By carrying with either hand, McFadden hopes to limit his fumbles.
Greg Trott/Getty Images
September 8 DENVER (M) 14 at Kansas City 21 at Buffalo 28 SAN DIEGO
October 5 Bye 12 at New Orleans 19 N.Y. JETS 26 at Baltimore
November 2 ATLANTA 9 CAROLINA 16 at Miami 23 at Denver 30 KANSAS CITY
December 4 at San Diego (T) 14 NEW ENGLAND 21 HOUSTON 28 at Tampa Bay
Thomas Howard, Linebacker: Kirk Morrison was at San Diego State in 2003 when he saw a UTEP linebacker chase an Aztecs running back 50 yards to haul him down. "He looked nasty, like an old-school throwback," recalls Morrison, who now sees that guy all the time -- Howard, who had six interceptions in '07. His speed complements Morrison's strength.
With JaMarcus Russell and Darren McFadden, the offense of the future takes shape. But the future is not now.
The move didn't look like anything special, a running back cradling the ballin his left hand as he charged left, then switching the ball to his right handas he cut right. But for Darren McFadden, the Raiders' highly touted rookie,that simple motion was the result of a summer's work. "My whole life, I'vecarried the ball in my left hand," McFadden says. "Since I got here, I've beenpracticing carrying it in my right hand, high and tight."
Rookies need training camp, all of training camp. Last year Oakland made LSUquarterback JaMarcus Russell the No. 1 pick in the draft, but he missed campbecause of a contract holdout; after finally coming in on Sept. 12, heneeded most of the season to get acclimated. This year the Raiders took McFaddenfourth overall, signed him in early June and had him in training camp on thefirst day. As a result, when the season starts, McFadden will be available tocarry the ball, catch passes out of the backfield, even line up at receiver.
"You're so excited with what the guy can do -- all these special things outsidethe formation," says coach Lane Kiffin, who was the offensive coordinator forthe similarly versatile running back Reggie Bush at USC. "But you've got to becareful because all of a sudden you can find him doing a bunch of things butnothing really well. We screwed that up with Reggie."
McFadden already figures to be the team's most potent playmaker. DespiteRussell's obvious arm strength, he is still raw, and his receivers are too. TheRaiders will have to win on the strength of their defense and their runninggame. Just as Bush had Deuce McAllister to help carry the load when he arrivedin New Orleans two years ago, and Adrian Peterson had Chester Taylor last seasonin Minnesota, McFadden will share the backfield with sixth-year veteran JustinFargas, who'll begin the season as the starter.
McFadden clearly sees himself more like Peterson, a traditional runner whocan pound between the tackles, than Bush, a hybrid who prefers to get outside."I feel like I'm an every-down back," McFadden says. "I definitely have theheart for it. Now it's just working on technique."
Tom Rathman, the running backs coach, has corrected McFadden's most glaringtechnical flaw. That penchant for carrying the ball almost exclusively in hisleft hand, often with his elbow up, was part of the reason McFadden fumbled 23times in 38 career games at Arkansas. "It's all about keeping his elbow lockeddown and keeping the ball in his outside arm," Rathman says.
In addition to not being able to protect the ball, the other knock onMcFadden that the Raiders heard leading up to the draft was that he would notstay out of trouble (SI, April 28). But Oakland can always tolerate a playerwith a few indiscretions (McFadden was involved in a couple of disturbances atArkansas bars), as long as he can run. "Oh, he can run," says linebacker KirkMorrison. "But what's really stuck out is his character. I heard so much aboutthe kid, the incidents he had. I've just seen a very hardworking guy."
The Raiders have tested him. During a practice in August, three days beforethe first preseason game, McFadden caught a swing pass in the flat and wasleveled by linebacker Thomas Howard. Standing over McFadden, Howard wondered howthe rookie would react. "He just got back up and ran the play again," Howardsays. "The guy is fast, but he's also tough. He's got a little dog in him."
In the off-season Oakland spent $224 million on contracts for four newplayers -- McFadden and free-agent veterans cornerback DeAngelo Hall, safety GibrilWilson and receiver Javon Walker. The moves reaffirmed the franchise's supposedcommitment to excellence, which some questioned during Russell's holdout lastseason. The Raiders are not yet a playoff team, but if they can keep the defenseintact as Russell and McFadden grow together, they may not be sofar away. -- Lee Jenkins
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.