The Raiders backfield this year should be known as, "Backfield in Motion". If the Oakland Raiders hope to improve in 2014, a great deal of that improvement is going to depend on the running game. No matter what people have done over the years to try to diminish the importance of the running game in the sport of football. The fact still remains that teams that run the ball with success are also the teams that have a greater chance of winning.
During his tenure as general manager Reggie McKenzie has tried to address the Raiders needs at the running back position. Last year the team signed Rashad Jennings. The hope was that Jennings would backup Darren McFadden, and, with this duo being complemented by Marcel Reese at the fullback position, along with the drafting of Latavius Murray out of Central Florida that the Raiders running game would finally awake from its long slumber.
Things quickly disintegrated for the Raiders when often injured Darren McFadden was limited in his playing time in 2013, being able to play in only 10 games, amassing a total of 379 rushing yards, and, 108 yards receiving. The running back of the future Latavius Murray did not even make it out of the pre-season in 2013 before he had to be put on the shelf for the year.
The Gang's All Here
So, where does all of this leave the Oakland Raiders backfield for 2014? Right now the Raiders running back core consists of Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones Drew, Latavius Murray, Kory Sheets, and Jeremy Stewart. The fullback position is manned by Pro Bowler Marcel Reese. Jamize Olawale is penciled in right now to be Reese's backup.
The Raiders are a team that is in transition and the running back position is no different. Maurice Jones Drew has been signed with the hope that he will be able to bounce back after an injury plagued 2013 campaign and that he will give the team the stability that they have been searching for since Reggie McKenzie took over as general manager. Darren McFadden has been signed to a short term deal in hopes that the Raiders can finally tap into the talent and potential the Raiders fans have only seen flashes of over the last couple of seasons.
The Raiders also signed Kory Sheets in the off season. Sheets is a 29 year old journey man running back who has thrived in Canada over the last two seasons winning the Grey Cup last year. Sheets rushed for 2,875 yards in two seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Standing at 5-11 and 208 pounds Sheets is going to be, at best, the number three option on the depth chart for the Raiders behind McFadden and Jones-Drew.
In a running back group that is waiting for someone to step forward Latavius Murray is the ultimate wild card. In his few cameo appearances during the 2013 preseason. Murray showed himself to be a big strong back (6-3 225) who has a burst of speed. The problem is that until Murray can stay on the field, whatever is said about him can only be speculation. This guy could be the next Jim Brown or he could be the next Charles White. The fact is, right now we simply do not know.
NFL: We Don't Need A Running Game
Over the last few years in the NFL the position of running back has been devalued. Coaches have amassed playbooks the size of a James Michener novel, with all of the focus on the passing game. The only two teams that have truly committed themselves to running the ball.
The Seattle Seahawks, the reigning Super Bowl Champions, and, the San Francisco 49ers, the NFC Champion in 2012. Both of these teams run the ball more than they throw it. In watching the Oakland Raiders during the Dennis Allen era, we have only heard talk, concerning a running game. We have yet to see an actual ground game materialize. A great deal of this has to do with the fact that the Raiders have not been able to keep a running back healthy long enough for them to build any continuity with the offensive line which has also been in a constant state of flux, but, putting that aside there are still other concerns.
When Dennis Allen took over as head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2012 he brought in Greg Knapp to be his offensive coordinator. In a Greg Knapp offensive system the running game uses a zone blocking scheme. The Raiders tried for three quarters of the season, not including training camp, and, the pre-season in 2012 to run the zone blocking scheme. They had no success whatsoever. It has to be a concern to any organization, when your head coach is not able to see that something is not working, and, takes so long to correct such a glaring error.
If something does not work. Fix it!
Marcel Reese: The Forgotten Man
The one consistent weapon the Raiders have had in their backfield in recent years has been Marcel Reese. Reese has been the one effective player that the Raiders have been able to count on while everything else around him has fallen apart, yet, Reese remains to be underutilized by the Raiders coaching staff. There is a simple axiom in any sport. Find out who your best players are, and then put them in the best position in order to help you win. This concept seems to be lost when it comes to the Oakland Raiders coaching staff in regards to Marcel Reese.
The Raiders need to go out of their way to find ways to get the ball into Marcel Reese's hands. This is football. It does not have to be complicated.
First the coaching staff cannot recognize what does not work in regards to the zone blocking scheme, and, now you tell me that they cannot figure out how to best utilize their most talented offensive weapon?
Can anyone else see a problem here?
The Raiders running back situation is very much like the rest of their team. The players that they have signed to their roster at this point in time are a group of transitional players. They are players with experience who in some cases are coming off of injury. If all goes well, these players will stay healthy, and, give the Raiders enough of a running game in order to balance out the Raiders offensive attack so that defenses cannot key on any one single aspect of the Raiders offense.
Reggie McKenzie has also done his best to give the running back position some depth, so that if someone does get hurt, there will be someone ready in the wings to pick up the slack.
The Raiders will have a backfield in motion for the 2014 season. Everyone carrying their share of the load, and, hopefully enjoying a brighter future.