As the Raiders’ training camp gets under way, the competition between veterans Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew will be one of the most interesting on the team.
It’s not yet known how head coach Dennis Allen will use the two running backs, both of whom have much to prove after downturns in their careers.
But the running back corps in general has some interesting story lines aside from McFadden and MJD. Second-year pro Latavius Murray is a powerful runner who could step up to be the No. 1 back if the veterans falter, and former Canadian Football League star Kory Sheets and Jeremy Stewart also will get their chances to show what they can contribute.
And then there is George Atkinson III.
Atkinson is an undrafted rookie from Notre Dame and the son of former Raiders standout safety George Atkinson Jr. – who played for Oakland from 1968-77. The running back is excited to follow in his dad’s footsteps and get a chance to make an impact on a team he’s followed his whole life. Atkinson played high school football in Livermore and sometimes visited training camp with his father, now a broadcaster.
But the Raiders didn’t draft Atkinson because of his name. They liked him as a player – although the DNA helps.
“He’s a talented athlete and he’s got a lot of speed, and he has the ability to help us on special teams,” Allen told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group. “I think any time you have a chance to get a legacy, somebody who has the Raider bloodlines, you do it because those guys understand what it means to be a Raider.”
In three seasons at Notre Dame, Atkinson rushed for 943 yards on 153 attempts (6.2 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns, and he has solid speed, having run a 4.39 40-yard dash.
But it’s as a special teams player that he might make the biggest impact. As a freshman at Notre Dame he returned two kickoffs for scores, and he had a 24.3-yard average on 88 kick returns for the Fighting Irish. Plus, he is happy to play on any special teams unit.
“If it’s a kickoff, punt block or punt, I’m looking at special teams as a definite way to get on the field and contribute early to this team,” Atkinson III told McDonald.
Taiwan Jones did most of the kick-return duty for the Raiders in 2013, and averaged 24.0 yards per attempt. It’s likely Atkinson will compete for that role, and coaches may also try him as a punt returner, though he had just two punt returns in college.
Atkinson Jr. wore No. 43 for the Raiders; his son will wear No. 34.
“It’s a tremendous honor for me to finally put on the silver and black,” the younger Atkinson told reporters recently. “Since I was a kid, I’ve been waiting for this moment.”