Running back Rashad Jennings (No. 27) has been a key contributor to the Raiders this season. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
When Rashad Jennings signed with the Raiders as a free agent this offseason, he said one of the reasons was because of the way he expected the team to play in 2013.
“It’s downhill football,” he said. “It’s physical football.”
So far, the fit has been perfect for both Jennings and the Raiders.
Jennings, 28, has proven to be a valuable backup at running back to Darren McFadden, but also has been a key player on the Raiders’ revitalized special teams.
On Sunday in the Raiders’ 21-18 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jennings had two big special teams plays. First, he got his right hand on a first-quarter punt by the Steelers’ Zoltan Mesko. The ball traveled just 3 yards and set the Raiders up at the Steelers’ 26-yard line. From there, Oakland drove for a touchdown on McFadden’s 7-yard run that gave the Raiders a 14-0 lead.
Then, with less than two minutes to play in the game and the Steelers within three points after scoring two fourth-quarter TDs, Jennings pounced on Pittsburgh’s onside kick, helping the Raiders lock up their third win in seven games.
Earlier this season, Jennings also blocked a punt in a loss to the Washington Redskins.
“He’s done a great job for us,” said Raiders head coach Dennis Allen Monday at a news conference with Bay Area reporters. “He’s kind of been one of those guys for us that is a little bit of a jack of all trades. When we’ve needed him to go back there and carry the ball, he’s carried the ball. He’s done a great job on special teams – I think he has two blocks on the year. He’s done a good job in the return game. I think you need those types of players on the football team to have a chance to have success. I think he understands what his role is. He’s embraced his role and he’s done a great job at it.”
Jennings, in his fourth pro season, spent his first three years with the Jacksonville Jaguars where he primarily served as a backup to Maurice Jones-Drew. His best season came in 2010, when he rushed for 459 yards and four TDs for the Jags and also had 26 receptions for 223 yards.
In college, however, Jennings was a star at Liberty University, where he set a Big South Conference record with 3,633 yards rushing, a 5.7-yard average and 42 touchdowns.
This season, Jennings isn’t looking to be a star but a strong contributor.
This past week, as the Raiders were preparing for the Steelers, he spent a lot of time studying Pittsburgh’s Mesko and his punting routine.
“I measured his block point all week, watched him get off all week,” Jennings told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group. “I watched to see who I was going to be up against for one-on-one matchups. We watch a lot of tape, and it’s not just myself. It’s other guys getting pressures and being able to hold their main to make sure we’re one-on-one and not getting double-teamed across the board.”
Aside from the two blocks and the recovered onside kick, Jennings also has contributed two special-teams tackles this season, rushed for 140 yards on 36 carries and caught 12 passes for 97 yards.
Said Allen, of Jennings’ contributions to a surprising Oakland team that could get to .500 Sunday with a victory over the visiting Eagles: “That’s what you expect out of a guy that’s been around, been a pro. He’s obviously been a valued asset to our football team.”