This is a busy week for the Raiders, as players -- gathered for the start of the official offseason conditioning program – are absorbing the new offensive and defensive schemes of new Head Coach Dennis Allen and his staff.
As Allen told Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group Tuesday, players get a chance to “get a feel for what we’re going to do and how they’re going to be asked to do it.”
One of the benefits of the start of organized workouts at the Raiders facility this week has been the chance for Allen and his coaching staff to see that running back Darren McFadden – who had his season cut short last year by a foot injury – appears to be healthy and ready to go for the 2012 season.
With McFadden, one of the most dynamic running backs in the NFL, the Raiders’ offense can be electric. He’s big, fast, strong and capable of breaking off a long run every time he carries the ball. And, with McFadden on the field, it opens up other options for quarterback Carson Palmer and some fast young receivers such as Jacoby Ford, Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Without McFadden – and now without backup running back Michael Bush, who’s departed as a free agent to the Chicago Bears – the Raiders offense has two legs tied behind its back.
From what Allen sees, McFadden is back.
Allen told Corkran that McFadden was able to go through all the required drills Tuesday and “did a nice job.”
When asked if he’s encouraged by what he’s seen so far of McFadden, he said: “Absolutely. He’s one of our most explosive players on offense. He’s a dangerous weapon. We’re looking forward to finding different ways of using him and kind of exploiting his talents.”
The Raiders will employ a West Coast offense in 2012 under new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, who comes to the team from the Houston Texans, where he coached two seasons.
For McFadden, quarterback Carson Palmer and the rest of the offensive players, this is a time for learning those new systems and becoming familiar with a new playbook – while imagining what a healthy McFadden and Palmer can accomplish together.
Last season, Palmer didn’t play until McFadden was done for the year, felled by the Lisfranc foot injury.
Keeping McFadden healthy is a key to how the Raiders of 2012 might perform. Though he’s been terrific when he’s been on the field, he’s been unavailable for 19 games in four seasons because of injuries since being taken by Oakland as the No. 4 choice in the 2008 draft.
Last season, he had rushed for 614 yards and a 5.4-yards per carry average when he was lost in the seventh game of the season.
The Raiders’ offense never was the same after that. The team has much invested in him, both financially and emotionally. McFadden is set to earn $5.65 million this season, third in the NFL at his position behind only Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson ($8 million each, according to NFL.com). And a healthy star running back can help the Raiders get off to a good start in a new era under Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie.
McFadden says he’s feeling good and ready to go, but can’t think about avoiding injury. He just has to play the way he’s always played, he told SiriusXM NFL Radio earlier this month.
“The only thing I can do is go out there and go hard,” he said. “If I get hurt, I just get hurt.”