First impressions aren't always a reflection of an individual's true character, but if you met Raiders running backs coach Jemal Singleton, it wouldn't take you long to realize that he's very relatable, and chances are you'd walk away with a positive feeling.
Shortly after being hired by Head Coach Jon Gruden earlier this year, Singleton introduced himself to myself, and the rest of the Raiders digital staff for the first time at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Not only was he incredibly friendly, and clearly passionate about the game of football, but he went out of his way to show that he was eager to join the Silver and Black.
It's that same attitude and mentality that's resonated with Singleton's peers, and his new group of players.
"He's super relatable, man," running back Jalen Richard said. "We laugh, we giggle, he's definitely familiar with us. We've gotten real familiar, we got to get to know him over the spring, through camp, and all of us have developed a great relationship with him."
Singleton is certainly a dynamic and engaging figure that genuinely cares about the interests of his players and those around him, but when it's time to get down to brass tacks, he takes his job very seriously.
"We have fun in the meetings," Richard added. "But at the same time, he's teaching us some real cool things, and some real cool gems to add to our game."
Singleton is a polite and respectful individual off the field, but on the field, and in the meeting room, he's instilling a mentality with his players that requires an aggressive and physical demeanor. Gaining yardage on the ground will be a priority in Gruden's offense, but the team will obviously try to stretch the field with quarterback Derek Carr and his arsenal of receivers; however, the team can't rely solely on the offensive line to protect No. 4, Singleton knows his group is going to need to contribute in pass protection as well.
"We still have some things that we've got to clean up, and keep working with our hands and our punch, but it all starts with the physicality of it, and I think that was great when I first got here" Singleton said in regard to his group's pass protection through camp. "Just putting on the tape and watching what the guys that were here before kind of did, there wasn't a lack of physicality whatsoever, and that's always an exciting thing for a coach to see that, 'hey, you've got some guys that are going to stick their face in there and compete,' and now it's just the details about how they do that."
Head out to the practice fields for Wednesday's exclusive photos from Raiders Training Camp 2018.
Blocking isn't the most glamorous element of the game, but it's importance can't be overstated, and it's a piece of Richard's game that he's excited Singleton is putting an emphasis on.
"The biggest thing with him — definitely getting a lot from him — is pass blocking," Richard explained. "We work that really every day, working on that punch, just trying to develop that punch when we go in space against those linebackers. It's almost like hand-to-hand combat almost, so being able to have him coach me up on that and add that to my game, trying to work on my hand combat. Linebackers want [to] come in and want to bully [you] sometimes, so I have to get up in there and stop them with the hit, but then I have to reset, and now it comes to the hand combat part. In the past, once I hit them, I stuck my hand out there on them and just tried to hold them until the ball gets out. With Coach Singleton teaching us this new [technique], whoever's inside wins, so he's been good. I've been enjoying it."
Since his coaching days in college, Singleton has advocated for a more aggressive running style, one that requires a fullback in rotation, but during his two seasons as the Indianapolis Colts running backs coach he never had a fullback at his disposal. Fortunately for him he currently has fullback Keith Smith, a proven player that can carry out what Singleton wishes to accomplish.
In his two seasons with Indianapolis, Singleton helped Frank Gore amass 1,986 rushing yards, the ninth-most in the NFL during that span. The Raiders ranked 25th in 2017 in rushing yards per game (97.1), but I expect that to change. Gruden hasn't been secretive when it comes to his desire to pound the rock this season, and Singleton knows in order to do that successfully his group is going to need to run violently.
Through training camp, the team has seen the emergence of undrafted free agent Chris Warren III, and seen veteran running back Marshawn Lynch demonstrate the same physicality he's been known for throughout the duration of his storied career. Whether it's been a veteran or a younger player though, Singleton has been pleased with the level of competition across the board.
"To be honest with you, the room has been outstanding in that regard," he said. "They're competing, they know day-to-day, every rep they're competing against each other, but more importantly they're helping each other. You'll see Marshawn helping the young guys and getting in their ear. You'll even see Jalen and DeAndré work with them… The dynamic has been awesome where everybody wants everyone to be successful. At the end of the day we know there's going to be some sort of decisions that are made, but they're working."
Developing and evaluating the running backs on the roster was entrusted to Singleton by Gruden, and he's happy with the way his running backs coach is conducting the unit.
"He's a good coach," he said after practice Wednesday. "He's an Air Force grad and he has a certain degree of character that is special. Great communication skills, great work ethic, he's upbeat and positive. He's a leader. He's one of the best running back coaches in football."