No. 12 in a series of training camp issues and questions as the Raiders report to Napa Tuesday and hold their first practice Thursday:
Can Darren McFadden build on what will probably be another terrific training camp?
Following his selection with the No. 4 overall pick in the draft in 2008, McFadden couldn’t wait to get started.
Rather than play the waiting game with his agents and eventually sign a moment or two before training camp began, McFadden was signed on June 6.
His first camp was spectacular. I wrote at the time he was the best Raiders rookie since Charles Woodson, and I sought the opinion of some people in the organization before I wrote it. These were people who will give me a blunt assessment knowing it was off-the-record, and who are more than willing to tell me when I’m way off base.
McFadden showed lightning burst, with the ability to instantly pull away and outrun angles. He looked impossible to beat to the perimeter. Wasn’t bad inside, either. His pass receiving skills were off the charts _ he had better hands than most of the wideouts and in fact one member of the Raiders organization was convinced that if he was put at that position, he’d be the best pass catcher on the team.
Add to the mix that McFadden always had a smile on his face, loved to work hard, and any character concerns which came after a couple of family-related incidents in Arkansas seemed to be a joke.
Two years later, Al Davis must have thought at least once what it would be like to have drafted Chris Johnson, taken by the Tennessee Titans at No. 24. McFadden has 217 carries for 856 yards in two seasons, with 50 receptions for 530 yards. Johnson has 609 carries for 3,234 yards and 93 receptions for 763 more.
McFadden has been beset by injuries which coach Tom Cable believes have derailed his momentum in each of first two seasons. There was turf toe on both feet as a rookie and post-season shoulder surgery, indicating he was playing with that issue. Minor knee surgery interrupted his second season.
Critics of McFadden contend he goes down at the first hint of contact and often will stumble before even being hit. They want to see Michael Bush early and often and see if McFadden can be put in situations as a perimeter player and receiver which will better utilize his talents. Thinks 600-plus yards rushing and 70-plus catches for 700 yards.
The Raiders still want to see if McFadden can generate some momentum as a runner and be an all-round back capable of gaining 1,200-plus yards and also being a terrific receiver _ a Marshall Faulk or Roger Craig-type player worthy of the No. 4 overall pick.
Chances are McFadden will tear it up again this training camp. It will be up to Hue Jackson to look beyond what the running back does in limited contact situations and determine which course of action will get the most out of him.
Previous camp questions: