With Nos. 1 and 2 running backs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson in question, second-year running back Taiwan Jones is preparing for an opportunity that he has waited for the past 1 1/2 seasons.
To be clear, Raiders coach Dennis Allen isn’t ruling out McFadden or Goodson for Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens. But, for now, all eyes are on Jones as he steps to the forefront in his teammates’ absence.
“I’m definitely excited,” Jones said. “There’s definitely an opportunity for me to extend my role on the team. I’m getting the opportunity, so I want to make the most of it.”
Jones has been limited to one carry this season in the first eight games. He rushed 16 times for 73 yards last season as a rookie.
With the departure of Michael Bush in free agency, Jones was given a shot at the No. 2 spot in an open competition against Goodson. Jones’ chances took a blow when he suffered a hamstring injury early in training camp.
Now, McFadden and Goodson are fresh from high-ankle sprains that they suffered against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. All tests run on them returned negative.
Yet, they weren’t able to practice today. That left Jones and fullback Marcel Reece as the lone options at running back until further notice.
Jones isn’t the only one excited about the prospect of getting meaningful playing time. Quarterback Carson Palmer said he has waited for more than a year to see what Jones can do in a game.
Jones has spent most of his time this season on special teams, with the occasional touch on offense.
“I feel like I’ve been waiting forever,” Palmer said. “I can’t wait. He does amazing things in practice and he’s by far the fastest person on the field and he will be the fastest person on the field on Sunday. And not that you want to see guys get banged up, but I’m excited about the opportunity he’s getting.
“I feel like since I’ve been here, I’ve waited for him to get his opportunity, and it hasn’t worked out. And here it is. He’ll get his touches, and I can’t wait. He’s so electrifying. He puts his foot in the ground and goes. He wiggles out of hits, he wiggles out of tackles. Can’t wait to throw him the ball, get him in the open field. He’s so much fun to watch at practice it’s a long time coming.”
Jones said he is prepared for whatever kind of workload comes his way. Allen said he isn’t sure what to expect from Jones, if only because he hasn’t had ample opportunity to see what Jones can do in a game.
“He’s been a little up and down,” Allen said. “A little injury-prone, or injury-plagued, and so it’s been kind of tough to evaluate because he’s missed some time. But we got confidence in Taiwan, and if he’s called on to step in and play, then we fully anticipate him stepping in and perform and do his job.”
As for Jones’ ability to be an every-down back?
“That remains to be seen,” Allen said. “If he’s called on to do that, then that’s when we’ll know.”
— Defensive tackle Richard Seymour suffered a hamstring injury against the Buccaneers. It turned out to be worse than originally thought, Allen said.
As a result, Seymour missed practice today, and he is questionable for the Ravens game. Allen said he likely won’t get a better feel for whether Seymour can play through hamstring and knee issues until later in the week.
Fortunately for the Raiders, backup defensive tackle Desmond Bryant returned to practice today, so he is available to fill the void if Seymour can’t play.
Bryant was hospitalized Sunday after complaining of a fast, irregular heartbeat. He was released Monday, cleared a battery of tests Tuesday and back on the field today.
“I first noticed something was up at halftime,” Bryant said. “The first series on defense in the second half was the last time I played.”
A short time later, he was on his way to Eden Medical Center for observation and treatment.
Bryant said he wasn’t in any pain, just aware that his heart was working harder than normal to keep blood flowing to his body.
“I wouldn’t say it was scary,” Bryant said. “It surprised me, for sure. I expected to be out for maybe a series or maybe a couple of plays. The next thing I know, I’m being carted off to the hospital. It was upsetting for that to happen but, at the same time, it wasn’t scary.”
Dehydration is the suspected culprit, Bryant said. Makes perfect sense, given how warm it was Sunday.
“Obviously, they’re going to try to monitor it as much as they can,” Bryant said. “Apparently it’s not an uncommon thing to happen to athletes. Since it’s happened to me, I’ve had a number of different people say, ‘I’ve known this or that person who’s had the exact same thing happen to them.’ It’s more comforting to know that.
“At the same time, you don’t want your heart to be doing all that. I’ll try to do whatever I can, and I know the guys in the training room will do the same thing. I should be good to go.”
— Linebacker Aaron Curry practiced today as a member of Oakland’s 53-man roster for the first time. He was activated Tuesday after spending part of the offseason, all of training camp and the first nine weeks of the season rehabilitating his knees.
Curry said his knees got so bad that he had difficulty even walking up and down stairs. They reached that point because he spent too much time working out and playing football and not enough time taking taking care of his body, he said.
Now, Curry is thankful for the chance to return to the field and contribute in any way possible. He said he is game for playing special teams and at any of the three linebacker spots.
“I just want to be a bottle of energy and passion,” Curry said. “That’s what football is about. Playing defense is about energy, and it’s about bringing passion to the game, it’s about bringing passion to the team, it’s about being able to be relied on, be reliable to your teammates that you’ll always have something full of energy, whether it’s words, whether it’s plays, whether it’s encouragement. I just want to be a positive person.”
Allen said Curry’s presence gives defensive coordinator Jason Tarver the flexibility to rest outside linebackers Philip Wheeler and Miles Burris from time to time, a luxury Tarver hasn’t had in recent games.
Wheeler and Burris have been playing every defensive snap since middle linebacker Rolando McClain was taken out of the nickel package.
“As many good players as you can have, as many experienced players as you can have, the better off you’re going to be,” Allen said.
Curry searched far and wide for a way to cure his aching knees. He said he finally found the answer when he hooked up with Dr. Jack Johnson in Danville, and Johnson performed neuromuscular re-education.
The down time allowed Curry to rehab his knees as well as learn the game more in depth.
“I’ve had nothing else to do but study football, which has been good,” Curry said. “Which I think was the purpose of all this, was for me to learn football more in depth, to give myself an advantage, that when it’s time to go, I’ll be a step ahead of everybody.”
— Goodson was spotted with a walking boot on his right foot. It’s a long way from a walking boot Wednesday to playing in a game Sunday. However, Allen isn’t giving up hope just yet.
Goodson was unavailable for comment. Same goes for McFadden, who wasn’t seen during practice or the media-access window.
An MRI performed on Goodson’s ankle Monday returned negative, Allen said. Rookie Jeremy Stewart also is an option at running back, Allen said, if McFadden and Goodson can’t go.
“We’ve got some guys in-house that we feel like could step in if need be,” Allen said. “That’s the way it is anywhere in the NFL. It’s really a next-man-up philosophy, and we’re going to have to count on some guys to step up potentially and fill a bigger role. We’ll know more at the end of the week exactly what we’ve got to do.”
— Cornerback Ron Bartell is eligible to be activated Saturday and play Sunday against the Ravens. He has missed the past seven games while recovering from a shoulder injury.
“I feel real good about where Ron Bartell is,” Allen said.
Bartell practiced at his right cornerback spot today, and he said he is preparing as if he is going to play Sunday.
As for fellow starting cornerback Shawntae Spencer, Allen said: “He’s still not ready yet. But we’re making progress. Hopefully the progress will speed up in the next few days.”
Spencer moved around “better” Tuesday during an off-day workout designed to gauge his recovery from a foot injury he suffered Sept. 16. He has not practiced on played in a game since his injury.
— Right offensive tackle Khalif Barnes practiced today for the first time in more than seven weeks. It remains to be seen whether he can get up to speed in time for Sunday’s game.
“Rusty, but improved,” Allen said in describing how Barnes looked at practice. “Improved. I’m optimistic. I’ll know more at the end of the week whether he’ll have a chance at this game or not.”
If Barnes can’t go, Allen’s options are: sticking with Willie Smith or giving rookie Tony Bergstrom his first shot at playing on offense in a regular-season game.