Keith Smith Key Tone-setter in Raiders' Run Game

NAPA – The Raiders and Lions spent opening portions of Tuesday's joint practice working on their own. It was a spectator's slog, with stretching and install periods and individual, position-specific drills.

Black and blue started to mingle after a half hour or so, with receivers against cover men and rushing attack against run defense.

That's where eyes focused, on ground games where things were bound to get physical.

That's when Keith Smith set the tone. The Raiders fullback went left through the offensive line and met a Lions linebacker head on. Smith knocked his man out the way with a thunderous crack, and ball carrier Marshawn Lynch cruised through traffic without much resistance.

That's how it's supposed to go. The Raiders offensive line creates some space, Smith blazes a trail and then the rusher goes for a stroll.

Tuesday's big hit wasn't a mistake. Smith wanted to come out (metaphorically) swinging to show how he's going to play this camp and this season.

"Having that edge is important in this game, especially for people in my position," Smith told NBC Sports Bay Area in a Monday interview. "You want to be coming downhill, ready to punish a defender. It might seem like we don't do much and we don't have many stats to show for it, but we play a vital role in the run game."

Not every run game. Several teams don't use a fullback, a position some consider antiquated. Head coach Jon Gruden doesn't feel that way. He sought out Smith from Dallas, and made the converted linebacker one of his first free-agent signings.

Smith is a scheme fit as a lead blocker, receiver and pass protector. He won't be used in every set, but Smith will be involved in what the Raiders do.

"It's great to have a fullback in the system, and to have a guy who allows you to do some different things scheme-wise," Raiders running backs coach Jemal Singleton said. "It's not something prevalent throughout the entire league, but it's good for us to have one. Keith has a unique background, considering he made the position switch after playing linebacker in college. He has a linebacker's awareness to him, which is great for that position when you're taking those guys on.

"He's going to have a role, good chance in the run game and the pass game considering his ball skills and route running ability. It's going to be fun using that piece of the package."

Lynch will be the featured back with Doug Martin expected to be the primary backup. They will often run without Smith's escort. The fullback will be used often, and will get a fair share of touches. Let's use Zack Crockett as an example. He thrived from 1999-2001, during Gruden's first stint as Raiders head coach. He averaged 48 carries and seven touchdowns in that span, with some light receiving work.

That would greatly exceed Smith's Dallas production. He has eight carries the past two seasons.

Smith hopes for a bigger, diverse role in this scheme. His stats matter far less that those attached to Lynch and Martin.

The San Jose State alum's relatively new to the position and is therefore studying up on those who have played the position best. He has kept a close eye on Lorenzo Neal for years, as an example for how to play the position right and carry the edge he discussed above.

Smith has researched former Raiders Crockett and Jon Ritchie. Lynch suggested Smith take a look at someone vital to BeastMode's success in Seattle.

"It has been extremely helpful considering he has worked in Tom Cable's system before and has seen Michael Robinson play fullback so well in it (in Seattle)," Smith said. "I've been watching a lot of film on ‘Mike-Rob', and Marshawn's always in my ear about doing that because he was so impactful in his role."

Smith doesn't regret his position switch for a second and takes great pride in his current role, especially on this team.

"It's cool," Smith said, "being part of the brotherhood."

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