Eric Gilmore's inside look at sports in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Raiders' McFadden can't wait to be unleashed Monday night
Not even Raiders coach Lane Kiffin’s vanilla-bland preseason game plans could hide rookie running back Darren McFadden’s explosive talent. He gained 182 yards on just 34 carries – 5.4 yards a pop. He showed stunning quickness, speed and power, running nothing but the basic plays.
That’s why I can’t wait for Monday night. That’s when the Raiders face Denver in their season-opener, and we’ll get to see McFadden unleashed. If he doesn’t have the ball in his hands at least 25 times, then Kiffin will have some serious explaining to do.
I want to see McFadden run – inside and out – catch and maybe even throw, the way he did at Arkansas when he was a triple-threat. I want to see him line up all over the field, in the backfield, the slot, out wide and even in the shotgun formation behind center.
Hey, why not? He’s got multiple skills. The Raiders should use every last one of them.
Kiffin has had months to dream up ways to utilize this special talent. Now it’s time for Kiffin to unveil his grand plan.
“It’s going to be really exciting to get out there and do that, because you practice it a whole lot,” McFadden said from team headquarters in Alameda. “I like getting out there and moving around, splitting out wide or whatever it is they want to have me doing. I enjoy doing it.”
Talk to McFadden, and it’s clear he enjoys almost everything about playing football and being a Raider. Run inside the tackles where the big bodies roam on defense? That’s great, he said.
“I’m a running back, so I love to get back there and take the handoff,” McFadden said.
Line up as a wide receiver and run routes downfield?
“I enjoy doing that also,” he said.
McFadden still has that child-like love of the game, something I hope he never loses. He came to the Raiders carrying a little baggage, but so far, he’s been a model citizen and a model teammate. He’s running second team behind Justin Fargas, but you haven’t heard one complaint from McFadden. He said he’s used to sharing playing time and the limelight after teaming at Arkansas with Felix Jones, now a Dallas Cowboy.
McFadden said he’s just excited to prepare for a real game and get more time on the field than he got in the exhibition season.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “I’m not going to be coming in after the half and relaxing. I’m hopefully going to be out there playing a lot.”
If he’s not, then Kiffin could have one very angry Al Davis in his office after the game. Yeah, McFadden’s a rookie, but so was Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson last year when rushed for an NFL single-game record 296 yards and totaled 1,341 yards and 12 touchdowns for the season. Running backs, especially the great ones, typically don’t need much seasoning before they produce big numbers. Big, fast, quick and strong works in the NFL even when you’re just barely old enough to order a beer.
So what haven’t we seen yet from McFadden?
“Me personally, I haven’ held anything back,” he said. “I’ve been going out there and going hard. As far as the coaching staff, they may have a few things they may add to the game plan.”
During the offseason, Kiffin said he didn’t want to overwhelm McFadden by asking him to fill too many roles and learn too many positions. But that’s exactly how McFadden was used at Arkansas, as a multi-tasker. He’s used to it.
“It seems like I’ve been doing it since my college days,” McFadden said. “I get used to learning a lot of different positions and having to know different parts of the offense. It’s just something you have to get used to and prepare well for.”
Of course McFadden has yet to experience the intensity of a regular-season game. I have a feeling that won’t faze him, either.
“That’s something for me I’m going to just have to go out and experience,” he said. “I feel like the coaching staff has gotten me ready. I’ve been working hard, learning the plays, going through all my progressions in pass protection. So I feel like I’m ready to play.”
After nearly 30 years as a sports writer and columnist for the Contra Costa Times, Eric is now a freelance writer, editor and blogger. He was a 49ers beat writer for 10 years, including three Super Bowl seasons, and spent time on the Cal football and basketball beats. He has covered multiple Super Bowls, U.S. Opens and Masters, as well as the NBA, NHL and major-league playoffs.