By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Wednesday, February 24th, 2010 at 11:01 am in Oakland Raiders.
Second in a series evaluating Raiders’ position groups as staff and scouts visit Indianapolis starting today for the scouting combine:
Starters: RB Michael Bush, FB Gary Russell. Backups: RB Darren McFadden, RB Justin Fargas, FB Luke Lawton, FB Oren O’Neal, FB Marcel Reece.
Review: For the third straight year, there are rumblings of the Raiders dumping players, and it’s worth remembering neither of the previous two supposed fire sales came off as planned.
Even if the Raiders want to make changes, it’s tough to do it with players who aren’t at the peak of production. Bush led Raiders rushers with 589 yards and a 4.8 average but never seems to have caught the fancy of coach Tom Cable. Privately, Bush’s propensity to remove himself when he’s on a roll, halting momentum, rubs the coaching staff the wrong way. For all his talent, Bush’s production is not liable to bring back much more than what they expended to get him _ a fourth round draft pick.
McFadden would be a considerable salary dump, but he’s been a huge disappointment and can be thankful JaMarcus Russell is around to overshadow two seasons which have approached bust status because of injury problems (turf toe as a rookie, arthroscopic knee surgery in second year) and an inability to break tackles as evidenced by a puny 3.4 yards per carry average. He looks to be a gifted receiver, but the Raiders passing game is so poor he’s yet to be fully exploited in that way.
As for Fargas, he’s entering the final year of his contract, missed the last two games because of injury, and for all his heart and leadership, no team is going to give up much for an used crash test dummy.
The rest of the position is populated with fullbacks _ Lawton is a restricted free agent still under suspension and it’s conceivable he’s out of the picture. O’Neal’s catastrophic knee injury as a rookie wasn’t sufficiently healed for him to be successful last year. He’ll need to show something this year. The Raiders don’t seem to know what they want to do with Reece, playing him at fullback, tight end and even wide receiver at the end of the season.
Russell is a tweener not big enough to be a big-blocking fullback, not nifty enough to be a fulltime runner.
Contract status: Russell is a fourth-year restricted free agent, Lawton is a third-year restricted free agent and also under suspension for the first two games of the 2010 season should he re-sign for violating the policy on performance enhancing drugs.
What’s next: No doubt Al Davis and new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson have had long conversations about how the Ravens made the most of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and La’Ron McClain.
Baltimore rushed for 2,200 yards, (fifth in the NFL) a 4.7 yards per carry average and 22 touchdowns. The Raiders were 21st with 1,701 yards, a 4.1 average and an incomprehensibly low seven rushing touchdowns in 16 games.
And that was supposed to be their strength.
With Fargas near the end of the line, the Raiders must decide if McFadden and Bush can become the kind of 1-2 punch popular in today’s NFL. Or they could simply make Bush the lead ballcarrier and convert McFadden into a Ronnie Harmon-type receiver out of the backfield _ provided they upgrade their passing attack to take advantage of his skills.
The third option?
Go in a different direction, deal McFadden or Bush and bring in some new blood through the draft, free agency or trade.