Darren McFadden made it through practice Tuesday without aggravating his hamstring injury. That makes two straight days without any setbacks. If he holds up in a light practice Wednesday, he’s likely going to play against the Dallas Cowboys.
How much McFadden plays, that’s anyone’s guess right now. One thing is for certain, the Raiders are not about to turn their back on Rashad Jennings after how well he performed the past four games.
“If Darren’s fully healthy, both of them will play and both of them will get their opportunities,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “But you can’t deny the fact that Rashad Jennings over the last month of the season has led the entire NFL in yards from scrimmage. So, he’s earned the right and deserves the right to continue to get his carries, continue to get his touches, and we’ll still do that.”
Jennings rushed for 413 yards the past four games. He also caught 15 passes for 140 yards during that stretch. McFadden missed all but a few plays in those four games. Now he’s ready to work his way back into the mix.
Only this time, the lead job isn’t McFadden’s by default as it has been for most of his six-year career whenever he returned from an injury.
Jennings is leading the league in yards after contact and his 5.1 yards per carry is way higher than McFadden’s 3.6. It’s obvious that Allen and offensive coordinator Greg Olson love Jennings’ toughness, decisiveness and willingness to do whatever it takes to help the Raiders succeed.
Olson said that he’ll figure out a way to get McFadden involved in the game plan against the Cowboys. But, make no mistake, the Raiders are sticking with what Olson calls “the hot hand” in Jennings as their primary back until further notice, if not the rest of the season.
“We’re obviously excited about Darren being back and we’re really excited about what Rashad Jennings has done here over the last month,” Olson said. “It will be nice to have a little bit of a two-headed horse back there with those guys running the football.”
— Rookie offensive tackle Menelik Watson also did not practice today, as it turned out. Allen said Watson has an illness, so the Raiders sent him home so that he could get some rest.
— The Raiders piped in noise during the latter part of practice today as a means of simulating what it’s going to be like Thursday. The Cowboys play in one of the largest, noisiest stadiums in the league.
— The Raiders are 0-7 against NFC teams during coach Dennis Allen’s two-year tenure. This is their final shot this season at beating an NFC team.
The Raiders lost to the Falcons, Saints, Buccaneers and Panthers in their four games against NFC teams last season. This season, the Raiders lost to the Giants, Redskins and Eagles from the NFC East.
— One of the perks of being the so-called America’s Team is that the Cowboys play one of their eight home games each season on Thanksgiving.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett downplayed the advantage it gives his team. However, consider that the Raiders will be on a plane and headed for Dallas at about the time they hit the practice field for the first time during a normal week.
“It’s obviously tough,” Allen said, “because normally you don’t even hit the practice field until Wednesday, that’s your first day of practice, and even on Wednesday guys are still trying to get back, so it’s tough, but that’s what the rules of the game are and we’ve got to get ready to go.”
— Allen confirmed that tight end Mychal Rivera cleared all the league-mandates tests for players that suffer a concussion. Cornerback Mike Jenkins isn’t quite there, but he is close.
“There’s one more little step where they’ve got to visit with him, but he should be cleared for the game,” Allen said of Jenkins.
Jenkins didn’t do much of note at practice during the media access window today. He was limited, according to the Raiders official injury report.
If there’s any way Jenkins can play, you can bet that he’s going to be on the field Thursday against the team that selected him in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft and employed him the past five seasons.
Garrett had nothing but nice things to say about Jenkins, even though the Cowboys phased out Jenkins last season after they drafted Morris Claiborne in the first round.
“We like Mike Jenkins a lot,” Garrett said. “He did a lot of really good things for us as a starter for a number of years here at the outside cornerback position and did a really good job the past couple years just playing through some different injuries he had.
“He showed his toughness and what kind of guy he is and we’ve certainly seen him on tape this year, playing for the Raiders and he’s continuing to play well.”
— Allen wasn’t about to get into specifics about what Jared Veldheer’s return to the Raiders does for the rest of his offensive line.
On the surface, it appears as if Khalif Barnes is going to move from left tackle and bump Lucas Nix to the bench once Veldheer steps in at left tackle.
Barnes has played left tackle during Veldheer’s absence the first 11 games. Now it appears as if Veldheer is going to make his 2013 debut Thursday.
“I really don’t want to get into specifics of what we’re going to do game plan-wise,” Allen said, “but I expect Jared to play some at left tackle, that’s for sure.”
Plenty of players stepped forward to speak about what it means to have Veldheer back on the field.
“It will be huge,” center Stefen Wisniewski said. “He’s one of our best linemen last year and having a guy like that back just raises the overall quality of the group.”
Jennings said he and others are amped about the prospect of having their offensive line at full strength for the first time this season.
“Oh, man, it’s huge,” Jennings said. “When you get your guys back at all positions, it helps the depth, it helps the morale and it helps mesh the offense line. It’s really going to help. When we get our unit back, everybody’s happy.”