By Steve Corkran
Thursday, September 5th, 2013 at 4:27 pm in Oakland Raiders.
ALAMEDA — It’s no secret that, for the Raiders to have a fighting chance this season, Darren McFadden is going to have to regain the form that made him one of the game’s best all-around running backs.
The odds of that happening figure to be in McFadden’s favor, as well as the Raiders, given McFadden is entering the final season of his contract and he needs to show that he can make it through an entire season and be productive if he’s to land a lucrative second contract.
McFadden also is motivated by wanting to show that last season was a fluke and more to do with the blocking scheme than his inability to perform at a high level anymore.
The Raiders did their part by firing offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and offensive line coach Frank Pollack and bringing in Greg Olson and Tony Sparano to take their places, respectively. That meant the end of the zone-blocking scheme and the return of the power-blocking scheme that McFadden flourished in during the 2010 and ’11 seasons.
Coach Dennis Allen likes what he sees from McFadden so far, though we won’t get a true gauge until Sunday, at the earliest, when the Raiders play the Indianapolis Colts in the teams’ regular-season opener.
“He’s looked explosive in practices so far,” Allen said.
Olson said McFadden is someone that others look up to in the locker room and on the field. Again, that’s just another sign of the Raiders taking their cue from McFadden in many ways.
“Darren McFadden is also one of those players that’s gone some pelts on the wall, that’s played in some games that’s played well in some games,” Olson said. “He provides to me, for a young team, a professionalism about himself for other guys to follow.”
The Raiders offense hopes to ride McFadden to the playoffs. If not, certainly more than the career-worst 3.3 yards he averaged last season.
During that time, McFadden failed to bust many long runs. He had a long touchdown run against the Steelers early in the season and then spent the rest of the season stuck in neutral.
“Really he’s a guy that there may be some 2-yard runs, some 3-yard runs maybe a 4 and then boom, you pop one,” Allen said. “That’s our anticipation, that’s our hope. We’re hoping we can give him a crease and he can break off a couple of big runs.”
McFadden’s best seasons came under Hue Jackson, who was the offensive coordinator in 2010 and the head coach in 2011. Jackson said one of the first things he did when he was hired by the Raiders was to approach McFadden and ask him for a list of plays that he liked to run.
McFadden laughed at Jackson and said he didn’t think Jackson could get that past then-owner Al Davis. Jackson pulled it off. Away McFadden went. He averaged better than 5 yards each season.
Olson said he didn’t go that route. Instead, he and other coaches watched all of McFadden’s rushes during his Raiders career.
“We didn’t discuss it with him,” Olson said. “We got started before we had a chance to meet with the players and we put in the scheme. Along the way, we tried to get a feel for what he’s comfortable, the scheme that he’s comfortable running in, and we tried to help adapt to that.”