Maurice Jones-Drew did his best to put an end to all those questions about the starring role in Oakland’s backfield.
It’s a question the veteran running back has faced numerous times already, and it came up again when the Raiders opened their three-day mandatory minicamp on Tuesday.
For Jones-Drew, the situation with Darren McFadden is a healthy one.
“When these pads get on you’re going to start to see what we’re about, and that is running back by committee,” Jones-Drew said. “(That) is going to help us because we’re going to be fighting every day to get the ball. I know Darren wants the ball just like I do. That drive is what’s going to help us become a better backfield.
“You go in every day wanting to be the starter but we understand what it is. And that has to be your mindset going into this thing.”
The topic created a bit of buzz around Oakland after general manager Reggie McKenzie made the curious decision to re-sign McFadden in the offseason, and then got Jones-Drew off the free-agent market two weeks later with a three-year deal.
Five years ago the duo was considered among the best in the NFL. Injuries and a lack of steady production changed that perception dramatically.
Jones-Drew missed 10 games during the 2012 season and struggled to bounce back last year when he averaged a career-low 3.4 yards a carry.
McFadden hasn’t made it through a full 16-game schedule in six NFL seasons and hasn’t averaged more than 3.3 yards a carry since 2011.
That exposed both players to stinging criticism from fans and media alike.
Jones-Drew never bought into any of it. Any doubts he may have had about the potential of a Jones-Drew-McFadden backfield were erased with each practice together.
“We’re explosive, we’re cutting, we’re doing some great things,” Jones-Drew said. “Everybody can say what they want. We feel like we have something that we can build on. I know what I did last year wasn’t nowhere near what I’m capable of doing and so this year I’m doing everything I can to get back to the form I’m used to, and I know Darren is as well.”
Neither player has the clout anymore to command center stage in the backfield for himself.
That’s fine with McFadden, who has been pulling extra duty returning kickoffs this offseason while also splitting time in the backfield with Jones-Drew and second-year running back Latavius Murray.
“To me, I feel like the touches are going to go around however it goes, whether one guy gets them first or the second guy gets them first,” McFadden said. “It’s just all about what you do with the ball when you get the chance.”
The Raiders are banking that the 1-2 combination of Jones-Drew and McFadden will help spark an offense that was erratic a year ago.
Although the team traded for quarterback Matt Schaub and added James Jones to the receiving corps, the emphasis on building around the ground game has been Oakland’s focal point.
McKenzie targeted the offensive line for upgrade, bringing in beefy veterans Donald Penn and Austin Howard and grabbing 335-pound guard Gabe Jackson with a third-round pick in the draft. All three are expected to start for Oakland this season.
The focus, though, remains on 20 and 21 – McFadden and Jones-Drew.
“When you watch them practice you see guys that still have explosion,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “(They are) guys that still have run skills, guys that can make people miss. I haven’t paid a lot of attention to what the statistics may say. I just see what I see with my eyes and I see a couple of guys that if they can stay healthy, they still have the ability to perform at a high level in this league.”
NOTES: Second-year cornerback D.J. Hayden is still wearing a walking boot and is unable to practice. Hayden, the 12th overall pick in 2013, is expected to recover in time for training camp. … G Lucas Nix underwent a procedure on his knee Tuesday and did not practice. … CB Carlos Rogers suffered a calf strain that isn’t deemed serious.
Updated June 17, 2014