Dennis Allen wasn’t Raiders head coach in 2010 or 2011, when Darren McFadden was at his very best. The slashing rusher averaged 5.3 yards per carry in those two seasons, whopping sums he hasn’t matched since Allen took over in 2012.
While injury issues have been a constant, the production decline started then, with back-to-back seasons of 3.3 yards per rush.
This preseason, McFadden seems rejuvenated. He’s healthy and motivated to have a big year. He seems to be finishing runs well in limited touches, and has shown ability Allen hasn’t seen in recent years.
“Darren is probably running the ball as well as I’ve seen him run it since I’ve been here,” Allen said. “I think he’s probably more explosive than I’ve seen him since I’ve been here. I think part of that is that he’s remained healthy throughout the offseason, throughout training camp. There haven’t been any kind of nicks or nagging little deals that have slowed him down. So, hopefully that trend will continue because I’ve seen a lot of positives in what he’s done in the running game.”
McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew are theoretically locked in a battle for regular-season carries, but the Raiders will feature both players in the running game. Jones-Drew has been the No. 1 guy throughout camp – he has also had a strong preseason – but McFadden will get his chances as well.
“I think we’ve had a nice little rotation in there between those two players,” Allen said. “I think Darren had eight carries in the game the other day and MJD had six carries the other day. Both those guys are going to get significant playing time and both those guys are guys that are going to help us.”
Some other notes from Allen’s conference call:
-- Allen said the position battle at weakside linebacker has brought out the best in combatants Sio Moore and Miles Burris. The head coach said he anticipates naming a starter in the near future to get that player acclimated with the first team.
“No matter how that shakes out,” Allen said. “I think both of those guys are going to be able to help us this year.”
-- Safety Tyvon Branch suffered an ankle injury in Friday’s exhibition, but Allen doesn’t consider it serious and said it had nothing to do with an ankle injury that force him out of 14 games last season.
-- Safety Usama Young could practice for the first time this preseason on Sunday or Monday. He’s been on the physically unable to perform list since straining his quadriceps in the pre-training-camp conditioning test.
-- Allen singled out defensive tackle Antonio Smith for a productive interiot pass rush against the Dolphins.
-- Allen reiterated that he’s seen progress from No. 5 overall pick Khalil Mack, even if it doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. He had two tackles, including a sack, against Detroit.
“If you don’t have a lot of sacks or you don’t have a lot of tackles, that doesn’t mean you’re not being a productive player,” Allen said “I thought Khalil, this week, was much improved on where he was last week. I think we’re going to see a lot of good things out of Khalil Mack.”
-- Rookie defensive tackle Justin Ellis still hasn’t been cleared to practice after suffering a concussion in an Aug. 8 exhibition against the Minnesota Vikings.
“We’re going to continue to go through the process and whenever he gets cleared, he’ll be out there,” Allen said. “None of us want to see him miss because these are important reps that he is missing out on. But, obviously, we want to take his health into consideration and make sure we’re doing the right thing for him for the long term.”
-- Allen singled out cornerback Chance Casey, safety Jonathan Dowling and guard Gabe Jackson as youngsters who played well in Friday’s exhibition.