Filed for print with additional material and notes . . .
Maurice Jones-Drew might be just what Darren McFadden needs to jump-start his career.
With the preseason opener coming up Friday in Minnesota, Jones-Drew looks more like the running back who rushed for 4,321 yards and 28 touchdowns from 2009-2011 than the guy who missed 11 games with a Lisfranc injury in 2012 and then simply looked used up and beat up a year ago.
He is listed as the first-team running back, but McFadden got plenty of work with the first team Tuesday as well. Raiders coach Dennis Allen notes that there are “very few bell cow runners’’ in the NFL and that there is plenty of work for both.
Jones-Drew’s performance has been a revelation to offensive coordinator Greg Olson, who was the first-year quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach in Jacksonville in 2012.
Olson had never even met Jones-Drew, whose arrival was delayed by a contract holdout. He played in give games before the foot injury ended his season, and bore no resemblance to the Jones-Drew Olson has seen on the field during Raiders training camp.
“His body is completely different,’’ Olson said. “He was running the ball well, but he was heavy and a little lethargic looking. He looks like a different player.’’
Although he played 15 games last season, Jones-Drew had a laundry list of injuries, averaged 3.4 yards per carry, and went to Mike Blasquez, his former strength coach at De La Salle High for help.
Jones-Drew said he lost 15 pounds in the first two weeks and worked on repairing damage to his shoulders, knees and hamstrings.
“It got to where I could get out of bed and feel like I could go out and run and not warm up for along time,’’ Jones-Drew said. “That’s how I gauge myself.’’
At 5-foot-7, Jones is a short back but not a small one at 210 pounds, creating a mismatch where he actually has the advantage.
“He’s got such a low center of gravity,’’ Olson said. “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.
“When he comes out of the line of scrimmage and they catch a glimpse of him and try and stick an arm out, he’ll rip it off. He’s got that type of power.’’
McFadden, who averaged 3.3 yards per carry over the past two years, said he was fine with Jones-Drew coming aboard 13 days after he had agreed to a one-year contract.
“We had met a couple of times, and I never really knew him personally, but I admired his game,’’ McFadden said. “I remember watching film probably three four years ago and seeing him just push Shawn Merriman on his back and I was like, `damn, this guy is a hell of a player.’ ‘’
In a best-case scenario, Jones-Drew can soften the middle with McFadden available on the perimeter and in the passing game, where quarterback Matt Schaub could strike on swing passes and deep strikes.
McFadden sees the opportunity to contribute with skills which may have been underutilized while he was being worked as a scrimmage runner.
“I feel like I have great hands, whether it’s out of the backfield or split wide,’’ McFadden said. “I think the coaches are going to exploit that this year, put us in position to make plays. Put me in space with the ball in my hands and the sky’s the limit.’’
– Tight end David Ausberry will have knee surgery Tuesday and according to Allen, “he may be out for awhile.’’
Ausberry missed all of last season with a shoulder injury that required surgery and was at the top of the depth chart before missing his first practice of training camp Sunday because the knee injury.
Brian Leonhardt, who spent the 2013 season on the practice squad, got some first team work, as did 2013 sixth-round draft pick Nick Kasa. Both players are built for being an in-line tight end.
Mychael Rivera is used primarily as a receiving tight end and only occasionally lines up as conventional tight end.
The Raiders will be watching the waiver wire closely for a traditional tight end to pair with Rivera.
– The defense got the better of the offense throughout the entirety of practice. On the first, second and third teams, the Raiders defense got after the passer, broke up passes and at one point Jonathan Dowling intercepted a Derek Carr pass intended for James Jones and brought it the length of the field for a touchdown.
“Sometimes you get that in training camp,’’ Allen said. “Sometimes one side of the ball gets the better of the other side. But offensively we’ve got to execute better than we did today.’’
The defensive dominance came on a day where the Raiders had several blitz periods and also sprinkled more blitzes into team sessions.
But even in 9-on-7 drills, both Schaub and Carr, as well as Matt McGloin, never really settled into a rhythm to get strings of completions during drills where that is usually commonplace.
– Linebacker Sio Moore returned to practice after missing two sessions with a rib injury. He rejoined the first team ahead of Miles Burris, but Allen wasn’t sure if Moore would play Friday against the Minnesota Vikings.
– Allen said no rotation had been determined for the Minnesota games, but said he expected healthy players would play and that he’s not necessarily inclined to play starters longer because the team has so many new players.
Chances are Schaub and the first team offense will get a series or two _ maybe only one series if they run enough plays to get some good work.