By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Monday, February 27th, 2012 at 8:54 am in Oakland Raiders.
Note: Meant to post this yesterday before signing off for a week but was derailed by a Southwest Airlines WiFi that was slower then the early days of dial-up . . .
The vibe I’m getting is that the Raiders have zero intention of franchising leading rusher Michael Bush, given their commitment to a normal salary structure and the presence of strong safety Tyvon Branch also as an unrestricted free agent. Coach Dennis Allen has talked up Darren McFadden, which means he’s the feature back, and there’s no way the Raiders commit more than $7 million to a complementary back.
And that’s probably what Bush is. He did an admirable job taking over when McFadden’s mid-foot sprain derailed his season, with one of the best games any Raiders’ running back (Marcus, Bo, Napoleon Kaufman, you name it) has ever had again the San Diego Chargers. While it’s conceivable Bush numbers tailed off toward the end of the season because the Raiders became more predictable or the line wasn’t blocking as well, the fact is it happened.
So maybe it’s possible other teams see this during the free agency period and Bush comes back at a reasonable price if there is no big bounty to be had. Usually, however, one of 31 teams will ante up.
If so, keep the name Robert Turbin in mind. He was the subject of my Monday story in Bay Area News Group papers and is a Bay Area product who has flown under the radar after helping two institutions without much of a reputation for football success into winners. He did it at Fremont’s Irvington High School, a perennial also-ran which won a league title and in consecutive years advanced to the North Coast Section finals and semifinals.
Turbin did it at Utah State, which went 7-6 in his junior year _ the first winning season for the school since 1993. After missing the previous season with a torn ACL, Turbin was the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year after rushing for 1,517 yards and 19 touchdowns. Check him out on YouTube and you’ll find him leveling some tacklers and breaking into the open field and finishing some long runs as well. He can catch out of the backfield or downfield. He can block, and at 5-foot-10, 220 pounds has been called the best built back in the draft outside of Alabama’s Trent Richardson.
His high school coach, Bob Spain, called coaching Turbin a “once in a lifetime” experience and said, “he’s what happens when genetics meets work ethic.”
Despite his breakaway runs, which indicates he is faster on game day than in a track setup, Turbin’s 40-yard dash time was a concern. It’s not any longer, as he ran a respectable 4.5 flat at the combine. Whether that puts Turbin out of reach for the Raiders remains to be seen. They’ll pick No. 97 at the earliest after supplemental picks are awarded at the NFL owner’s meetings next month.
If Bush moves on, it seems awfully risky to leave their running game in the hands of McFadden and Taiwan Jones, given their recent injury history. As Allen noted, offensive coordinator Greg Knapp has gotten a lot of yards out of a lot of different runners with different styles.
Turbin is confident _ “A lot of people compare me to Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson” _ without being cocky. He’s engaging and earnest, a player Spain said never took a day off and lifted the play of everyone around him. He was such a devastating defensive player in high school he was the MVAL defensive player of the year as a junior and Spain advised him to take a scholarship offer to Boise State to be a safety. That means he’d probably be a beast on special teams, a role Turbin said he would love.
The NFL is full of mid-round running backs who flourish in the right system. Keep in mind Bush was a fourth-round pick because of a severely broken ankle at Louisville.
Turbin could end up being that kind of story for somebody.