Running Back George Atkinson III
If running back George Atkinson III set out to make a splash in the Raiders first preseason game, well, mission accomplished.
The third-year running back ran the ball just five times in Friday night's 31-10 win over the Arizona Cardinals, but found the end zone twice, and finished the evening with 97 rushing yards to lead the Silver and Black's ground attack.
"The o-line did a great job today," said Atkinson following the game. "The coaching staff put me and the O-line in great position to make big plays."
And make big plays is precisely what the Notre Dame-product did Friday evening at University of Phoenix Stadium. The speedy back gained 88 of his 97 total yards on just two runs, flashing his trademark speed, but also showing that he has the ability to change directions on a dime, and gain tough, physical yards when necessary.
However, now in his third NFL season, Atkinson referenced his patience as the one area of his game that has matured from years past.
"[Running backs] Coach Bernie [Parmalee] really emphasized in the offseason reading the defense and knowing the blocks before they happen and trusting in the line," Atkinson explained. "They are going to make those blocks. That's all I did tonight and it was a great night."
"He [Atkinson] is very good and very hungry to be a part of the team," added Head Coach Jack Del Rio. "He has improved. There is no question about his speed and his eagerness to help on [special] teams. I think where we need to see growth with him will be in pass protection. We will give him more opportunities to grow in areas like that. George is a great young man and working his tail off."
Atkinson's big night was especially interesting, considering the competition that is set to occur in the Raiders backfield throughout the preseason.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that Latavius Murray is set to be the team's featured back once again in 2016, but behind him, there are a plethora of carries up for grabs. In addition to Atkinson, rookie running back DeAndré Washington also chipped in with 25 rushing yards, and while undrafted rookie Jalen Richard didn't play Friday, he's been impressive through training camp and figures to find himself in the mix as well.
The battle in the backfield will continue throughout the rest of the preseason, and offensive lineman Jon Feliciano is looking forward to see how the competition shakes out.
"I think we have a great backfield," said Feliciano. "We have a lot of competition there. I'm just excited to see how it unfolds."
For Atkinson though, while he did put together an impressive game in the preseason opener against the Cardinals, it was just that, one game. If he wants a chance to finally make the 53-man roster, Atkinson is aware that he's going to have string a few of these quality performances together over the next several weeks to really make his case.
"Hard work, it pays off, and I still have a lot of work to do," Atkinson said. "This one is in the bag. We're done with this game. We're going to get corrections made and go on to Green Bay."