Programming note: For complete postgame reaction from the Raiders-Vikings exhibition game, tune in to SportsNet Central tonight at 10:30 and midnight on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.
MINNEAPOLIS – Running back Maurice Jones-Drew has gone through preseasons without being tackled. He was the Jacksonville Jaguars’ most prized possession in those days, and they exercised extreme caution to keep the running back healthy.
The Raiders face a similar issue with both of their veteran running backs, older gentlemen with recent injury history.
It begs two questions heading into Friday’s exhibition opener at Minnesota: Is it worth it to expose those players in a game that doesn’t count? How many touches do Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden need to prepare for the regular season?
The answers: Yes, and just a few.
“I want both of them to get a couple of touches in the game,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said. “We’ll see how many that ends up being. With all of these new pieces to the puzzle, we need to see what they do for the Oakland Raiders. Those are two of the pieces to the puzzle. 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.”
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Allen has a point. With new players so many positions – especially quarterback – the Raiders need to establish some cohesion and learn how to play together.
Jones-Drew doesn’t mind a preseason workload, especially at position where he’s battling for regular-season carries.
“You need to get that feeling of live football,” Jones-Drew said. “You need to get tackled a few times, but the exact number is up to the coaches. We have a lot of guys who are battling for spots, so we want to make a good impression each game. Whether you get five snaps or 20 or 100, you want to play well in each one.”
Allen’s track record suggests Jones-Drew and McFadden won’t have many. McFadden had just eight touches last preseason, all in the first two games. He had 20 the year before and stayed out of the preseason finale.
There’s little, if any, correlation between preseason touches and regular season production. Jones-Drew only had 10 last year and just five for 14 yards in 2010, when he recorded a career-high 1,606 rushing yards.
“I’ve been through preseasons where they’ve held me out and I’ve been fine,” Jones-Drew said. “But you I’d like to get out there and see what you can do against foreign competition.”
It’s likely that the first unit, including veteran quarterback Matt Schaub, will only play a few series against the Vikings. Starters typically increase activity in the second and third game before making cameos in the fourth.
Allen would like to see this team play together some and show some chemistry against a live opponent.
“I think it’s important for all of our guys,” he said. “This is a totally new team. It’s a new season. Everything starts back from ground zero. We’re going to use this process to evaluate all these guys on what they do moving forward. It’s really not of relevance what they’ve done in the past. It’s really about what they do for us moving forward. I think with all of our guys it’s important that we get off to a good start.”