’s possible but you need to apply yourself as a leader NOW! That’s where it starts.
    While critics say what they say about you, they rarely mention the positive. Never have a seen you blame your WR’s or your O-line men, or slag off your team mates in the media (think Ryan Leaf), You seem to be accountable on the field. Never mind the big arm, that’s just something you already have. You were born to do this.
    This season understand this; our defense against ranks worst against the run, and this will not allow you much time to even be on the field as teams will again know to simply eat up the clock on the Raiders by running the ball over and over. This was not addressed in the off season. The schedule is also VERY difficult. This means that 2-6 by mid-season is very possible. But it won’t be your fault necessarily , the organization is to blame for not putting the right people in place. Garcia will come in, he’ll win a couple games and the analysts will go crazy. Warren Sapp will be beaming with arrogance (even though he praised you a few months ago, what’s wrong with that dude?), and people will say “I told you so” BUT they will be wrong. I know there is greatness in you, I know you are pro-bowl material, and I know you can take US to the Super Bowl.
    So go into this season as the leader of the Oakland Raiders, hold your head up high, get the team to play for you and gather around you and respect you as a LEADER!!

    -A true fan