NAPA — DeAndre Washington assessed the situation and knew it was going to be “an easy win.”
The rookie running back was set to run an angle route out of the backfield in his NFL exhibition debut last week and saw the Arizona Cardinals had defensive end/outside linebacker Tristan Okpalaugo lined up on him.
“I was licking my chops,” Washington said.
The route had Washington start out running toward Okpalaugo, then quickly cut at an angle back toward the middle of the field. The defender never had a chance and stumbled for the next seven yards after Washington blew past him and made the catch and run for 32 yards.
“I think that’s why they brought me in, to create mismatches against opposing defenses,” Washington said. “On that play, they were guarding with me a d-end so I had to make my money on that play. It was a good throw, it was a good play.”
And it was a good debut for Washington, whom the Raiders are leaning on to be a nice complimentary back to starter Latavius Murray. Washington finished with eight carries for 43 yards in the first preseason game also was the starting kick returner, taking the opening kickoff back 31 yards.
“I think it was a good start,” Washington said. “Your first NFL game, you’re just trying to get your feet wet a little bit.”
After losing two yards on his first carry and gaining them back on his second, his first flash came a drive later when he broke free for a 25-yard run. The offensive line gave him a big hole that he read correctly and then he was greeted by safety Marqui Christian. With a stutter step and a cut back to the left, he was past him for the big gain.
“Those guys definitely created a lane for me and I was just able to hit it,” Washington said. “All you can ask for, a one-on-one with a safety, and that’s what they bring us in here for, to make the safety miss.”
Few teams nowadays go with just one primary running back, so the fact that Murray accumulated 73 percent of the Raiders’ rushing yards last season was a concern. It was a solid season for Murray, whose 1,066 yards was second in the AFC, but Oakland needs its overall running game to be more effective. The Raiders were 28th in rushing yards per game.
Coach Jack Del Rio is intent on seeing that improve.
“We’ve been seeing signs during camp of improving the running game,” he said. “That’s definitely something that we are set on making sure we can get that going.”
And just because they may have Washington around to spell Murray, doesn’t mean Del Rio wants to see Murray’s workload lessened from his 266 carries last year.
“I want to have more rushes,” Del Rio said. “I don’t want him to have less. If anything, maybe a little more, but I want him to be more productive.
“We want other guys to be involved and be able to run it as well. We’re working on becoming a team that’s capable of running the ball well. We never really, truly established that last year. It had to be good numbers for us to be able to run it well. We want to be able to run it well, period, whether the numbers are good or not.”