ALAMEDA – Roy Helu Jr. is fully healthy. It took nearly three weeks to get there. The Raiders running back was down with a hamstring strain suffered early in training camp, poor timing for a player trying integrate himself into a new scheme and a new team.
Head coach Jack Del Rio focuses primarily on healthy players, and admitted after Wednesday’s practice that players out such an extended time have to fight for a role. It might be difficult, Del Rio said, to move into a prominent role in the few weeks left in the preseason.
“Right now, he’s got to create a role,” Del Rio said. “Right now, he’s been on the shelf and been unable to do anything for us. Yeah, the designs when we brought him in here in the spring and all was to let him compete for anything it might become. At this point, he’s got to try and find a way to compete to show us that he belongs here and then create a role for himself.”
Helu certainly belongs on the Raiders roster. He was brought in to be a third-down back. He exceled in that role in Washington, but was productive when more carries came his way. He had 151 carries as a rookie, and averaged 4.2 yards per rush.
He has always done well as a pass protector and a receiver out of the backfield. Helu would like to do more, and might have that chance as the No. 2 running back behind Latavius Murray.
“I think most everybody’s desire as a running back is to get involved in rhythm, because that’s such a big part of the running back position,” Helu said. “At the same time, the last couple of years I’ve been in the NFL I was designated that role, so whatever role I’m playing, and whatever that looks like, I’m just going to do my best at it.”
The Danville native knows he has to make up for lost time. There’s a little wiggle room given his unique skill set and less-than-stellar results from other backup rushers, but must prove himself to Del Rio with a strong finish to the preseason. That started with Wednesday’s padded practice.
“Oh yeah, there was a sense of urgency for sure,” Helu said. “I was aware of how much time I had, but at the same time, I didn’t rush to come back and I’m fully healthy now so it kind of worked itself out.”
Helu said his reads were a little rusty but, “other than that, I’ve really hit the ground running.”
That wasn’t a surprise. Helu’s a cerebral player, and spent significant time diagnosing protections while he was out.
“He’s very smart, so he’s going to be great in protection,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “He’s not a guy, ‘Hey, do you see it coming?’ He’ll know. He’s also a very good receiving back – very good hands. He has a good feel in the screen game. There’s a lot of things that he does really well, and that’s all outside of him running the ball, which he’s obviously very good at, which he did great at Nebraska and has done good in the NFL.”