George Atkinson III saw a hole developing to his right and slashed through it. The Raiders running back found open space and, with a defensive back bearing down, chose to turn on the afterburners.
He reached the sideline first, and blew past would-be tacklers en route to a 53-yard touchdown run in Friday’s 31-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
That wasn’t his only highlight on that night.
Atkinson III’s encore was a 35-yard gallop for a second touchdown, an effort showing breakneck speed and an ability to make people miss.
It was an important night for legendary defensive back George Atkinson’s boy, fighting a difficult battle to make the Raiders roster.
“He is very good and very hungry to be a part of the team,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He has improved. This no question about his speed and his eagerness to help on special teams. … George is a great young man and is working his tail off.”
Atkinson III is working hard to make the 53-man roster, a goal that has proven elusive since turning pro.
He signed with the Raiders in 2014 as an undrafted free agent but ended up on the practice squad after the preseason. He spent five games on the active roster then, and more time on the practice squad in 2015.
That resume makes this his last chance. His father is pushing hard, trying to motivate him during this pivotal period.
“He has definitely been in my ear, especially with this being my third year,” Atkinson III said. “With the last two years on the practice squad; I didn’t make the squad. So, this year, he’s been saying I really have to buckle down. He said, ‘as soon as you get the opportunity, you need to let the coaches know you can make the squad.’”
Del Rio emphasized the importance of kick coverage and pass protections while pondering Atkinson III’s performance. He was solid in those areas on Friday night, and must progress in those areas as the preseason proceeds.
He’s in a fight to make the squad as a third backup behind Latavius Murray and DeAndre Washington. Undrafted rookie Jalen Richard is hurt and could miss another game, making this prime time for Atkinson III’s push. He is confident he can do that, but understands there’s more work to do.
“You want to have confidence, but you also need to work on thing that didn’t go right,” Atkinson III said. “You have to continue to get better and continue to display I’m still trying to make the team.”