Running Back Jalen Richard
That's all Jalen Richard had after going unselected in this year's NFL Draft. Technically, he had conversations with two teams, but when it came down to receiving an invitation to Rookie Minicamp, Richard had just one option, the Oakland Raiders.
"This was the only place," said Richard. "I had talks with Tampa Bay, but they didn't give me a camp invite. This was my only camp invite, and I knew this was my one shot. I came in on tryout, then I made that tryout, and from there it just built, so it's no holds barred."
After rushing for over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns during his final season at Southern Mississippi, going undrafted served as motivation for the Alexandria, La.-native, and that slight is something that he's carried with him since arriving in Northern California in May.
"Coming in, I had that mindset, that chip on my shoulder [I'm], a free agent guy that got a tryout," Richard said. "They don't think I can play. They think they're just bringing me in for a body, well I'm going to show them different. I'm going to make an impact. I can play on this level. I should have had more notoriety coming out, but okay, since that didn't happen, I'm going to make everybody pay for it."
And since he first strapped on the pads, that's what Richard has done, slowly but surely progressing each day, and routinely putting impressive plays on tape that earned him another look from the coaching staff. The dynamic running back enjoyed a quality training camp in Napa, but a minor knee injury caused him to miss the first two preseason games. However, he was able return to for the team's third preseason game and didn't disappoint in in his preseason debut against the Tennessee Titans, after admittedly shaking off a few pregame nerves.
"I get nervous before every game, but definitely with the hype that you could say I built up for myself, as far as camp, and coming through, I know a lot of people wanted to see what I could do," Richard explained. "I also wanted to show that on film, show that to everybody, show that to Raider Nation, show that to the coaches, that I'm not just a practice player, that I can perform also in the line of play. With all those things together, yeah, I was nervous, but like I said, after I got hit the first time, after I made a nice kickoff return, I calmed down, and I was like, 'okay, it's football all over again.'"
Richard played 19 snaps in Saturday's bout with Tennessee, finishing his first game in Silver and Black with seven carries for 35 yards, as well as a pair of kickoff returns for 57 yards.
He, along with fellow rookie running back DeAndré Washington, shouldered a majority of the burden on the ground against the Titans, and while much has been made about the stature of the tandem of backs, (both are listed at 5'8") Richard believes that their height is a non-factor.
"Running back is still running back," Richard said. "You still have to set up blocks. You still have to know how to run the ball, whether you're 6'2" or 5'8". Just because I'm 5'8" and I'm able to maybe not be seen as well as somebody else, doesn't mean that I don't have the ability to be considered a great back. I still have to make cuts. I still have to make reads. I still have to be tough, even at 5'8"."
Since beginning his career as a Raider, Richard has drawn comparisons to a variety of players, and while he said that growing up as a young back he watched film on a plethora of players, he did single out a few that he modeled his game after.
"I know my running backs coach in college, he used to say I reminded him a little bit of Kevin Faulk," Richard said. "Kevin Faulk is a Louisiana guy himself too, so I kind of liked his game. A lot of my favorite running backs are Warrick Dunn, another Louisiana guy, Marshall Faulk, another Louisiana guy, besides his off-the-field stuff, Ray Rice, was one of my favorite guys that I kind of like to model my game after. We have similar builds, but he's probably a little bit thicker than me and DeAndré, he's pretty thick, but his model of running, catching the ball, being tough, those are the types of thing I try to model myself after."
The dynamic running back made it through the first round of roster reductions, but heading into Saturday's matchup with the Seattle Seahawks, he knows that his work is far from over.
He's now been with the team since May, and has seen his comfortability with the offense steadily rise since the onset of Organized Team Activities. With that newfound comfort and stability, the rookie has a chance to just go out and play football, and hopefully turn his NFL dreams into a reality.
"I understand the offense," Richard said. "I'm out there letting loose, and I'm just having fun. Like I said, this was my only opportunity; if I get cut tomorrow, at least I could say I had fun, and I was out there going hard every day."