Darren McFadden, Michael Bush try to revive Oakland Raiders running game
NAPA, Calif. – Lost in all the struggles by quarterback JaMarcus Russell and the passing game a year ago for the Oakland Raiders was the fact that the running game regressed as well.
Once considered a major strength for the team, the Raiders' running game has slipped from sixth-most productive in the league in 2007 to 21st a year ago as neither Darren McFadden, Michael Bush or Justin Fargas ever seemed to find a rhythm.
"I felt like we always got behind so much that no one could get into the flow of the game," Bush said.
With Fargas no longer part of the three-headed backfield after his offseason release, the running load will fall on McFadden and Bush.
McFadden, the fourth overall pick in the 2008 draft, has been hampered by injuries, fumbles and an inability to break tackles consistently during his two years in the NFL. He has rushed for just 856 yards in 25 games, seeing his average per carry drop from 4.4 as a rookie to 3.4 last season.
That's a far cry from the game-breaking back the Raiders were counting on when they picked McFadden so high. He scored just one touchdown last season and has only one run of at least 20 yards since the second game of his rookie year.
"The whole offense needs to step it up and take the game to the next level," he said.
Bush, a fourth-round pick in 2007, had a little more success last season when he led the Raiders with 589 yards rushing, averaging 4.8 yards per carry and scoring three touchdowns.
Bush played all 16 games but went through long stretches without many carries as the Raiders tried to get all three running backs involved. He had just eight carries during a four-game stretch late in the season that was surrounded by his two best games of the season: a 119-yard effort against Kansas City and a 133-yard game at Denver.
There should be more opportunities for both backs this season with only two players sharing the bulk of the carries. Fargas led all Oakland backs with 129 carries last season, but was let go in the offseason.
Bush and McFadden are rooming together at training camp and complement each other well on the field with Bush offering more size and McFadden having more speed and the ability to line up wide as a receiver to get into space.
"It changes the game," Bush said. "Maybe he'll do more sweeps and I'll do more inside. But we can mix it up also. He can go out and catch. I can go out and catch. We both know one week it could be him and the next week it could be me. It's not a big deal."
The Raiders have had their running production drop from 130.4 yards per game in 2007 to 106.3 last year. Part of that can be attributed to limited opportunities to run because of early deficits.
The Raiders fell behind by more than 14 points in the first half in four games last season as quarterback JaMarcus Russell often put the team in deep holes. With the passing offense nonexistent for long stretches under Russell, opposing defenses were able to key even more than usual against the run early in games.
"We'd like to run the ball more," Bush said. "They got McFadden and me here. We've both been kind of sitting on the side a little bit starting games form behind. We'd like to get out early with the run and show everybody what we can do."
Coach Tom Cable has talked about wanting to get back to being a strong running team once again and new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is putting more of an emphasis on the power-running game.
Oakland was primarily a zone running team the past three seasons, but Jackson is looking for the offense to be more physical.
"His motto is building a bully," Bush said. "That's what he preaches to us. We're going to run the ball to open up the passing game."
Notes: WR Louis Murphy is sidelined with a concussion after being kneed in the helmet by teammate Nnamdi Asomugha on Friday. ... WR Chaz Schilens watched practice as he still has soreness in his surgically repaired left foot. He is searching for a new shoe that will let him practice without pain.