(P A Patterson Photo)
Earlier this month, the Oakland Raiders released warhorse running back Justin Fargas, leaving Darren McFadden and Michael Bush as the two backs vying for the starting position.
For the past two years, the Raiders have employed a running back by committee with the idea that they could use the different talents of the three backs to create a three headed monster. However, like most of the best laid plans of mice and men it fell by the wayside on the way to an entirely dismal offensive performance in 2009.
Head Coach Tom Cable has already said that he plans on having an open competition at the running back position, where the winner would be a featured back. After two years of not having a running back be a factor, having a back they can lean on for 20 carries per game would turn that trend around.Michael Bush and Darren McFadden are complementary in their styles, and if they are used correctly would be a lethal one-two combination. This is where new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson comes into play. Cable said that Jackson was brought in to score points, and building the explosive running game the Raiders have teased at for the last two years would go a long way towards accomplishing that goal
One thing that is often overlooked, but comes into play is who will be the blocking back for Bush and Mcfadden. Oren O'Neal had a promising rookie year in 2007. However, he suffered an injury in the 2008 preseason that cost him that entire season, and he only played one game in 2009 before going back on the injured reserve. O'Neal appeared to be the road-grader fullback the Raiders need for their style of offense, but after playing only one game in two years, it is hard to count on him to return to the level of play he saw in 07.
Luke Lawton will miss the first two games of the season to finish off a suspension for performance enhancing drugs if he makes the team. Gary Russell played a role as a receiving fullback and extra halfback at times in 09. He is not the blocker the Raiders need, and he is a UDFA who hasn't seemed a priority to resign. The other option for fullback is Marcel Reece. Reece has activated from the practice squad at the end of the 09 season, after having been an undrafted free agent signee in 08. He is an intriguing prospect as an H-back fullback-tight end hybrid and receiving back as he was a converted wide receiver.
Darren McFadden was the Raiders first round pick in the 2008 draft. In his two years in the NFL, he has yet to become the type of threat that he was envisioned to be coming out of college. He has struggled with injuries and fumbles, and has not developed any consistency. He has had issues with going down on first contact. In his two year career he has a total of 856 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns.
His strength is his speed and his ability to beat opponents to the corner on the outside. However, when he is used as an inside runner, he has a tendency to get stopped before he can get started. He has shown flashes as a threat in the receiving game, which is an aspect where he can use his straight ahead speed.
His biggest weakness is not breaking tackles. He goes down far too often on first contact. He also does not have much of a shake in the open field to make defenders miss. For a player who was marketed as a big play threat before the draft, that has been surprisingly absent.
Michael Bush led the Raiders in rushing in 2009. He is more of a traditional running back that McFadden, in that he can run well between the tackles as well as to the outside. he has shown a tendency to be able to finish runs by taking a defender with him for a couple of yards. He has 1010 yards rushing in his two years active and has sored 6 TDs.
Bush's strength is that he is an all around back. He doesn't have the straight line speed that McFadden has, but he has quickness and the ability to make defenders miss, as well as the ability to punish the defenders who don't. He has broken off two runs over 60 yards in his career.
Michael Bush is an every down type back, and should be used as suck. McFadden is more of a change of pace back who can be used as a receiver. If Bush can wear down the defenses with 20 carries a game, McFadden should be able to take advantage of that with fresh legs and his speed.