Raiders’ Darren McFadden, Maurice-Jones Drew attempt to turn back the clock


Filed for print . . .

Maurice Jones-Drew has a message for all the skeptics who doubt that he and Darren McFadden can erase two seasons of injury and ineffectiveness.

“Everybody can say what they want,’’ Jones-Drew said Tuesday as the Raiders began a three-day mandatory minicamp. “Just don’t be the same guy in a couple of months saying, `Oh, we knew they could do it.’ Hold yourself accountable like everyone holds us (accountable).’’

As recently as 2011, McFadden and Jones-Drew were considered among the top running backs in the NFL. McFadden was averaging 5.4 yards per carry when he went down with a Lisfranc injury to his foot. Jones-Drew had a career-high 1,606 yards rushing.

In 2012, Jones-Drew had a Lisfranc of his own and played in just six games, gaining 414 yards while McFadden was gaining 3.3 yards per carry as the Raiders switched to a zone scheme.

Last season was even worse. Jones-Drew averaged 3.4 yards per carry in 15 games, needing 234 carries to gain 803 yards. McFadden, even with a return to the power blocking scheme, again averaged 3.3 yards per carry in 10 games, again battling injuries.

Jacksonville made no effort to re-sign Jones-Drew, who led the franchise in rushing with 8,071 yards and touchdowns with 81. The Raiders brought McFadden back in part because they could get him at fraction of what he made in his first five seasons.

It isn’t often running backs with a handful of years in the league return to form once they fall to well under 4 yards per carry. There were whispers following the 1981 season Walter Payton was wearing after averaging 3.6 yards per carry, only to gain 7,707 yards over the next five seasons and powering his way to the Hall of Fame.

While no one is suggesting Jones-Drew and McFadden are Walter Payton, coach Dennis Allen likes what he sees through three weeks of organized team activities and a day of minicamp.

“When you watch ‘em practice, you see guys that still have explosion, guys that still have run skills, guys that still make people miss,’’ Allen said. “I don’t pay a lot of attention to what the statistics may say. I just see what I see with my eyes, and I see a copule of guys that if they can stay healthy, have the ability to perform at a high level.’’

McFadden said he and Jones-Drew have become good friends, but haven’t talked about their struggles over the past two seasons.

“It’s something that’s unspoken,’’ McFadden said. “We just go out there and play ball. We don’t think about what’s happened in the past. For me, the past is behind me. I don’t even care to even talk about it, really. I’m moving forward. The only place I can go is up.’’

Quarterback Matt Schaub said the real test will come in pads at training camp, but sees both running backs showing good burst in the open field. He likes their ability to pick up blitzing linebackers and also be explosive in the screen game.

“Just the way they complement each other is going to be a key to our success,’’ Schaub said.

— Before practice began, Allen had Raider legends Howie Long, Jim Plunkett, Raymond Chester and former coach Tom Flores say a few words to the team.

— Cornerback DJ Hayden remains out with a right ankle sprain but is expected to be ready for training camp. Allen conceded Hayden’s absence is a setback but “not the be-all and end-all.’’

Cornerback Carlos Rogers was also out with a calf injury, with Chimdi Chekwa working with the first unit alongside Tarell Brown.

Allen said the only player who probably won’t be ready for training camp is guard Lucas Nix, who he said had a “knee procedure’’ Tuesday.

— Rookie quarterback Derek Carr worked with the second team ahead of Matt McGloin and made some nice throws in what was generally a shaky day for the passing game s a whole.

— Miles Burris worked with the first team at weak side linebacker ahead of Sio Moore. Allen warned not to make too much of which players were first team, but did say Burris is completely healthy and has “put himself in the mix.’’

— Owner Mark Davis, who was not at any of the organized team activities over the past month, made his first appearance at practice since the rookie minicamp.


Notes, quotes and observations from OTA Monday


Rookie Gabe Jackson got some reps with the first-team offensive line today at left guard Monday, and it sounds as if Jackson is on the fast track.
Veteran Khalif Barnes is the projected starter for now. However, it’s not a stretch to envision Jackson winning a starting job at some point, if not right away this season.
“I like Gabe,” coach Dennis Allen said. “I liked him when he came out in the draft. I’ve liked what I’ve seen on the practice field. Mentally is where he’s really got to work to improve. Because any time you get in this situation as a rookie, you’re behind from a mental standpoint and just picking up the offense, not to mention the physical aspect of the game.”
Jackson started all four years during his collegiate career. Allen said starting that many games in the rugged SEC bodes well for Jackson.
Still, Jackson has a ways to go before he beats out either Barnes or Austin Howard at one of the guard spots. Allen makes it sound as if it won’t be long before Jackson makes his mark.
“Gabe is a good athlete for a player of his size, and he’s got very good power,” Allen said. “And he’s a lot better pass protector than people might think. I’ve been impressed with him, I’m pleased with his progress and he’s got to continue to work.”

— Running back Darren McFadden was among a handful of players that returned kicks today. Yes, folks, you read that correctly.
And this wasn’t some lark, either. This is just another example of Allen taking a look at every player in multiple roles to see how he can maximize their talents.
Hence, McFadden joined the likes of Taiwan Jones and George Atkinson III returning kicks midway through practice, even though McFadden hasn’t returned kicks during his first six NFL seasons.
“Anything’s an option,” Allen said, when asked if McFadden is a realistic option as a kick returner. “We’re looking at a lot of different things, a lot of people in a lot of different areas. There’s a ton of things that aren’t set. Everything’s written in pencil right now. We’re going to continue to look, not only at that, but a lot of other areas where guys can help our team win.”

— As for the rest of the offensive line, it looked much the same as it has all offseason:
Left offensive tackle — Donald Penn
Left guard — Barnes/Jackson
Center — Stefen Wisniewski
Right guard — Austin Howard
Right tackle — Menelik Watson
It says here, the only player assured a starting spot along the offensive line is Wisniewski. Penn, Barnes, Howard and Watson simply are the leading candidates to start the season.
“Wiz has been a solid piece to that offensive line,” Allen said. “He’s a little bit of the glue that kind of holds the thing together because he’s highly intelligent. Again, we put a lot on him from a recognition standpoint, whether it be fronts, stunts, blitzes, all that. It’s part of the process. To have somebody of his ability level and his intelligence level, kind of running things in there, is key for our success.”

— Here are the six players who did not participate in full-team drills today: wide receiver James Jones (hamstring), guard Lucas Nix (undisclosed), defensive end Justin Tuck, defensive lineman Antonio Smith, linebacker Kevin Burnett and cornerback DJ Hayden.
Jones worked on his running and routes with an athletic trainer on an adjacent field. He looked fine from a distance. Hayden and Nix did not participate at all, though they was on the field for the duration.
Tuck, Smith and Burnett weren’t spotted on the field at any time. Allen said he communicated with those players and is satisfied with their status.

— Allen and offensive coordinator Greg Olson at times were critical of wide receiver Denarius Moore for his inconsistency.
Here’s what Allen had to say about Moore’s progress in that regard:
“We’re still working through that,” Allen said. “He’s not unlike a lot of guys we have on our football team. He’s still got a lot of improvement that he’s got to make. I’ve seen some strides and hopefully he’ll continue to make those strides.”
Allen is hard on Moore, just as he has been with fellow receiver Juron Criner, Watson, Hayden and others that he has high expectations.
“With all these guys, the attention to detail is where we got to work to continue to improve,” Allen said. “That’s with all these guys because the margin for error in the NFL is very minute, very small, so the ability to be precise in everything you do is critical to (being successful).”
Moore is competing for one of two starting spots, with Rod Streater and Jones the other leading candidates. Allen said the Raiders can succeed without a legitimate No. 1 receiver, as long as a corps of good receivers makes plays when needed.

— Allen wasn’t thrilled about several of his players participating in a charity basketball game late last week.
Then again, all he could do was let his feelings be known, offer his advice on how to proceed and hope none of his players got hurt.
“I’m happy that we were able to get through that without any injuries,” Allen said. “The intent is the right intent, to raise money for charity. I wasn’t in agreement with the way in which they went about doing it because, again, they’re paid to play football. Anytime you put that at risk, you’re taking a significant risk.
“These are grown men and they make decisions on what they want to do with their personal time, and that was a decision that those guys took part in. The thing I’m happy about is that we were able to get out of that without any injuries. Really my focus now is solely on this team and this team getting better and what do we need to do to improve out here on the football field.”
Safety Tyvon Branch was one of the participants. He said he and others are well aware of what they are doing when they sign up for such an event.
“Anytime you have a chance to get out there and give back to the community and get involved in anything charitable, I’m all for it,” Branch said. “I just want to be out there and have fun with the community.”
Playing basketball isn’t that out of the ordinary for football players. Many of them fancy themselves NBA-caliber players, if just given the opportunity.
“I guess that’s at your discretion what you want to do in the offseason,” Branch said. “We understand the risks that’s involved in working out. Anytime you’re working out away from the facility, you put yourself at risk. But guys do what they have to do to stay in shape. Everybody does it differently.”

— Rookie quarterback Derek Carr had a mixed bag kind of day. Several throws were right on the money. A few others were too low, behind the receiver or off the mark.
Veteran Trent Edwards looked particularly sharp. Matt Schaub and Matt McGloin were much like Carr, with more on-the-money throws than poor ones.


Watson making progress toward starting job


Menelik Watson spent most of his rookie season battling injuries and learning the nuances of the NFL. As training camp nears, Watson is making good on his vow to use what he learned his first season with the Raiders as a steppingstone.
“He’s attacked this offseason with a purpose, and a purpose to earn a starting spot on that line,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said Monday. “Hopefully he’ll continue to improve the way he has in the OTAs.”
First and foremost, Watson has been healthy enough to practice throughout this offseason, which gives him a huge jump on replacing departed veteran Tony Pashos at right offensive tackle.
Watson missed most of training camp last season when he arrived with a calf injury that he suffered in a non-football activity.
Soon after he recovered from his calf injury, Watson hurt his knee and missed the first seven games. Overall, started three of the five games he played.
Late in the season, Watson admitted that he wasn’t properly prepared for the rigors of the NFL. He said he intended to work harder, alter his diet accordingly and make sure that he was ready to roll when he got another opportunity.
For now, Allen is giving Watson the first crack at the starting spot at right tackle. It’s up to Watson from here on out.
Allen said it’s evident that Watson has worked hard at his craft. The work manifests itself in Watson’s improved technique and fundamentals.
“The thing I like about where Menelik is right now, I like his mindset,” Allen said. “I like his mentality. I like the way he’s going about doing his job. He’s worked at it.”
It’s conceivable that the Raiders will have four new starters on their offensive line. Center Stefen Wisniewski is the lone returner assured a starting job.