NAPA – Darren McFadden has been hurt in each of his five NFL seasons. That’s why backup running backs are so vital to the Raiders offense.
Rashad Jennings was brought in to fill that role, and he certainly looks the part. The 6-foot-1, 231-pound veteran has a powerful rushing style that fits a revamped, Raiders blocking scheme based on gap creation and control.
Jennings has impressed in the early going and will get plenty of reps this preseason, time he’ll use to carve out a larger role.
“Rashad’s a big back, we want Rashad to play like a big back,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “Going into the preseason, we’ll see if he can be that big physical presence that we expect him to be.”
Positive results might earn him the title of short-yardage back, which will decrease punishment taken by McFadden over the course of the season. Jennings doesn't want to pigeonhole himself just yet.
Jennings hopes the running game is so effective that McFadden can’t take all the carries given out. That happened at times in recent seasons, when the Raiders ran extremely well and Michael Bush emerged as a back complementary of McFadden’s skill set.
“You act like the starter and you prepare as one,” Jennings said. “In the NFL, there aren’t any backups. The backups are the guys at home watching TV, because everyone on an NFL roster contributes.”
Jennings will have his moments. How he’ll fare as a feature back – only if McFadden gets hurt – remains in question.
He had that chance last season in Jacksonville, after Maurice Jones-Drew was lost for an extended period, and didn’t capitalize. He averaged a paltry 2.8 yards per carry last season, and fared worse in games with higher carry counts.
Jennings found flaws in that season he believes are corrected for good.
“I put failure on my shoulders and give success to the team,” Jennings said. “After looking at film of last season, there were a lot of things I could’ve done better. It’s all in the past now. I’m a Raider this season and that’s what I’m out here to capitalize on.”
Sixth-round pick Latavius Murray has been out four practices with injuries, leaving Jennings to take reps behind McFadden. The fifth-year veteran used them to outshine the competition and prove he fits the offensive scheme.
“We’re going to play downhill, physical football. I like that,” Jennings said. “That’s the kind I like to play and that’s the kind of backfield that I fit. I’m glad to be a part of this group and a part of Raider Nation. I see real opportunity to run the football well here.”