AFC West: Kory Sheets

Raiders Camp Report: Day 4

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
10:30
PM ET
NAPA, Calif . -- A daily review of the hot topics coming of of Oakland Raiders training camp:
  • Has Matt Schaub regained his mojo? It looked like that was the case, at least during the end-of-practice red zone drills. Schaub showed off his arm with two absolute lasers on in-routes for touchdowns on consecutive passes. The first score came to receiver Andre Holmes, who was slanting in from the right side and beat cornerback Carlos Rogers. The second pass was a beauty down the middle that hit tight end David Ausberry in stride in the end zone, just in front of cornerback Tarell Brown.
  • As impressive as Schaub's throws were, so too was running back Kory Sheets, who is trying to stick after winning Grey Cup MVP honors in the CFL last year. Sheets, behind Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden and Latavius Murray, broke off a pair of long runs in the fully-padded 11-on-11 drills. “This is my last shot,” Sheets said. “As a 29-year-old unproven running back in the NFL, you don't get too many chances to mess up. So whenever you do get the ball ... the opportunity to make a play, you've got to go out there and make it.” Coach Dennis Allen said he liked Sheets' “run skills,” though there was room for improvement in his pass-protection game.
  • Before practice began in earnest, there was a walk-through, of sorts, for the kick return team. And there was undrafted rookie George Atkinson III leading the way, along with Taiwan Jones, McFadden and Jeremy Stewart. But when the team went back to the drill later in the day, Atkinson was replaced by veteran Maurice Jones-Drew. And if you're wondering about McFadden's purported ball security issues as a kick returner, one kick did bounce off his chest with a thud and roll out of bounds.
  • Two days of pads and no unbelievable hits from rookie linebacker Khalil Mack. That's probably a good thing. Allen wants to save his guys for the real thing, and that makes sense. Besides, Mack had a golden opportunity to absolutely blow up running back Jeremy Stewart 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage and merely wrapped him up. Good move. I will say this, though, Mack, who has been compared to Von Miller and now Clay Matthews, is all over the field.
  • Pro Bowl fullback Marcel Reece's physical transformation is very noticeable. He told me he played last season at 250 pounds and was up to 255 during the offseason workuts. Reece said he's now at 238 pounds. “Everything is going to be better,” he said. “That's why we started this process.” It should mean he will be more involved in the Raiders' passing game.
  • The Raiders receiving corps were shorthanded. Greg Little (hamstring) did not finish practice, Rod Streater, who suffered a concussion Sunday, sat out and is “day-by-day,” Allen said, while Juron Criner (hamstring) was also a spectator. Safety Shelton Johnson and linebacker Kaluka Maiava both missed practice with hamstring issues. Linebacker Marshall McFadden (hip) and tight end Jake Murphy (head) also sat out.

The biggest question regarding the Oakland Raiders signing free-agent running back Maurice Jones-Drew to a three-year contract on Friday is this: How exactly do they plan to use him in their retooled offense? As the bellcow? In tandem? As insurance?

Jones-Drew said he was told by the Raiders he was coming in to compete.

"We have different running abilities," he said in a conference call Friday. "But the competition is what's going to make us better. We'll push each other."

He joins a crowded if somewhat unsettled backfield.

Since being the No. 4 overall draft pick in 2008, Darren McFadden has been the Raiders' starter ... when healthy. And Oakland re-signed him to an incentive-laden deal to do just that in 2014, even though he has missed 19 of the Raiders' previous 41 games and has never played more than 13 games in a season.

The Raiders are also high on Latavius Murray, who missed all of last season with an ankle injury after being drafted in the sixth round. Plus, they signed Canadian Football League Grey Cup MVP Kory Sheets, and the Raiders still have Jeremy Stewart on the roster.

Or, as Murray tweeted:

Jones-Drew, a diminutive three-time Pro Bowler who has a lot of mileage on his powerful legs, has had health issues himself of late. It just so happens that in the past two seasons, those injuries occurred in Oakland.

In 2012, after holding out in the preseason, the 5-foot-8, 205-pound Jones-Drew broke his left foot on the Jaguars' second play from scrimmage against the Raiders in Week 7 and did not play another down all season. He underwent what he termed "major" surgery that offseason.

Last season, Jones-Drew sprained his left ankle on a touchdown-saving flying tackle by Charles Woodson in the first quarter of the Week 2 game.

"It was a hell of a tackle," Jones-Drew said, "there's nothing I can say."

Jones-Drew, 29, missed the rest of that game but played the rest of the season, rushing for 803 yards while averaging a career-low 3.4 yards per carry. His previous low was his 4.2 in 2008.

"I feel like I have a ton left in the tank," he said, and maybe splitting time with McFadden would keep both off the injury report. Or perhaps it limits their efficiency and productivity in smaller-than-usual roles.

Whatever the case may be, Jones-Drew grew up in the East Bay a fan of the Raiders, prepped at high school powerhouse De La Salle and has lived in the Bay Area every offseason since Jacksonville selected him in the second round of the 2006 draft out of UCLA. Playing home games in front of his grandmother now, he said, would be a bonus.

Jones-Drew said the other teams that reached out to him wanted him to join them in a mentor role, or as a backup.

"But the Raiders," he said, "gave me an opportunity to compete.

"It just feels like home."
Three-time Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew is scheduled to make a free-agent visit with the Oakland Raiders on Friday, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported.

Jones-Drew
Some might see it as a curious development, in that the Raiders’ current biggest needs are on the interior of the defensive line and at cornerback.

But the bowling ball-like Jones-Drew, who grew up near Oakland and went to high school at powerhouse De La Salle, would also bring explosiveness to the running game ... so long as he stays healthy.

He missed 10 games in 2012 and one last season, after a flying tackle by the Raiders’ Charles Woodson, and is coming off a career-low 3.4 yards per carry average with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He rushed for 803 yards and five touchdowns in 2013.

Still, the Raiders do have questions at running back as they re-signed the oft-injured -- but just as tantalizing and teasing -- Darren McFadden, who has averaged 3.3 yards per carry the past two seasons. They are hoping for big things from Latavius Murray, who missed all of last season with an ankle injury after being a sixth-round draft pick. Oakland also signed Kory Sheets, the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup MVP.

Jones-Drew, 29, was a first-team All-Pro in 2011 after leading the league with 1,606 yards rushing. He played for current Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson when Olson was the Jaguars’ assistant head coach/QB coach in 2012.
Kory Sheets, the reigning Canadian Football League Grey Cup MVP and newest member of the Oakland Raiders, insists he is a different running back than the last time his name dotted an NFL roster.

“I'm a more complete player,” Sheets told ESPN radio affiliate 95.7 The Game on Friday. “Now I'm a lot more patient runner and a lot better blocker than I was back then.”

Sheets, who signed with the Raiders on Wednesday, initially came into the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Purdue in 2009, signing with the San Francisco 49ers' practice squad. The Miami Dolphins signed him to their active squad later in the season and he appeared in two games and had one carry for 5 yards. He was on the Carolina Panthers' practice squad in 2011 before heading north for two seasons with the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders.

In two years there, the 5-foot-11, 208-pound Sheets rushed for a total of 2,875 yards, on 516 carries, while averaging 5.6 yards per carry and he scored 23 rushing touchdowns. He also had 86 receptions for 781 yards and two TDs.

“I started out fourth on the depth chart,” Sheets said. “I went up there and earned a starting role and basically had great success and never looked back.”

He rushed for a Grey Cup-record 197 yards, on 20 carries, with two touchdowns in Saskatchewan's 45-23 defeat of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last November.

With two of the Raiders' tailbacks unrestricted free agents -- Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings and 2013 draft pick Latavius Murray spending last year in injured reserve -- Oakland has questions at running back. And while Sheets said nothing was discussed about making him a featured back, there will be an opportunity to compete.

“I'm a runner, basically, when I get the ball in my hand it's a non-stop thing,” Sheets said. “You never know what you're really going to get when a man's trying to tackle me. It could be a stiff arm or I could try to run through a guy or shake him.”

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