In 2012, Raiders running back Darren McFadden had the worst season of his career statistically, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry.
The Raiders changed their philosophy after the season, hiring a new offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, and decided to revert to a power-running scheme, ditching the zone-blocking scheme that seemed to sap McFadden’s abilities.
Over four exhibition games -- only two of which McFadden played in -- he carried just eight times for 22 yards and a 2.8-yard average … an even worse average than 2012.
Fortunately for the Raiders and their fans, numbers like that don’t mean much when it comes to veteran players in the NFL. The primary goal for most teams is to get through training camp and the preseason games with key players intact.
For the Raiders, that meant keeping McFadden as far away from the injury bug as possible while giving players such as Rashad Jennings and Jeremy Stewart enough action to see what they’re capable of doing.
The Raiders offense looked inept this summer, with a shaky line and a giant question mark at quarterback. But one thing to keep in mind is this: Oakland touted it would use McFadden as its No. 1 weapon, and that weapon was holstered in the summer.
“Something to consider in Raiders preseason,” tweeted Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group. “McFadden was supposed to be focal point, and he was (rightly) kept in bubble wrap.”
McFadden, after all, has been fragile since entering the league as a No. 1 pick in 2008. Though he’s a power back at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, he’s been consistently injured. Last season, he missed four games. In 2011, he missed nine. He’s never played more than 13 games.
Yet when he was healthy and running in Hue Jackson’s power-blocking system in 2010, he showed what he’s capable of doing, rushing for 1,157 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 5.2 yards per carry. The next season he started strong again, averaging 5.4 yards and rolling up 614 yards rushing when he went out early in the seventh game.
McFadden suffered a slight shoulder injury in Oakland’s exhibition game against the Saints this summer and was then held out of Game No. 3 vs. the Bears and No. 4 vs. the Seahawks – the wise move.
Now, as he enters the final year of his contract, there is a huge incentive for McFadden to put up big numbers in 2013. If he wants another big payday, he needs to stay healthy. And the Raiders need McFadden to be his 2010/11 self if they have any shot at improving on their 4-12 record of a season ago.
McFadden says he wants to stay in Oakland.
“I love being a Raider,” McFadden told reporters recently. “As long as they want to bring me back and have me here for as long as they want to have me – I love being a Raider, and I’m here.”
Yet how well he’ll play when the Raiders open their season nine days from now against the Indianapolis Colts remains a mystery.
It’s hard to see through all that bubble wrap.