Had a sit-down with Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson Saturday afternoon along with two other reporters. Olson touched on a wide range of subjects, but one of the things that stood out was his excitement over the performance of running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who could be a feature component of the Raiders offense in 2014.
Olson spent the 2012 season as the quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jones-Drew played in only six games before injuring his foot against the Raiders in Oakland and was done for the season. Jones-Drew averaged only 3.4 yards per carry in 2013, looking nothing like the back who had a career-best 1,606 yards in 2011.
When asked about the shelf life of a running back and the amount of carries Jones-Drew has had at age 29, Olson said he didn’t know if the wear and tear was a factor.
“But I know this. When I was with the kid two years ago, and I’ve told him so I’m not saying anything I haven’t said to him, he held out through training camp. I didn’t even meet the kid. I didn’t meet him until the week before the first game,” Olson said. “His body (now is completely different. He was running the ball well that year, he got hurt after six games, but he was heavy and a little lethargic looking. He looks like a different player.”
When it was suggested the Raiders didn’t have a true big back other than second-year player Latavius Murray, Olson referenced Jones-Drew.
“Maurice Jones-Drew plays like a big back. I’m going to promise you, you’re going to see,” Olson said. “He’s got such a low center of gravity. He’s extremely difficult to tackle because of his height and his power. He’s got ridiculous power in those legs. And he’s hard to see with a big line. He’s hard to see coming out of the line of scrimmage, and when he does come out, they get a glimpse of him and try and stick an arm out, he’ll rip it off. He’s got that kind of power.”
Highlights of other topics addressed by Olson:
Staying in good health
“The thing that’s biggest for us and probably any team is you’ve gotten this far and you’ve avoided significant injuries. Guys are playing together. You’ve got a one huddle, a two huddle and a three huddle. Guys are starting to play with each other.”
Keeping Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden healthy
“Obviously there’s a lot of critics out there that say they can’t stay healthy and who knows? In the future we’ll know, but right now if those two guys can stay healthy they’re pretty darn good.”
The quarterback room
“There’s no regulator with that group. We’ve added the entire play book, thrown everything at ’em and they haven’t blinked. not only have they absorbed the information but they’ve done a pretty good job executing it . . . there’s just a lot of good ideas bounced around and a lot of good conversations . . . I hate to compare because I’ve had some good groups, but overall, it’s probably the most intelligent group i’e ever had.”
The improvement of tight end Mychal Rivera
“He looks more athletic. He’s stronger. He’s more confident. I said to him the other day there’s a little bit of a swagger to him this season.”
The challenge of distributing the ball to different playmakers
“Trying to soothe and manage egos, I think that’s the biggest thing in the NFL. Does everybody understand the team concept of the game? We’ve got a great group of guys, a great group of skill players that I think understand it. you’ve got Marcel Reece, who does a lot of good things, you’ve got Darren (McFadden) and Maurice Jones-Drew that are going to need their touches. You’re bringing in guys at wide receiver, Rod Streater and Greg Little and Andre Holmes. We’ve added to our playmakers, we’ve beefed up our front and we’ve got stability at the quarterback position and so it should lead to better results.”
The possibility of Greg Little being a downfield threat
“He had the hamstring and has been out lately, but as far as explosiveness, getting off the line of scrimmage and straight-out speed, it’s among the tops on our team.”
The development of running back Latavius Murray
“He had foot issues (last season) and we were like, this looks like a totally different guy than the one we watched on tape in college. It looked as if he was running on bunions or something. He had real noticeable foot issues. And we haven’t had any remnants of that right now. he looks healthy, he looks strong. He’s having a real good camp.”
Use of a slot receiver
“We’re playing Rod (Streater) in the slot right now and we just moved James Jones to the slot about four practices ago, put him the slot. We like some of the things he does. Rod and James are kind of handling it inside.”
Play of the offensive line and if the Raiders will be a running team
“We think the offensive line is a strength right now. If our running backs can stay healthy, we like our running backs. I think sometimes our game plan will dictate (how much we run). How the game unfolds, sometimes dictates that, but we feel good about our running game right now.”
On Khalif Barnes holding his spot at left guard over rookie Gabe Jackson
“`Khalif’s done a good job. He’s got a fountain of youth going. Khalif Barnes, as many years as he’s played, you don’t see, usually their legs are the first to go, yet he looks fresh out there and he’s doing a nice job, and he’s also doing a nice job mentoring the young kid. Glad we got him.”