When the Raiders open their exhibition season Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys, don’t expect to see a lot of Darren McFadden.
But that doesn’t mean the Oakland running back is still hampered by last season’s foot injury, or that he’ll be entering yet another season with worrisome concerns about his health.
In fact, by all accounts, McFadden has looked strong so far in workouts and scrimmages this training camp. On Monday night, he’ll get just the cursory veteran appearance in a meaningless first preseason game and then shut it down. It’s just one more step toward being ready for the regular-season opener against the Chargers on “Monday Night Football” Sept. 10.
After a rigorous offseason workout regimen, McFadden is back on the field, running hard again and impressing his teammates.
“He’s unreal,” quarterback Carson Palmer told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Vic Tafur, when asked about the running back’s performance in camp and the impact he has on his teammates being back on the field. “He’s fast, he’s explosive, but he’s also a phenomenal teammate. Guys love him. He’s a leader. He’s always the first one in line for drills and he’s vocal.”
Last season, McFadden was off to his best start, with 612 yards rushing through six games, when he suffered a foot injury. He never played again.
It was just the latest in a series of injuries that have slowed him since he was a first-round pick out of Arkansas in 2008.
As Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated noted, McFadden has missed 19 of a possible 64 games and been limited to 32 starts because of a series of injuries to his foot, shoulder, knee and hamstring.
McFadden told Trotter the injuries have been “annoying,” but all he can do is keep working hard and preparing for the season opener.
Right now, he looks strong and capable of being the impact player new head coach Dennis Allen is depending on to be a key element in his West Coast offensive scheme.
This season, in fact, it’s possible that the Raiders’ change in schemes could showcase McFadden’s talents even more than the Hue Jackson offense in which McFadden thrived when healthy.
Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp this training camp is using McFadden all over the backfield, even split out as a receiver on occasion, and will try to take advantage of McFadden’s breakaway speed as a pass-catcher. Also, the new zone-blocking scheme by the offensive line should give McFadden more leeway to use his vision and instincts when running the ball.
“For the most part, that was our offense in college, one cut and go,” McFadden says.
Bucky Brooks, an analyst for NFL.com, says that a healthy McFadden in the new offense could be formidable.
“I was impressed by McFadden’s speed, explosiveness and athleticism in practice,” wrote Brooks. “He is a natural playmaker with the ball in his hands, and there is nothing he can’t do on the field.” By playing to his receiving abilities, the Raiders are trying to “capitalize on his speed and route-running skills in space against overmatched linebackers.”
And, with his quickness and cutting ability, the zone-blocking scheme could be his springboard to a huge 2012 season.
“If he can stay healthy, McFadden will produce fireworks in the Raiders’ offense,” says Brooks.