Season review -- Raiders RBs

January 7, 2012, 11:33 pm
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The identity of the Raiders' running game switched as soon as the "mid-foot sprain" in Darren McFadden's right foot set in on Oakland's first drive against Kansas City on Oct. 23. The Raiders wanted to "build a bully" with a diverse running attack, one built on McFadden's speed and versatility and supported by Michael Bush's closing power style. And it workedfor six games. The Raiders were 4-2. Then McFadden went down and Bush became the feature back, eliciting a shift in offensive philosophy. But the injuries did not stop there. Consider: Bush was the only Raiders running back to play all 16 games. Bully, indeed. Especially when you consider the Raiders ranked seventh in the NFL in rushing, averaging 131.9 yards.
Grade: C-RUNNING BACKSMichael Bush -- One of the true injustices of the season was Bush falling 23 yards short of hitting that 1,000-yard milestone. Still, he picked a great time to have a breakout year, what with him slated to become an unrestricted free agent and his picking up the slack for the injured Darren McFadden in rushing for 977 yards on the season and becoming the every down back when DMC went down in Week 7. Bush averaged 4.2 yards per carry after McFadden limped off the field, 2.0 yards as his backup. And he had his signature game at San Diego on Nov. 10 in a primetime affair with 242 all-purpose yards against the Chargers, the most by a Raiders player since 1963. No, Bush is not the home run threat that is McFadden -- then again, neither is McFadden when he's injured -- but Bush plowed forward and deserved to be a Pro Bowl alternate. But does he deserve big bucks from the Raiders to return, or will another team make him their featured back? In any event, he carried the Raiders' running game the second half of the season and should be commended.Darren McFadden -- Where oh where to start with the artist formerly known as Run DMC who has been more Limp DMC? Entering Week 7, McFadden was the most explosive back in the NFL, leading the league with 610 rushing yards while a threat to go the distance every time he touched the ball, via handoff or reception. But two carries and a catch into the eventual 28-0 loss to Kansas City, his right foot failed not only him, but the Raiders as a team. He never returned, despite assurances from coach Hue Jackson that McFadden was closer to playing than not. When he's right, he's one of the most complete backs in the NFL. But he's rarely so. He has already missed 19 of 64 games (29.7 percent) due to injury in his four-year career and been hurt in numerous others. How much trust should the Raiders place in him going forward?Taiwan Jones -- The Raiders had high hopes for the speedy rookie, who was selected in the fourth round of the draft. He was seen as McFadden-light and, many thought, Jones was the fastest guy on the team. But he took a while to get his legs under himself, especially with a healthy McFadden and Bush getting the majority of the carries early. And when McFadden went down, Jones would have been the perfect change-of-pace back to complement Bush. Instead, Jones' hamstring betrayed him and he did not play again after Nov. 20, rushing for 73 yards on 16 carries in 10 games.Rock Cartwright -- He's more a special teams ace and emotional team leader than a force at running back but Cartwright did have four carries for 45 yards. The two-time Commitment to Excellence Award winner's most memorable play of the season came in Week 5 at Houston, when he took a direct snap in a punt formation and rumbled 35 yards. A nagging calf injury ensued and Cartwright missed one game as a result.Marcel Reece -- A matchup nightmare at fullback, Reece can line up as a blocking back, a tailback, a tight end and out wide as a receiver. And do every job well. But a sprained ankle in the home opener against the New York Jets caused him to miss four games. Yet he still caught 27 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns and carried the ball 17 times for 112 yards. But the playbook went away from him late in the season and he was not able to make such an impact. Then again, defenses actually started gameplanning for him, a rarity for a fullback. He picked up a pair of All-Pro votes a year after getting one.Manase Tonga -- Signed off the practice squad on Oct. 8, Tonga was the quintessential blocking fullback and the staff liked his blocking so much he stayed on the roster the remainder of the season. He had one carry, a memorable 12-yard burst against Cleveland, and caught three passes for 18 yards.