2 Oakland RAIDERS

The ground game could be solid if Darren McFadden can stay on the field
September 05, 2010

RUNNING BACK Darren McFadden arrived for training camp thicker in his chest and shoulders and stronger in his conviction that this would be the year he'd finally fulfill the potential that made him the fourth pick in the 2008 draft. Yet after a week the former Arkansas star was back where he hoped he'd never be again: on the sideline with an injury.

A strained left hamstring, which cost him 17 days of practice and two exhibition games, was the latest in a string of setbacks for McFadden. He missed three games and parts of at least a half dozen more as a rookie because of toe and ankle injuries, and last season he was sidelined for four games and parts of a handful of others because of a torn meniscus in his right knee.

With each appearance on the injury report, questions grow louder about whether McFadden will ever be the feature back the Raiders envisioned after they made him the first running back taken in '08—ahead of fellow first-rounders Jonathan Stewart (No. 13, Carolina), Felix Jones (22, Dallas), Rashard Mendenhall (23, Pittsburgh) and Chris Johnson (24, Tennessee). "You hear that a lot," says McFadden, who never missed a game because of injury in three seasons at Arkansas. "But people on the outside are always going to say what they want. As long as people in this organization and around the team have faith in me, that's all I need. Because I know I can do it if I'm given the opportunity."

Oakland desperately wants him to be that guy after signing him to a deal that includes $26 million in guarantees. The Raiders have not had a true feature back since Bo Jackson in 1990. Over the past two decades they've gotten by with a hodgepodge of halfbacks—from veterans at the ends of their careers (Roger Craig and Eric Dickerson) to undersized talents (Napoleon Kaufman and Charlie Garner) to overachievers (Tyrone Wheatley, Amos Zereoue and Justin Fargas) to never-weres (Greg Robinson and Harvey Williams).

McFadden was supposed to have the goods to make Raider Nation forget all of them. At 6'2", 210 pounds with 4.33 speed in the 40, he dominated college football's best conference during his three seasons, averaging 120.8 yards a game and 5.9 yards a carry while rushing for 41 touchdowns. He had at least one touchdown run of 70 yards or longer in each season and was also a threat as a receiver. But the big plays and big games have eluded him with the Raiders. He ran for 164 yards at Kansas City in his second game as a pro but has since gone 23 consecutive games without breaking 100. In 21 of those games he failed to reach 50 yards.

His problem is simple: a lack of durability. McFadden has had more than 14 carries in a game only twice in his career. "I've said it a bunch of times that the biggest factor with Darren is that he's been out of the lineup so much with a little injury here, injury there," coach Tom Cable says. "But when he's been healthy, he's been very productive. This is a big year for him, just like it is for everyone. He'll step up. I have no doubt about that."

In the off-season the Raiders released Fargas, a workhorse who led them in rushing three of the past four years. Injuries and his punishing running style sapped the 30-year-old Fargas, now with the Broncos, of his speed and burst, but Cable says Fargas was let go primarily to create more opportunities for McFadden, who will split time with camp roommate Michael Bush.

Bush, who is also in his third season, is a developing talent who has the team's last three 100-yard rushing games (one in 2008, two in '09). But while Bush is more physical than McFadden, whose slender legs make it difficult for him to break tackles and push the pile, Cable has no plans to change the way he uses McFadden, who returned to practice on Aug. 24.

"Not at all," says Cable. "For Darren, I think one of the keys has to do with him understanding the NFL and how to take care of your body and how to prepare. He's learning that. He's had as good an off-season as anybody on our team. I'm not sure anybody ever really gets into a rhythm when there's a third body in there; that's why we made the move that we made with Justin. This way there should be plenty of opportunity for Darren to get going."

But with Bush waiting in the wings, McFadden's window of opportunity might not be open for too long.

PROJECTED STARTERS

WITH 2009 STATS

COACH TOM CABLE

OFFENSE

2009 Rank: 31

QB JASON CAMPBELL

G 16

ATT 507

COMP 327

PCT 64.5

YARDS 3,618

TD 20

INT 15

RATING 86.4

RB DARREN MCFADDEN

G 12

ATT 104

YARDS 357

AVG 3.4

REC 21

YARDS 245

AVG 11.7

TTD 1

FB MARCEL REECE

G 2

ATT 0

YARDS 0

AVG —

REC 2

YARDS 20

AVG 10.0

TTD 0

WR CHAZ SCHILENS

G 8

REC 29

YARDS 365

TTD 2

WR DARRIUS HEYWARD-BEY

G 11

REC 9

YARDS 124

TTD 1

TE ZACH MILLER

G 15

REC 66

YARDS 805

TTD 3

LT MARIO HENDERSON

G 16

HT 6'7"

WT 300

LG ROBERT GALLERY

G 6

HT 6'7"

WT 325

C SAMSON SATELE

G 15

HT 6'3"

WT 300

RG COOPER CARLISLE

G 16

HT 6'5"

WT 295

RT LANGSTON WALKER

G 7

HT 6'8"

WT 360

DEFENSE

2009 Rank: 26

DE LAMARR HOUSTON (R)

G 14

TACKLES 46

SACKS 8

INT 0

DT TOMMY KELLY

G 16

TACKLES 55

SACKS 1

INT 0

DT RICHARD SEYMOUR

G 16

TACKLES 47

SACKS 4

INT 0

DE MATT SHAUGHNESSY

G 16

TACKLES 29

SACKS 4

INT 0

LB TREVOR SCOTT

G 16

TACKLES 43

SACKS 7

INT 0

LB ROLANDO MCCLAIN (R)

G 14

TACKLES 105

SACKS 4

INT 2

LB KAMERION WIMBLEY

G 15

TACKLES 69

SACKS 6½

INT 0

CB NNAMDI ASOMUGHA

G 16

TACKLES 34

SACKS 0

INT 1

FS HIRAM EUGENE

G 14

TACKLES 43

SACKS 0

INT 1

SS TYVON BRANCH

G 16

TACKLES 124

SACKS 1

INT 0

CB CHRIS JOHNSON

G 15

TACKLES 68

SACKS 0

INT 3

SPECIAL TEAMS

P SHANE LECHLER

PUNTS 96

AVG 51.1

NET AVG 43.9

K SEBASTIAN JANIKOWSKI

FG 26--29

XP 17--17

POINTS 95

PR JOHNNIE LEE HIGGINS

RET 34

AVG 5.2

TD 0

KR ROCK CARTWRIGHT

RET 39

AVG 22.3

TD 0

New acquisition

(R) Rookie: College stats

TTD: Total touchdowns

2010 SCHEDULE

2009 Record: 5--11

September

12 at Tennessee

19 St. Louis

26 at Arizona

October

3 Houston

10 San Diego

17 at San Francisco

24 at Denver

31 Seattle

November

7 Kansas City

14 BYE

21 at Pittsburgh

28 Miami

December

5 at San Diego

12 at Jacksonville

19 Denver

26 Indianapolis

January

2 at Kansas City

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL Rank: T16

Opponents' 2009 winning percentage: .500

Games against 2009 playoff teams: 4

ANALYSIS

The Raiders can't blame the schedule if they fail to snap their streak of seven straight losing seasons. Oakland faces only three playoff teams and has just two potential cold-weather games: in Pittsburgh in November and in Kansas City in January. If the team remains in the playoff hunt, its finale against the Chiefs shouldn't be daunting: The Raiders have won three in a row at Arrowhead.

SPOTLIGHT

Jason Campbell, Quarterback

THE CURRENT of optimism running through the Raiders' camp is due largely to the April 24 trade for former Washington starter Campbell, who in his four-year career has been everything departed JaMarcus Russell was not: hardworking, studious, conscientious and able to lead by example. Owner Al Davis has gone so far as to compare Campbell with Jim Plunkett, the castoff turned champion who led the Raiders to a pair of Super Bowl wins in the 1980s after being given up on by New England and San Francisco.

A 2005 first-round pick, Campbell threw for more touchdowns than interceptions in each of his seasons with Washington despite struggling to adapt to three different systems in his four years there. Raiders players say his ability to read defenses, make the correct protection calls and get the ball out on time will greatly benefit a passing game that was virtually nonexistent under Russell, a former No. 1 overall pick who threw 11 interceptions and only three TDs last year before being benched. He was released shortly after Oakland traded for Campbell.

The Raiders have had a league-record seven straight seasons of 11 or more losses. Their new QB may or may not be another Plunkett; at this point Oakland would settle for his simply leading the team to a winning season.

PHOTOTONY MEDINA/ICON SMIBACK PAIN Injuries have limited McFadden to 8.7 carries per game in his two-year career. PHOTOBOB ROSATO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)