Darren McFadden hears you talking.
The Raiders feature running back knows you call him injury prone. He knows you think his best football is behind him.
That’s okay. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion. It won’t change the way he plays football.
He takes the negativity, bottles it up and turns it into fuel.
“I feel I’ve shown glimpses of what I can do,” McFadden said, “but I still think my best football is ahead of me.”
McFadden has reason to believe a career year is upon him. He’s in the best shape of his life. He’s working in a downhill, gap-control running scheme that suits his rushing style.
It’s tailor-made for McFadden, a fact not lost on the former first-round pick.
“The organization has shown tremendous faith in me, and I’m very grateful for that,” McFadden said. “I feel like it shows real faith in me and in this offense as a whole. They clearly have confidence in my ability and what I can do in a downhill running scheme.
I’m so excited to be able to run in this type of offense again. I feel like I owe the Raiders a fantastic season.”
McFadden can only do that by staying healthy. He’s been hurt in each professional season, making durability the biggest knock on this undeniable talent.
McFadden doesn’t like being called injury prone. Hates it in fact. But he doesn’t let it psyche him out.
“I just let it roll off my back,” McFadden said. “But, at the same time, you can’t help but think about it. I don’t want to be known or thought of as injury prone, but I have gotten hurt. It’s not going to change how I play the game. If I get hurt, then I get hurt. Those things happen. I’m going to play hard.”
McFadden is also going to play fast. He has the speed of a less weathered back, the strength of a short-yardage back and the agility of a big-play maker.
Fans haven’t seen that because McFadden has been extremely limited during a preseason where health is the only concern. Coaches have.
“I see the speed, I see that from Darren McFadden,” Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “We haven’t gotten into any real live performance where he’s going to go in an carry it 20 times a game but I don’t see wear and tear on this running back, I don’t see a decline in speed.
“We’ll get a chance to see when the regular season gets going but we still believe that we have a real fine running back.”
McFadden didn’t live up to that billing last season. He averaged a career-worst 3.3 yards per carry and scored just three touchdowns. Then-coordinator Greg Kanpp’s zone-blocking became the scapegoat for such a performance, especially after McFadden averaged 5.3 yards per carry in the two previous seasons.
The scheme was a source of aggravation for McFadden and the offense. He admits the season wore on his psyche.
McFadden enters this season with renewed optimism about this team.
“I think we’re being underestimated,” McFadden said. “We’re better than most people think. I think we’ll win some games and prove some of our doubters wrong.”
McFadden is speaking for the Raiders and himself. He considers this the most important season of his career. A second straight bomb will kill his street cred and his earning power.
[REWIND: McFadden wants to re-sign, but Raiders haven't reached out]
He enters a contract year looking for one more big payday. He prefers his checks signed by a Davis. If he doesn’t perform, that won’t happen. If he doesn’t perform well, a long-term contract is out of the cards, maybe forever.
“It’s going to enhance your motivation. How could it not?” McFadden said. “It’s in the back of your head, but I’m still focused on football. I know that, if I take care of business on the field, everything else will fall in line.”
This training camp hasn’t lined up perfectly. His best blocker, left tackle Jared Veldheer, is lost until midseason. The interior line is in flux and Menelik Watson is playing out of position. Despite a radical change in scheme, the stars haven’t aligned.
Having quarterback Terrelle Pryor should take some pressure off McFadden and the run game, but the world still knows No. 20 is gettin’ the rock. While Pryor steals headlines, McFadden’s the real marquee player. Without him, the offense can’t survive.
McFadden is ready, willing and able to shoulder such responsibility.
“I feel as good as I ever have,” McFadden said. “I’m 26 years old, but I still feel young. I feel like it shows when I’m on the field. I can still go out and fly around and make big plays. I’m always going to give my team maximum effort. I go all out on every play.”