In an offseason full of changes for the Oakland Raiders, perhaps the most positive development has been the health of a returning star.
Running back Darren McFadden opened training camp the way he looked in offseason workouts, showing the speed and ability that has made him one of the NFL’s dangerous backs when healthy.
The problem for McFadden and the Raiders (tied 23rd in AP Pro 32) in recent years has been his health as he has missed 19 games in his first four seasons with foot, toe, shoulder, knee and hamstring injuries.
“If somebody’s got an answer for it, I would love for them to tell me because I need that,” McFadden said when asked how to avoid injuries.
McFadden’s most recent injury came last Oct. 23 while he was catching a pass early in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Raiders originally described the injury as a sprained right foot and designated him week-to-week.
But it actually was a more serious Lisfranc injury that cost him the final nine games of the season and was a big reason why Oakland missed the playoffs. McFadden said it was April before he could run again, but he now looks like his former self.
“I just want to come out there and pick up where I left off,” McFadden said. “The type of injury that I had is something that set me down for a long time. A lot of people may think it’s hard to bounce back and get back in the flow of things, but for me, once I’m out there on the field, I feel like I’m at home, so I just get out there and try to pick up where I left off.”
McFadden was off to a fast start last season before the injury. He led the NFL with 610 yards rushing through six games and felt he had a shot at an 1,800-yard season. He also added 129 yards receiving and scored five total touchdowns as the Raiders opened the season 4-2.
McFadden topped 100 yards rushing eight times in a 15-game span between 2010 and 2011 as he finally showed signs of being the big-play back the Raiders thought they found when they drafted him fourth overall in 2008.
“I think we all understand that he’s an explosive playmaker for us, and we need him to be healthy for the entire season,” coach Dennis Allen said.
One of the biggest disappointments for the Raiders last season is they never got the chance to see their offense at full power.
McFadden got hurt early in the game during which Carson Palmer made his debut as quarterback. Since Palmer had arrived in Oakland only earlier that week, the two never even got a chance to play together on the practice field until this spring.
With Palmer’s deep-strike passing ability, speedy receivers on the outside and a healthy McFadden, the Raiders have the ingredients to field their most high-powered offense in years.
“I help this team go a lot, but I’m not the only player out there,” McFadden said. “You know we have a lot of players out there that make plays. I have a big role in the offense but we have a lot of guys that are going to step up and make plays also.”
With reliable backup Michael Bush having left in free agency for Chicago, a healthy McFadden is even more crucial to the Raiders’ success.
Oakland traded for Mike Goodson from Carolina in the offseason and also has speedy second-year back Taiwan Jones behind McFadden on the depth chart. But those two combined for just 16 carries last season, leaving a big question mark behind McFadden.
There was talk earlier in the offseason that Oakland could try to sign a more proven backup like Cedric Benson, but the Raiders have started training camp with Goodson and Jones behind McFadden.
“That’s what we have, and that’s who we’re going with,” Allen said. “Mike Goodson’s been a guy that – a couple of years ago in Carolina – did a nice job as a replacement there. Obviously, Taiwan’s an explosive back. So, the key is hopefully that we’re able to keep Darren healthy, and then if we’re able to do that we’re going to be just fine.”
But the Raiders aren’t planning to keep McFadden under wraps in the preseason to make sure he’s healthy. Allen said the plan is for his star back to play some in the exhibition games, which is quite all right with McFadden.
“I can’t control injuries,” McFadden said. “If I get hurt, I’m going to get hurt going hard because that’s something I can’t control, and I’m not going to go out there and play not to get hurt.”