Jalen Richard wants to make the defense think.
Whether it's a quick glance at him in the backfield, or just a momentary pause to see if he makes himself available as a receiver out wide after the ball is snapped, Richard just wants to force the defense to think, because when a defense has to think, it typically spells good news for the offense.
Through two games, the third-year running back has carried the ball five times for 13 yards, but perhaps even a more telling sign of things to come, he's hauled in seven catches for a team-high 70 yards.
"I'm way more comfortable," said Richard when discussing his ability to catch the football. "The game is slowing down for me, just focusing in, and getting those reps at the routes and the full route tree, but I just attest that to the game slowing down for me. It's Year 3. I'm seeing things differently. I'm understanding the game. I know the tempo, and like I said, I'm just letting the game play for me. At first, sometimes early on, I would try to force a move or put too much on it, when a lot of times, I don't have to do all the moves, I can just run past somebody with speed, so I'm understanding that now, and it comes down to just winning. I don't have to kill them, I can win, and then I'm comfortable enough with the ball in my hands after the catch that I can make them miss afterwards."
With 256 receiving yards last year –a number that led all Raiders running backs – catching the football is nothing new for No. 30, but now in his first year in Jon Gruden's offense, Richard and the rest of his teammates in Jemal Singleton's group will likely see an uptick in their passing game responsibilities.
"You put a running back out there in space, if the linebacker is covering them, if the safety is covering, they know it's man-to-man," Coach Gruden explained. "So, they're satellites. They can go out there and help the quarterback determine man or zone and they can win. They can run an array of routes. We're going to continue to try to get Jalen Richard and DeAndré Washington more and more on their plate."
"He [Gruden] wants us to do everything, because at the end of the day, when we're out there, you don't know what's coming," Richard added. "When you're multi-faceted like that, when you have guys that can do multiple things, the defense has to think about multiple things, and when they have to think about multiple things, you have more room for error."
Richard called Gruden's offense "really detailed," and echoed what his head coach said about backs who can catch the football, in terms of creating mismatches between the hashes.
"When you have a running back who can catch out of the backfield too, they have to respect that, and it just adds to mismatches, and getting those matchups that you want on offense," Richard said. "It puts a lot of stress on the defense to make sure that they have somebody comfortable enough on their side of the ball that they can designate to the pass catching running back. It definitely adds value to the offense, and adds another stresser to the defense."
And at its best, having a running back like Richard can pay huge dividends, even when he's not touching the ball – look no further than the third quarter of last week's game against the Los Angeles Rams for proof of that.
Facing a 2nd and 10, Richard lined up in the backfield with Chris Warren III, and while Connor Cook didn't look Richard's way after the ball was snapped, just his presence alone paid off immensely.
"I took off on a rail route," Richard said. "The DB who had me in man, the safety came over, and somebody else ran off, and that opened up Paul [Butler] across the middle. I didn't even get the ball, but it opened it up for Paul down the middle because three guys ran with me. I'm taking off up the field, and three goes just see me running, and they just take off with me, and it opens up for Paul, so like I said, those are like those hidden stats that people don't see, but the defense knows about, and we know about."
In other words, Richard made the defense think, and the result was a 24-yard gain for the Silver and Black.
Last year, the Raiders primary trio of running backs combined for north of 600 receiving yards, but don't expect that number to come down this year, especially considering the personnel currently on the roster.
"The game is changing," Richard said. "You have more athletes out there, so everybody is faster. Obviously, going into the air raid era, throwing the ball a lot of plays, and tempo, and things like that, running the ball slows the game down, and to have those guys that can pick up [the] blitz, get out, that when everything's covered, you can drop it down, and they can be special and make things happen that'll change the game, and that's what all these offenses now kind of want to go to."
He continued, "To play running back, you need to do everything. You look at all the greats, and they were able to catch the ball out to the backfield to an extent, running the ball, and just being playmakers with the ball in their hands."