RB Darren McFadden runs through a drill during OTAs. Photo by Tony Gonzales.
Raiders.com columnist and 95.7 The Game personality John Lund takes a look at what's trending as the Raiders wrap up OTAs.
DARREN MCFADDEN WANTS TO PROVE IT**
Let's be honest. When the Raiders took off the Silver and Black at the end of the 2013 season, we thought we had seen the last of Darren McFadden in Oakland.
It seemed like the dictionary definition of a fresh start for both sides. McFadden had shown his first round flashes, but missed too many games due to injury. It would be logical to think he would want to his remove his fragile label and press the restart button. The Raiders and their fans wanted a running back with the best ability a player in any sport can have, availability.
McFadden was the fourth overall pick in the NFL draft in 2008. Blessed with speed and power, he was seen as can't miss. At Arkansas he rumbled for over 4,500 yards in three seasons. He was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy twice, two times he was the SEC offensive player of the year and he won the Doak Walker award as the best running back in the nation.
In his first two seasons in Oakland he showed glimpses of his college self, but took some time adjusting to the pro game, sprinting for 856 yards on the ground. In year three McFadden broke out for 1,157 yards but he missed three games due to a hamstring injury. In 2011, McFadden looked like the NFL MVP, racing out of the gate for 393 yards and three touchdowns in the first three games of the season. He would suffer a Lis franc foot sprain that season and miss the final nine games. In 2012, McFadden suffered a high ankle sprain, in 2013 it was a hamstring issue and another ankle problem. Overall McFadden appeared in just 10 games in 2013. He has missed 19 of the Raiders' past 41 games and 29 in his six-year career. The talent was still there, the luck wasn't. McFadden's rookie contract expired at the end of last season.
When asked at the end of the year what McFadden's chances were at returning, Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie didn't sound optimistic.
"Darren's going to be a free agent," McKenzie said. "He's going to see what his market is and that's the thing, when you're talking about the games that he's missed, he has no idea -- and when I say 'He,' I'm talking about his agent -- he has no idea what his market value will be and I couldn't tell you what the other 31 teams think."
A funny thing happened on the way to anywhere but Oakland, McFadden felt like he hadn't finished what he started here. He signed a one-year deal early in free agency despite the belief other teams would have paid more or given more years to him had he waited for the market to develop for running backs.
"This is my home and I wanted to show the team and the fans that they haven't seen the best of Darren McFadden, I still have a lot left in my tank," he said to me on my radio show this week.
With regard to all the injuries, McFadden knows the injuries are frustrating to the fans who see the flashes of what he can become, but he's more frustrated than anyone.
"You have to deal with it, the people on Twitter or whatever talking, you just have to block it out and pay no mind to it," McFadden said. "It's always something, turf toe or a high ankle injury, for a running back it's different."
He told me it's different because while he's tough, despite what people may think, he wants to be healthy enough to help the team win, something he hasn't been fully for an extended period since the big start to the year in 2011.
Entering his seventh year in the NFL McFadden is only 26. More importantly if there is a positive to the pile of injuries, they have kept his mileage down. He's only carried the ball 883 times in six years. Chris Johnson, now of the Jets, who was taken in the first round of the same draft as McFadden, has toted the rock 1,743 times.
McFadden told me he thinks that means there is plenty of tread left on his tires.
"I have a whole lot to give," he said. "Now I just want to go out there and show everybody, prove to everybody that I can."
The biggest difference this year in the Raiders backfield is the presence of Bay Area native Maurice Jones-Drew who comes over from the Jacksonville Jaguars with an impressive NFL resume. Jones-Drew has rushed for over 8,000 yards with 68 touchdowns, he led the NFL in rushing in 2011.
McFadden sees the presence of the three-time Pro Bowl back as that of an ally and not as a threat.
"Me and Maurice we're working together great," McFadd
en said. "As a running back you want to ask what another guy sees out there. Having a guy like that with a lot of experience, it's a great help to both of us."
As far as who starts, McFadden doesn't see that as an issue for the veteran running backs.
"For me, it's just going out there and play ball, let the coaches take care of that," he said.
McFadden has a one-year deal. He's still young, he says he's healthy, he has help in the backfield and an improved offensive line. He's got a proven veteran at quarterback to take some of the load off. He no longer has to be the offense.
"You know with all the injuries and such, I couldn't go any lower, I could only go up," he said. "I'm ready to show my teammates and the fans they haven't seen the best of Darren McFadden yet."
THIS WEEK's NOTES**
Based on my early returns and they are only in shorts mind you, the biggest difference in OTAs from 2013 to 2014 is quarterback play. Led by veteran Matt Schaub, second-round pick Derek Carr and a noticeably improved Matt McGloin, sessions are crisper than last season at this time and the ball rarely hits the ground. Speaking of quarterbacks, I had Derek Carr on my radio show this week and he told me because his brother David was an NFL quarterback, he's been watching NFL film since he was 12 years-old.
"After school I would go to his house and we would look at the team they were playing. What coverages they liked, what blitzes they liked", Carr said. "I would go to the game on Sunday and tell my dad what was going to happen pre snap. 'That guy will play off, this guy will drop out or press' and it would happen. People would tell me no 12 year-old should watch a game that way, but that's how we would do it."
Who knows if Carr will be a great NFL quarterback, but it won't be because he doesn't understand or know the game. Seeing it is one thing, executing another, but Carr is ahead of most quarterbacks at this point of the process.
Entering the third week of OTAs, the only injury which may linger into training camp is one of the players who can least afford to. Last year's first-round pick DJ Hayden, who missed the final nine games due to injury, is in a walking boot on his right foot. Head Coach Dennis Allen said earlier this week, "We're day by day with DJ, hopefully we'll have him out here because he needs the work." Hayden was listed as the starter at left corner with Tarell Brown on the right side and Carlos Rogers in the slot. The good news in the secondary is no matter who the corners are, strong safety Tyvon Branch is fully healed from the ankle injury suffered in the second game of last season vs. the Jaguars. He said this week there are no limitations on what he can do at OTAs.
Watch WR Greg Little who the Raiders claimed off waivers from the Cleveland Browns this off-season. Little is a former second round pick who has been plagued by drops early in his career. At the 2011 NFL combine, he had all the measurables at 6'2", 220, a solid 4.53 40-yard dash, 27 reps on the bench and a vertical leap at over 40 inches. In the time I was able to see him at OTAs, he didn't have soft hands teams look for from natural pass catchers, but he does have big (9 1/8), mitts and they are strong. Given the Raiders did not draft a receiver, Little has a chance to make an impact.
ONE FOR THE ROAD
Darren McFadden was a deadly halfback-option passer in college. McFadden was 14 of 22 for 205 yards with 7 touchdowns and only 1 interception at Arkansas. Last season he threw his first NFL touchdown pass in Week 3 at Denver, a 16-yarder to Marcel Reece.