NFL Nation: Darren McFadden

Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen spoke to reporters on a conference call Saturday afternoon in the wake of Friday night's exhibition opener at the Minnesota Vikings, a 10-6 loss.

After watching the game tape, Allen broached several topics. A sampling:

On the Raiders' 13 penalties:: "A couple of those are this year's points of emphasis with the NFL and with the officials with defensive holding or illegal contact down the field. That's an area that we have to get cleaned up. Illegal hands to the face is another area that they're emphasizing. We had basically two of those. Brian Leonhardt was called for a facemask. That was one of those where you have two guys battling and his hand kind of slips off and grabs a guy's facemask. That's something that I don't know that in the past that you would have seen some of these things called, but with the rules and points of emphasis, we're going to see those things."

On what Latavius Murray brings that is different than Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden: "Latavius is a big, powerful back that really also has exceptional speed. When he gets out into the open, he has an opportunity to take the ball the distance. I thought he ran the ball hard in the game ... I thought he did a pretty good job, for the most part, of making the right reads and putting the ball where it needs to go in the run game."

On the play of the new starting cornerbacks, who seemingly played off the ball and paid for it early:: "I think overall it was positive. Obviously, when the first drive -- the thing you look at is a couple of those throws to Cordarrelle Patterson, there's some tight-window throws and contested catches and that's what you want to see because I feel like if you continue to contest those plays, you're going to get your fair share of them."

On which younger players jumped out to him on film: "I thought Shelby Harris did some good things in the game. I thought he got a little tired late, but I thought kind of in the middle of the game, I thought he did some really good things. He was able to get some pressure on the quarterback, had a sack-fumble. I thought TJ Carrie played well in the defensive backfield. I thought [Ricky] Lumpkin did some good things in there as a defensive lineman -- great technique. Some of the guys down that are battling for spots on that 53-man roster, I thought I saw some good things out of them."

On the play of new quarterback Matt Schaub: "I was pleased with what I saw out of Matt Schaub. I mean, two of the third-down throws, you know, he tries the back-shoulder throw down the middle to Mychal Rivera and that's a catch that he's made consistently in training camp. The corner route on a third down was an outstanding throw in a tight window against Cover 2 and Mychal again wasn't able to come up with that play. We had a miscommunication on the first third down of the game where he was trying to get the ball to Andre Holmes, and those are some of the things that show up in the first preseason game that we get a chance to look at it, we get a chance to correct, coach it up, and hopefully we'll be able to improve on that. I was not displeased with Matt Schaub's performance. We obviously need to play better and we need to be more consistent. But again, I thought there were some things that we can build on."

On whether rookie quarterback Derek Carr would get any reps with the first-team offense this preseason: "Yeah, it's not really part of the plan right now. We'll obviously evaluate everything as we move along, but the plan is to work Matt Schaub as the starting quarterback and I think he's done a good job in doing that."

On the play of top draft pick Khalil Mack, who had two tackles, one for a loss: "I think you saw a guy that is a rookie that was playing in his first game. A couple of times we activated him on rushes and he was able to cause some disruption. But then there were some times where, a little bit in the run game and a little bit in the pass game, he is just a little bit late in reacting to his responsibility. I think that's a guy that is playing in his first NFL game ... I don't want them doing a whole lot of thinking. I want them just really basically reacting to what they see and go play football."





Also, rookie defensive tackle Justin Ellis suffered a concussion in the game, taking a knee to the head, and is going through the NFL's concussion protocol. ... Oakland practices at 3 p.m. PT Sunday in Napa. ... The Raiders break camp Monday morning before traveling to Southern California for two practices with the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday and Wednesday. ... Oakland plays host to the Detroit Lions in both teams' second exhibition game Friday night.

W2W4: Oakland Raiders

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
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The Oakland Raiders (0-0) and Minnesota Vikings (0-0) open their respective preseasons Friday night at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

1. First-team reps: The obvious question for a preseason opener revolves around playing time for starters, because no coach in his right mind wants to subject a front-line player to unnecessary risk. Yet, he also has to find a balance to get his guys some serious run in a game situation. A series or two? “All these things can change based on how the game goes, but we’ll put the first team out there for a few plays and see how things go,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “I really want to get the ones some work, but I really want to have an opportunity in this first preseason game to see a lot of these young players go out and play … you’re trying to use this as an evaluation process."

2. Khalil Mack: The No. 5 overall draft pick has already shown a preternatural ability to fly to the ball in camp, but while the Raiders have been in pads most of the time, they are not tackling to the ground. This will be the first time we see how he responds and if the hype is real. Granted, it's an exhibition game, but it will be his first live hitting since college. “I can’t tell you what kind of player I am, or what kind of player I’m going to be,” Mack said. “But I can show you.” He will also show the Vikings, if only for a few plays.

3. The running backs: Neither Maurice Jones-Drew nor Darren McFadden will be exposed to many hits, so expect a healthy dose of Latavius Murray, Jeremy Stewart and CFL Grey Cup MVP Kory Sheets, which might lead some to believe a roster spot could be won in a crowded backfield. Perhaps, but probably not. Stewart and Sheets will probably lead the team in rushing in the preseason and it’s possible neither will make the initial 53-man roster. Think Louis Rankin. “I want both of them to play in the game,” Allen said of Jones-Drew and McFadden. “I want both of them to get a couple of touches in the game.We’ll see how many that is … there are a lot of new players that we have and we need to see them go out and perform. They need to work together because there is a lot to be said about getting out on the field and having a good feel for what the other 10 guys around you are doing.”

Raiders Camp Report: Day 6

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
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NAPA, Calif. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming of of Oakland Raiders training camp:
  • Charles Woodson has always been a fan favorite of Raider Nation and he endeared himself further on Thursday. First, he celebrated mightily an interception of Matt Schaub along the left sideline by running into the stands to revel in the pick with the fans. It was a high-arcing floater that was easily Schaub's worst throw of camp, granted, in real time he would have been sacked by Khalil Mack so he threw up a duck instead. One play later, Woodson picked off Schaub again, stepping in front of a bullet to the left flat, and, yes, taking it to the house for a , wait for it, pick-six. "I know how this whole thing is going to work," bristled Raiders coach Dennis Allen. "Anytime Schaub throws an interception, everybody's going to want to try to hit the panic button and act like the sky is falling ... I'll let you guys push the panic button. I'm not going to. He's still doing a great job." So there.
  • It was the third straight practice in pads -- the Raiders were off Tuesday -- and it was also the chippiest and hardest-hitting practice of camp thus far. No, there have not been any fights ... yet, but we finally got a glimpse of rookie linebacker Khalil Mack's power. Tight end Mychal Rivera had the task of blocking Mack on a handoff to Darren McFadden, but Mack popped Rivera so hard he ran into McFadden in the backfield.
  • Austin Howard returned to practice a day after leaving early with a tight back and showed no ill effects. In fact, the 6-foot-7, 330-pounder looked the part of an absolute beast as a pulling right guard. In one drill, he swallowed up Mack and cleared space for Maurice Jones-Drew to pick up a sizeable gain.
  • A day after LaMarr Woodley gave right tackle Menelik Watson the business, fellow defensive end Justin Tuck was putting on an exhibition against left tackle Donald Penn. Yes, you could say the defense won the day, because besides Woodson's two picks of Schaub, safety Brandian Ross also had an interception of rookie Derek Carr. And rookie Jonathan Dowling had an interception in individual drills. Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver was more than pleased following practice.
  • Linebacker Kaelin Burnett called his hard hit on running back George Atkinson III a "get-back shot" for a blow the rookie delivered to Burnett a few days earlier on what was supposed to be a slower walkthrough kickoff return drill. "I said, ‘I'm going to get him back,'" Burnett said with a smile. "Nah, we're all just out here competing to make us all better."
  • Receiver Juron Criner (hamstring), linebackers Kaluka Maiava (hamstring) and Marshall McFadden (hip) and safety Usama Young (quad) worked on the side with a trainer before practice. Receiver Greg Little (hamstring) did not participate, nor did defensive lineman Antonio Smith, who underwent sports hernia surgery this offseason and tweaked his groin on Wednesday. Defensive lineman C.J. Wilson (hamstring) came off the non-football injury list and practiced for the first time.
  • The Raiders practice again Friday at 3 p.m. PT
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The NFL wasn't the first place Rashad Jennings found himself overlooked. By the time he'd been a seventh-round pick and a backup to Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville and Darren McFadden in Oakland, Jennings had already made his peace with the idea that nothing was going to come easy for him.

"I've never stopped growing," the New York Giants' new starting running back said before a practice last week. "I had to, because when I was a little, short, fat, overweight kid, dorky with glasses, I had to figure something out. It's a blessing not to be the most talented guy when you roll out of bed, not to be the fastest guy. It keeps that chip on your shoulder."

Jennings
Signing the 29-year-old Jennings was one of the first things the Giants did in their incredibly busy free-agent season. Rather than let the market sort itself out, they jumped to get Jennings, who tore them up a bit as Oakland's starter in Week 10 last year and impressed them as someone who hasn't yet had a chance to showcase his full range of skills because he's played behind others. They see him as a do-everything type of back, who can carry a starter's workload, can catch the ball out of the backfield and can be used at the goal line as well.

Now, he may not have to do all of those things, because right now they have David Wilson and Andre Williams and Peyton Hillis as options as well. And if everyone stays healthy, the running back group should be deep enough to help the coaches keep everyone fresh and put them in the best possible positions to succeed. But Jennings is ready for whatever they want to throw at him.

"This opportunity is great," Jennings said. "I have prepared to start every day since I've entered the league. I've been like that since college. I am not taking this for granted. I'm humble."

He looks good on the field so far in training camp in a variety of roles. He seems to have fit in quite nicely in the locker room. He has an engaging personality and a great deal of confidence, which he says is brought on by his devotion to year-round training and nutrition.

"What separates guys as they continue to play is what they do in the offseason," Jennings said. "I train year-round. And the way I eat, the way I sleep, the nutrition, massage, M.A.T., chiropractor, all those little things. If it works a little, I want a lot of it."

I had to look up M.A.T., but I'm pretty sure he's referring to muscle activation techniques, which is a process that measures and develops the efficiency of a person's muscle contraction. This is a dude who is paying attention to his body and making sure it's in the best possible condition to take advantage of the opportunity now in front of him. He said sitting behind Jones-Drew and McFadden gave him time (and motivation) to work on his fitness, nutrition and wellness techniques, and that the timing of his opportunity to be a full-time starter has therefore actually worked out well.

"I got a chance to mature," Jennings said. "I got a chance to learn how to take care of my body, and I've been blessed to have a chance to allow my body to catch up with my maturity."

Now, those things are intersecting with opportunity. Jennings has a chance to be the man in the ground game for a Giants offense that's ready to look at lot different than it did last year. He's been waiting -- and working -- for this chance for a long time.

Camp preview: Oakland Raiders

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation's Paul Gutierrez examines the three biggest issues facing the Oakland Raiders heading into training camp.

Matt Schaub: Dennis Allen told anyone who would listen this offseason that Schaub, a two-time Pro Bowler who once passed for 4,770 yards but is coming off a nightmarish final season in Houston, is a top-10 quarterback. And even if a project by ESPN.com found that NFL insiders ranked Schaub 25th in the 32-team NFL, that will not dissuade Allen. Far from it. Schaub is his guy. Still, the question of Schaub's confidence after he threw 14 interceptions (with four pick-sixes in four straight games) and lost his job with the Texans will continue to hound Schaub and the Raiders until he proves it is not an issue. To his credit, Schaub, who looked impressive in the offseason non-padded practices open to the media, insists it's in the past. Besides, a change of scenery might do wonders for him. It's not like the Raiders are putting everything on the 10-year veteran; a running attack spearheaded by Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew should get the play-action passing game going … unless Schaub is shot. Which brings us to the intriguing figure that is Derek Carr, Oakland's second-round draft pick who was elevated to second string in minicamp. But Allen appears ready to ride or die with Schaub, for better or worse.

Khalil Mack: You could say that Mack, whom many saw as the most versatile defensive player in the draft, simply fell into the Raiders' lap at No. 5 overall. And that would be just fine with Oakland. Because in remaking the defense, Allen has compared Mack to Denver Broncos All-Pro linebacker Von Miller, whom Allen coached as a rookie. If Mack, who has stepped in at strongside linebacker, shows a smidgen of Miller's pass rushing acumen -- 35 sacks in 40 career games -- the Raiders have a cornerstone. Mack's blend of size, speed and athleticism were evident in the offseason workouts as he appeared to be a physical marvel with quick feet and balance. Alas, the game will change in camp when the pads come on. No, he's not nervous; Mack is looking forward to knocking heads with the pros. Or did you miss his declaration that he is most looking forward to sacking the Broncos' Peyton Manning? Mack has impressed the staff and teammates alike by constantly being in veterans' ears, picking the brain of players such as Justin Tuck. Mack is a sponge. Yes, similar praise was heaped upon Rolando McClain when the middle linebacker was drafted in 2010. This just feels different.

D.J. Hayden: The Raiders were impressed enough with Hayden to make him their top pick last year, even though he was still recovering from the practice injury to his heart at the University of Houston that nearly killed him. After an up-and-down rookie season that ended with a trip to injured reserve, Hayden again hit a speed bump. This time, he missed the second and third organized team activities (OTAs) sessions as well as minicamp due to a sprained ankle. Allen has said that the only player he expects to be a question mark health-wise entering camp is offensive lineman Lucas Nix. But with so many hopes tied into Hayden -- he was penciled in to start at right cornerback -- his injury history has to have Oakland worried. Even if he is a full go at the start of camp, he missed valuable reps in the offseason. Sure, Hayden got mental reps, but they are not nearly as important or effective, especially for a player who many in the organization see as a bonus draft pick since he appeared in only eight games (two starts) last season.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- So what, exactly, is the Oakland Raiders' reputation across the NFL, according to three of the teams’ more respected free-agent veteran signees?

“Man, the impression was they had a lot of talented players but they couldn’t finish,” receiver James Jones said Tuesday, the first day of the Raiders’ voluntary offseason workout program. Jones spent the first seven years of his NFL career with the Green Bay Packers.

Tuck
Jones
Jones
“Obviously, the record speaks for itself. I wasn’t part of the team back then but as we talked today, 4-12 is not good enough. When we played the Raiders in the past, we’re kind of putting that ‘win’ on the board already. Now, everybody’s got to look at their self in the mirror and we’ve got to understand that we really don’t get no respect, and you’re not going to get no respect when you’re 4-12, so we’ve got to go out there and take it this year. And I believe we’ve got the right guys to do it.”

The Raiders have been among the more busy teams since the new league year began on March 11, having signed 12 free agents and acquiring a new quarterback in Matt Schaub in a trade with the Houston Texans.

Granted, most of the new guys are on the backside of their careers, but to a man they believe they still have a lot in the tank, while acknowledging they have a lot to prove.

“You hear, 'This is a great team, in 2009,'" offered running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who had been with the Jacksonville Jaguars since 2006. "Whatever."

There are more chips on these guys’ shoulders, though, than questions ... or whatevers.

"Being a fan of the Raiders," added Jones-Drew, who grew up in the East Bay and still lives in Oakland, "I was always envious of Darren (McFadden) because he got to wear that (silver and black) jersey and he played well, when healthy.

"We brought the right guys in."

Meaning drama-free vets with championship pedigrees, so to speak. And a knack for knowing how to win, as defensive end Justin Tuck's two Super Bowl rings with the New York Giants attest.

And yes, Tuck thought the same as Jones when it came to the Raiders, who have not had a winning season since 2002 and are coming off consecutive 4-12 seasons.

"I would say 'talented,' but hadn’t played together as far as knowing how to win," Tuck said of the recent Raiders. "Beating themselves a little bit. Just like the game up (in New Jersey) last year. They had an opportunity to win, but they couldn’t close it out. That’s the M.O., I guess."

That’s what the veterans were brought to Oakland to do -- reverse the course and teach the team how to win.

“That’s our mentality,” said Tuck, who envisions the Raiders making like last season’s Kansas City Chiefs, who were 11-5 a year after going 2-14.

“A lot of people always say you go to Oakland for your career to die. I’m not looking at it like that. I’m looking at it like this is an opportunity to revive a storied franchise in a city with a great fan base behind this football team. The energy and excitement around this football team should be good. I’m excited about it.”

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.
Reggie McKenzieAP Photo/Johnny VyOakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie is doing what he can to bring in veteran leaders.
What started out as nothing short of embarrassing -- the Rodger Saffold debacle -- has leveled out quite nicely for the Oakland Raiders and third-year general manager Reggie McKenzie, thank you very much.

No, McKenzie has not made what Pro Bowl fullback Marcel Reece called for the weekend before free agency began, when he told me he wanted McKenzie to eschew "safe" signings in favor of "smart, calculated, fearless, Raider-ass moves."

As in bold, outside-the-box transactions that would make opponents once again quake in their cleats at the thought of the Silver and Black. But anyone who thought McKenzie was going to make a splash, like some reckless spendthrift at worst or high-stakes poker player at best, with the near $65 million in salary-cap space was simply not paying attention.

Besides his words -- he said last year he was not necessarily going shopping at Macy’s -- his actions have had a decided "Moneyball" feel to them, almost as if the bargain-hunting ways for undervalued vets of the Raiders' Coliseum co-tenants, Major League Baseball's Athletics, have been transferred to McKenzie from Billy Beane by some sort of East Bay osmosis.

For the Oakland faithful, then, the Raiders losing free agents Jared Veldheer, Lamarr Houston and Rashad Jennings was akin to the A’s saying adios to the likes of Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada and Barry Zito. Kind of.

And with that as your backdrop, and in not only signing eight veteran free agents, plus re-signing three of their own in safeties Charles Woodson and Usama Young and running back Darren McFadden, and acquiring quarterback Matt Schaub in a trade for a sixth-round draft pick before he restructured his contract to make it more cap-friendly this season, McKenzie is following his blueprint to a T.

Now, whether that translates to something better than a third straight 4-12 record remains to be seen. But McKenzie is doing what he set out to do, Saffold be damned.

"What we're trying to do is add some veteran leadership, guys who have some production, and just make sure we upgrade this team," McKenzie told the Bay Area News Group last week. "And that's the bottom line, trying to upgrade the team through production and the leadership."

Defensive end Justin Tuck comes with two Super Bowl rings and turns 31 on March 29. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley has a ring in two trips to the Super Bowl and turns 30 in November. Receiver James Jones beat Woodley in the Super Bowl and he turns 30 on March 31.

Offensive linemen Kevin Boothe, originally a Raiders draft pick who won two rings with the New York Giants, and Donald Penn, a Pro Bowl left tackle, both turn 31 before the season opens.

[+] EnlargeJustin Tuck sacks Kirk Cousins
AP Photo/Julio CortezThe Raiders hope Justin Tuck still has something left in the tank.
Defensive end Antonio Smith, who has 27 sacks the past five seasons and has gone to a Pro Bowl, turns 33 in October, while cornerback Tarell Brown, who has started 42 of his past 45 games, is 29 and right tackle Austin Howard, seen as a rising star on the line with only two sacks allowed last season, is the relative babe at 27.

Even Schaub -- a two-time Pro Bowler who was due to make $11 million this season before the restructure lowered his base salary for 2014 but still enables him to make between $15 and $20 million the next two years, per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter -- turns 33 in June.

"I definitely can see Matt Schaub being the quarterback of the Oakland Raiders for more than just a year or two," coach Dennis Allen said. "You look at Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, all these guys are beginning to get up there in age, so I think that [Schaub] can play for a while."

Yes, things have quieted down a bit around the Raiders' compound since that initial Saffold fiasco angered more than a few at 1220 Harbor Bay Parkway and had more wondering what, exactly, McKenzie was doing in the initial hours of free agency. He had lost the Raiders' two best free agents in Veldheer and Houston and agreed to a massive five-year, $42.5 million deal, with $21 million guaranteed, with an injury-prone right guard in Saffold before the Raiders medical staff flunked him with a bad shoulder and the deal was off.

With McKenzie already having a bad run with injured players in drafting D.J. Hayden last year as well as acquiring a sore-armed quarterback in Matt Flynn, throwing so much cash at an offensive lineman who may have required surgery and missed the offseason programs was too much to stomach.

And while one report had owner Mark Davis vetoing the Saffold deal amid rumors of "buyer's remorse," a Raiders source told ESPN.com that Davis merely let his feelings be known that he was not entirely on board with signing another injured player, but the personnel staff could do whatever it, ahem, liked.

Semantics? No doubt. But this much is true: McKenzie has rebounded after a rough start to free agency two weeks ago and stayed his course as he and Allen prepare for what could be a make-or-break season for both.

"The good news is that we've had some experience in that area," Allen said of roster turnover. "When you look at the guys that we're bringing in here, they're guys that have been a part of championship teams and they understand what it takes to win and win at a high level in this league. They're guys that can help us bring along some of these young players that we feel like have a chance to develop into good football players for us.

"It's a challenge, but that's the fun part."

It was 1960s activist Jack Weinberg who made popular the slogan, "Don't trust anyone over 30." McKenzie, though, is seemingly putting all of the Raiders' trust there ... and in guys about to turn 30. It's part of his plan, for better or worse.
The Oakland Raiders have lost what many saw as their top three unrestricted free agents in left tackle Jared Veldheer, who is headed to the Arizona Cardinals, defensive end Lamarr Houston, who is going to the Chicago Bears, and running back Rashad Jennings, who Tweeted he was in line to play for the New York Giants.

Plus, the Raiders are set to pay oft-injured offensive lineman Rodger Saffold a contract worth $42.5 million, with $21 million guaranteed, over five years, and they re-signed oft-injured running back Darren McFadden to a one-year deal worth up to $4 million.

Fans are scratching their heads. Especially in light of comments made by general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen this offseason.

Asked in January if he felt “good” about the chances of both Houston and Veldheer returning, McKenzie said simply, “Yes, I do.”

Allen was more expansive about Houston at the NFL combine, saying, “He’s certainly one of the guys we would like to have back. Anytime you have a young player that has the potential to continue to get better, and there were some things he was able to do this year ... he’s really a multi-dimensional player. He plays the run really well and he also has the ability to affect the passer, although he hasn’t had huge sack numbers throughout his career, he has been up there as far as pressuring the quarterback and being able to get hits on the quarterback. He’s certainly one of the guys that we want to try and get back.”

Asked if Jennings was somebody he wanted to retain, McKenzie said, “Yes.”

But when asked about McFadden, McKenzie gave the impression the Raiders were done with him. “Darren’s going to be a free agent and there’s been communication with his agent, [who’s] going to see what his market is,” McKenzie said. “And that’s the thing, when you’re talking about the games that he’s missed. He has no idea ... what his market value will be and I couldn’t tell you what the other 31 teams think, and his agent is leaning toward trying to figure out what that its. So, we’ll see.”

McKenzie, who entered free agency with nearly $65 million in salary cap space, has seemingly gone against everything he’s said on the record regarding his key free agents.

Of course, no personnel person worth their salt is going to let you know exactly what they’re thinking. That affects bargaining power, right? Then again, with the Raiders’ moves on the first day of free agency, it’s hard to figure out exactly what McKenzie is thinking ... unless, of course, Veldheer, Houston and Jennings simply wanted to move on.

But Veldheer’s mother Tweeted out the following to inquisitive fans:



and this:



and this:



and finally, this:



Oh, and keep in mind what McKenzie said about Charles Woodson, who has also made it clear he wants to return to Oakland: “I thought he was very solid and could contribute and I told him so. And I told him I would like to talk about getting him back here.”

Stay tuned.

Free-agency primer: Raiders

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
AM ET
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Key free agents: LT Jared Veldheer, DE Lamarr Houston, RB Rashad Jennings, FS Charles Woodson, CB Tracy Porter, RB Darren McFadden

Where they stand: With 17 remaining unrestricted free agents -- Oakland re-signed offensive tackle Khalif Barnes last week -- the Raiders chose not to use the franchise tag on Veldheer or Houston. That should not surprise anyone; general manager Reggie McKenzie said he wanted to avoid using it, and Veldheer said he did not want to be tagged. With nearly $65 million in cap space, the Raiders are primed to be players during free agency. They need help especially on the defensive line -- all four starters are free agents -- and in the secondary, and ditto with both cornerbacks and the free safety. The primary need on defense is a prototypical edge rusher.

What to expect: As McKenzie said last year, just because he has money to spend does not mean he’s going shopping at Macy’s. And as he restated this year, just because he has money does not mean he’s going to spend it on junk. True, it’s time for McKenzie to make like Macklemore and “pop some tags,” but don’t expect him to break the bank. He’ll use the money judiciously, and although the Raiders have the most cap space, they also have the most needs. It makes sense for Oakland to find a veteran quarterback to serve as a bridge, of sorts, while McKenzie strengthens to team around said quarterback, someone the staff trusts and already knows. Targets could include Josh Freeman, Josh McCown and Mark Sanchez (if and when the Jets cut him). Defensively, Jared Allen could fit the bill at defensive end.

Free-agency series: Running backs

February, 25, 2014
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Here is the second of a 10-part series breaking down the Jaguars’ free-agency needs, position by position:

Running backs

Who’s on the roster: Delone Carter, Shaun Chapas (FB), Justin Forsett, Maurice Jones-Drew, Denard Robinson, Jordan Todman and Will Ta'ufo'ou (FB).

Analysis: Jones-Drew becomes an unrestricted free agent next month, but every other player is under contract through at least 2014. Jones-Drew fought through ankle, hamstring and knee issues to rush for 803 yards and five touchdowns. The running game, though, never really got going until the 11th game of the season. The Jaguars ran for at least 112 yards in games 11-14 but things dropped off the table after that: 105 yards in the last two games combined. Part of the yearlong issue was due to the offensive line’s struggles, but the fact that the Jaguars rarely made any explosive plays in the run game was a big factor as well. The Jaguars had just four runs of 30 or more yards all season. Todman was solid as Jones-Drew’s backup and ran for 109 yards in his only start, but he’s not a featured back. Forsett was hurt in camp and never found his fit in the offense and likely will be released. Robinson never had a defined role until settling in at running back midway through the season and he has had ball-security issues. Carter and Chapas (practice squad) were signed late in the season.

NFL free agents of interest: Ben Tate, Darren McFadden, Knowshon Moreno, James Starks, Anthony Dixon and LeGarrette Blount.

Need meter: 7. If Jones-Drew does not re-sign with the Jaguars -- and right now it appears he won’t -- the team needs to sign a replacement via free agency. There are a lot of affordable options on the market because of the number of players available. Tate tops the list and should be the Jaguars’ top target at this position, but if they’re looking for a cheaper option then Starks, who has been a featured back in spurts with Green Bay, could be an option. Robinson is an intriguing player on the roster, though, because the staff is having him bulk up a bit to handle the pounding of playing running back. If he can solve his fumbling problems, he could be a surprise. Expect the team to draft at least one back as well.

Combine countdown rewind: Bengals RBs

February, 24, 2014
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Last week, in the days leading up to the start of on-field workouts at the NFL combine, we counted down five of the top position needs for a Cincinnati Bengals team that will go into May's draft looking to build depth instead of trying to find immediate starters.

As part of the countdown, I listed three players from each position who I said I would have my eyes on during the interview and testing portions of the event. Now that the combine is concluding, wrapping up Monday and Tuesday with all defensive workouts, I figured this would be a good time to go back and look at the numbers posted by the players who were part of the countdown. Each day this week, we'll be doing a rewind of the countdown, analyzing how well the players who were in it worked out.

Up first: Running back

The Bengals have shown over the years that they are more apt to adding impact players through the draft over free agency, but could that change this year? Last month new Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, the one-time head coach of the Oakland Raiders, made waves when he gushed about Raiders running back Darren McFadden to a San Francisco Bay Area radio station. McFadden is up for free agency starting next month, opening the door for the Bengals to maybe consider signing him.

Not saying it'll happen, but as the Bengals think about shoring up a physical running game that they want to use to pace the balance of the offense, we still may want to keep him in mind as the next two months play out.

Whether McFadden gets brought to Cincinnati or not, the Bengals still have to think a little about the running back position from a depth standpoint. BenJarvus Green-Ellis will be 29 when training camp opens for the final season on his current contract. His production was down in 2013, too, raising some concern about his longer term future in Cincinnati. So even if McFadden comes in to form a three-headed monster at running back, the Bengals may want to add another young rusher to pair with Giovani Bernard, and to groom for the coming years when McFadden and Green-Ellis won't be there.

The three running backs I highlighted last week -- James Wilder Jr. (Florida State), Antonio Andrews (Western Kentucky) and David Fluellen (Toledo) -- are all physical runners who are likely to be selected in the middle-to-late rounds. A taller, upright runner with good balance, Wilder actually reminds me of McFadden. Wilder measured at 6-foot-3, 232 pounds last week. McFadden is listed at 6-1, 218.

Here are numbers (per NFL.com) from the trio's workout Sunday:

James Wilder Jr. (Florida State)
40-yard dash: 4.86 seconds
Bench: 18 reps (at 225 pounds)
Vertical: 35 inches
Broad jump: 121 inches
3-cone drill: 6.92 seconds

-- Wilder didn't test well Sunday. His 40-yard time was the third worst among running backs, and his bench-press numbers were in the lower tier, too. The bench might be explained by the shoulder injuries he battled in college, but the speed tests were a bit of an anomaly for a player who previously had been recorded running a 4.55 40. His vertical and broad-jump numbers were strong for a player his size and reflected the athleticism he routinely showcased on his longer runs.

Antonio Andrews (Western Kentucky)
40-yard dash: 4.82 seconds
Bench: 20 reps (at 225 pounds)
Vertical: 29.5 inches
Broad jump: 106 inches
3-cone drill: 7.24 seconds

-- Andrews had a tough time with the drills that tested his speed, too. Although a shade faster than Wilder, the 5-10, 225-pound back still was looking to test a little better in those exercises. Per ESPN Insider, he previously ran a 4.6 40. During the receiving drills, Andrews performed considerably better, drawing audible praise from coaches on the NFL Network telecast of the session. As the first running back to begin the drills -- drills are done in alphabetical order -- he had the unenviable task of setting the tone for everyone else.

David Fluellen (Toledo)
40-yard dash: 4.72 seconds
Vertical: 36.5 inches
Broad jump: 120 inches
3-cone drill: 6.9 seconds

-- Fluellen could be drafted the lowest of the players in this group, but his athleticism should end up making him attractive to some team. Like Wilder, his three-cone drill numbers indicate a measure of agility and quick feet. His vertical and broad-jump distances show some explosive ability, as well. At 5-11, 224 pounds, he and Andrews are similar sizes.
CINCINNATI -- Hue Jackson's "introductory" news conference Friday morning had barely ended before I started getting bombarded with tweets from those curious about the possibility the newly promoted offensive coordinator might want to bring one of his old players to the Cincinnati Bengals.

At the time, I wasn't so sure the Bengals would be interested in bringing in an injury hobbled Darren McFadden to join their already dynamic two-man running back tandem of Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. I even wrote as much in the first question of a Twitter mailbag that ran Saturday morning.

Well, it looks like the gag may be on me.

Comments Jackson gave a San Francisco Bay Area radio station late Friday would seem to suggest the coach isn't just interested in exploring the possibility of putting McFadden in his backfield, but he might strap on the six-year veteran's helmet, tie his shoelaces and tape his wrists, too.

[+] EnlargeDarren McFadden
Pat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsOakland running back Darren McFadden will become a free agent in March.
One thing is clear from Jackson's interview -- which comes here courtesy of ESPN.com colleague Paul Gutierrez -- he loves some Darren McFadden.

"He's still one of my favorite players," Jackson told the ESPN affiliate. "What a tremendous talent."

Jackson, who was McFadden's offensive coordinator in Oakland in 2010 and head coach in 2011, went on to add that he still thought McFadden is "a downhill runner." He still believes McFadden can make a difference not only in gaining chunk yards on the ground, but by catching screens and taking them those long distances, too.

"Somebody's going to get a really good football player here in the future if he doesn't stay there in Oakland and I just wish him the best," Jackson said.

McFadden's contract has come to an end, and he'll be entering free agency if the Raiders don't re-sign him by March 8. That date has some significance because it's the last day the Raiders hold exclusive negotiations rights with McFadden. Until that time, no representative from another team can make "any public or private statement of interest, qualified or unqualified, in another club's player or to that player's agent or representative, or to a member of the news media," according to the NFL's anti-tampering policy.

So, having said that, the Bengals could have another issue on their hands with respect to the Jackson-McFadden affair, depending upon how the NFL interprets the interview and depending upon whether the Raiders believe any measure of tampering has occurred with their player.

OK, with all of that background out of the way, let's get back to how we started this post: me arguing against a McFadden sighting in the Bengals' running back rotation.

There's a chance Jackson just purely admires the player and wishes he had a spot on the roster for him, but doesn't. There's also a chance Jackson was trying to help prop up one of his former players so that another team might be interested in giving him a try after March 8. There's also a chance that Jackson really does want McFadden and will figure out a way to squeeze him in this offseason.

If you parse Jackson's words, it sounds just he might be thinking the latter.

He shouldn't, in my most humble opinion.

You'll often see these words from me: "If it ain't broke ..."

In this case, the Bengals' running game doesn't need fixing. All it needs is life. If Cincinnati ran as often during this past season as it appears it will next season, the Bengals could have had two 800-yard rushers, and might still be competing in the playoffs.

From a talent perspective, they're set. Green-Ellis is the team's steady veteran and straight-ahead, pile-moving power rusher. He's the workhorse. As the young, flashy -- in play only -- speedy, shifty and entertaining finesse runner, Bernard is Cincinnati's show horse. In most backfields, there's room for only two such horses, unless a third, a pure blocker, gets added to the mix. The Bengals do need one of those, but it would be hard for any team to convince a back like McFadden to pick up and move some 2,400 miles just to be a fullback.

Between their slew of receivers and backs, the Bengals have enough show and workhorses to go around. Another playmaker like McFadden would add to the complications of figuring out just who all deserved to be fed the ball.

I just don't see where McFadden factors into Jackson's plans.

Bernard, who was drafted by Jackson and head coach Marvin Lewis last April, rushed for 695 yards in the regular season and had a hand in seven total touchdowns, certainly appears to be a heavy part of the Bengals' game plan going forward. For now, Green-Ellis does, too, although it will be interesting to track his contract negotiations after next season. He'll be turning 30. McFadden is two years his junior, and could make for a logical replacement for Green-Ellis if the Bengals are committed to developing Bernard and bringing along a bigger veteran to pair with him.

To me, that's about the only reason you bring in a rusher like McFadden next year. But even that's a shaky argument, to me.

So, to answer the question (could McFadden fit into the Bengals' running-back rotation?) I say "no." Maybe at a different time. And maybe also if the circumstances involving the Bengals' current backfield setup were slightly altered. But for now, the Bengals appear to be doing just fine with their two-back scheme.

If it ain't broke, Hue ...
McFaddenKirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsDarren McFadden is confident he can still be a productive running back in the NFL.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Truly, over the course of Darren McFadden's star-crossed six-year career with the Oakland Raiders, the only coach to get consistent production out of the running back was Hue Jackson.

And it began with Jackson simply asking McFadden what kind of plays he liked to run upon Jackson's arrival as the Raiders' offensive coordinator prior to the 2010 season.

Of course, a litany of injuries turned Run DMC into Limp DMC over time and Jackson, who was the Raiders' offensive coordinator under Tom Cable in 2010 and Oakland's head coach in 2011, sent packing by Reggie McKenzie altered things.

But with the Raiders apparently tired of being unable to count on McFadden, McFadden due to become an unrestricted free agent on March 11 and Jackson just promoted as the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator, might McFadden find a new home in Ohio?

“You guys know how I feel about Darren McFadden; he's still one of my favorite players,” Jackson told ESPN affiliate 95.7 The Game in San Francisco on Friday.

“What a tremendous talent. But I really like my little guy Gio [Bernard]. He had a real good season. But I don't think you can ever have too many good backs.”

The 5-foot-9, 208-pound Bernard, a second-round draft pick from North Carolina, averaged 4.1 yards per carry for 695 yards and five touchdowns and caught 56 passes for 514 yards and three scores as a rookie this past season. But he had a costly fumble for the Bengals in their wild-card weekend loss to the San Diego Chargers.

It's also interesting to note that Bernard was selected with a pick the Bengals gained from the Raiders -- in the infamous “greatest trade in football” that sent quarterback Carson Palmer from Cincinnati to Oakland.

Of course, it was a deal engineered by Jackson himself.

And it should be noted that McFadden and Palmer never ran a single play together under Jackson as McFadden, who had been playing at a league-MVP level, was lost for the season with a Lisfranc injury to his right foot before Palmer debuted.

So does Jackson still think McFadden, who missed six games this past season with an assortment of ailments, can be a game-changing player?

“I would have to be around him again but I think it's still no different with Darren,” Jackson said. “Darren is still a downhill runner, he's a one-cut runner. He has the ability to split out and catch balls and do those things but I think, with any football player, you've just got to build their confidence and let them know you believe in them and create an environment for them to be as good as they can be and normally good things happen. And I don't think it's any different with him.

“Somebody's going to get a really good football player here in the future if he doesn't stay there in Oakland and I just wish him the best.”

McFadden's agent, Ian Greengross, has represented him since the Raiders took the two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up fourth overall in 2008. Greengross acknowledged his client has had injury issues, though there is a silver (and black?) lining since it's not the same injury every time.

“Unfortunately, it's always been a little knickknack of injuries here and there at different body parts,” Greengross told 95.7 The Game. “So, injury prone? Sure. I mean, unfortunately, in six years he has yet to play 16 games [in a season].”

McFadden has never appeared in more than 13 games, which he did as a rookie and in 2010. And before suiting up for the Raiders' last two games this season, he had missed 19 of Oakland's previous 39 games.

In his career, McFadden has missed 29 games with toe, knee, hamstring, toe, foot, ankle, hamstring and ankle injuries.

“I don't want to say he's unlucky, but at some point you've got to figure that he's just not going to have that bad luck,” said Greengross, who added that his agency would look into McFadden's history to see if his offseason training program should be modified. “It's not like there's one weak spot that's always being injured and will never be healthy.”

Greengross said McFadden would “certainly love” to return to Oakland but that no conversations had taken place.

“He's always been a Raider at heart, he's never looked to leave so he would certainly come back,” Greengross said. “A lot's going to depend upon the circumstances and how he sees [himself] fitting in, and how they see him fitting in. And certainly we'd probably be wise to talk to some other teams as well once free agency begins.”

Even if the Raiders did have interest, McFadden's price tag would seemingly have to be lower than the $5.8 million he made this past season, when he also had a salary-cap number of $9.6 million and ended with a second consecutive per-rush average of 3.3 yards -- equaling his career low.

But under Jackson, McFadden's average went from 3.4 the year before Jackson arrived to 5.2 and then 5.4.

“When they ran that straight power [blocking scheme], for running backs that had 200 or more carries over those two seasons in total, Darren led the league in rushing average,” Greengross said.

But since then, with the Raiders going back to more of a zone-blocking scheme in 2012 and a combo this past season? Not so much.

“As long as he gets a little hole, I know that speed is still there,” Greengross said. “Even though he hasn't been out there as much as he would have liked to be because of the injures, the one thing the injuries haven't done is taken away that speed.”

And yes, Greengross said McFadden is open to playing a complementary role.

Which brings us back to Jackson and the Bengals -- when the time is right, of course.

“I think Darren can play with anybody,” Jackson said. “If it's the Darren McFadden that I used to know, there's no question -- whether it's in Cincinnati, Oakland or San Francisco or anywhere. He's talented enough to play anywhere in the National Football League.”

But will he be healthy enough?

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