Even in early-May, the philosophy remains.
And while it might be an over-used, sports cliché, the fact is that regardless of the time of the year, football is the ultimate “next man up” game, just ask Head Coach Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders crop of running backs.
Less than a month-and-half after signing with the Silver and Black as an unrestricted free agent, Isaiah Crowell was placed on the Reserve/Injured List, effectively ending his season before the team even had a chance to break for the summer, while also creating ripples on the roster that ultimately resulted in the Raiders bringing back Doug Martin after a productive 2018 season.
“Well, Isaiah came in here on a one-year contract and I was hoping this would be a launching pad for him to really showcase what he can do,” Coach Gruden said late last week. “It’s very unfortunate and we wish him the best. The way he got hurt was amazing, I mean, I’ve never seen anything like it. It was a freak injury and fortunately Doug Martin has been very interested in coming back. He led our team in rushing and Doug will be able to, I think, be a great mentor to [Josh] Jacobs. He knows the system, he produced in the system and Doug has had some real highs and some real lows in this league, and he’ll be a great resource to our young back. He also can still play, so we are happy to have Doug back and obviously disappointed for Isaiah.”
Speaking of Jacobs, after being selected No. 24 overall in last month’s NFL Draft, the injury to Crowell – and subsequent roster moves – proved to be one of multiple “welcome to the NFL” moments for the rookie running back.
“If a man goes down, it’s the next man up, so just seeing that he [Crowell] went down, which is crazy when I saw the headlines and stuff, I couldn’t believe it,” Jacobs explained. “But it’s just basically about the running back room staying together, learning off each other, and then going out and picking up the slack where he fell off at.”
As Jacobs said, regardless of injury, the focus will be on the running backs as a collective, and with five backs currently on the roster, there certainly won’t be a lack of competition throughout the spring and summer.
“Well, Doug Martin was our three-down back last year,” Gruden said. “He finished the season quite well. We are comfortable with Doug. I think Jalen Richard is a really good back and he wants to be a three-down back, and we just paid him a lot of money because of his skill. I think DeAndré Washington is also going to be a contributor and we will see what happens with Jacobs. Jacobs has got a lot to learn in our system and he’s got [to] beat out some good backs.”
Oh, and let’s not forget about Chris Warren III either.
“I like Chris Warren,” Gruden added. “He’s 260 pounds, he can run. He had a very good preseason for us and he’s learned a lot, I think, about our offense and about this profession, and he’s got some pretty good genes. His dad was one hell of a back for the Seahawks, so we’ll see where he is. We are anxious to put him back in circulation as well.”
Regardless of how the reps shake out throughout the rest of the Offseason Workout Program, reason suggests that Jacobs will have a heavy workload come September, particularly given the fact that General Manager Mike Mayock has referred to him – as well as fellow first rounders Clelin Ferrell and Johnathan Abram – as foundational players.
Hit the practice field to see photos from the last day of 2019 Rookie Minicamp at Raiders HQ in Alameda, Calif.
And while that type of high praise could result in pressure for some players, Jacobs doesn’t fall in that category.
“For me, personally, I think it’s huge just to hear that, just to see that a program believes in you that much,” Jacobs said when discussing Mayock’s comments. “To see that the general manager has hope in your abilities, and things like that, but I don’t think it adds any pressure. With being a first-round pick, you kind of work a certain way, so I think it’s about coming in and just keeping that same work ethic, and just proving to the team that you belong, and everything else will play out for itself.”
The Silver and Black are currently in the midst of Phase II of the Offseason Workout Program, but watching Jacobs and the rest of the running backs battle it out over the next couple months will be something to watch closely.