ALAMEDA – The Raiders have historically kept Darren McFadden out of harm’s way. The oft-injured running back was sheltered from unnecessary risk wherever possible, and that certainly included special teams.
Times have changed.
McFadden was among several players returning kickoffs during Monday’s contact-free OTA session. Coach Dennis Allen wouldn’t commit to the prospect during the regular season, but said it was part of ongoing experimentation with players during the offseason program.
“I think anything is an option,” Allen said. “Again, we’re looking at a lot of different things, a lot of people in a lot of different areas. There’s a ton of things that aren’t set. Everything is written in pencil right now, so we’re going to continue to look at not only that, but a lot of other areas where guys can help our team win.”
McFadden hasn’t returned kickoffs since his college days, mostly to avoid the punishment that comes with it. The Raiders lacked a spark returning kicks and have quality running back options including Maurice Jones-Drew, meaning the team could diversify McFadden’s workload.
Some other observations from Monday’s OTA session, the third practice open to the press over the past few weeks:
Raiders receivers didn’t have a great day. There were several drops including noticeable incompletions flubbed by Denarius Moore and Greg Little, players with past drop issues. James Jones was out with a hamstring, but the Raiders need greater consistency from those receivers.
Allen was asked specifically about Moore’s quest for consistency being a work in progress.
“He’s still got a lot of improvement that he’s got to make,” Allen said. “I’ve seen some strides and hopefully he’ll continue to make those strides. I think, like I was talking about earlier, with all these guys attention to detail is where we’ve got to work to continue to improve, and that’s with all these guys. Because the margin for error in the NFL is very minute, very small, so the ability to be precise in everything you do is critical to having success.”
While the Raiders did some mixing and matching, the first-team offensive line remained relatively static with left tackle Donald Penn, left guard Khalif Barnes, center Stefen Wisniewski, right guard Austin Howard and right tackle Menelik Watson.
While it’s difficult to evaluate linemen without pads on, rookie guard Gabe Jackson has impressed coaches enough to see time with the first team. He could challenge for a starting spot during the preseason.
While Allen says that quarterback Derek Carr is progressing well, there are times when he looks like a rookie in his first NFL offseason. That’s just fine. Carr has a lot of process during this period without many reps, but it’s crystal clear that Matt Schaub is the No. 1 guy.
Chimdi Chekwa seems to have the early shot at the No. 4 cornerback spot. With DJ Hayden out with an ankle injury, Chekwa has played taken some first-team reps in the nickel with Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers.
Defensive end Justin Tuck and linebacker Kevin Burnett were healthy absentees, and Allen said he knew that both players would skip school. Burnett has missed the first week working out at home and was gone to start this week’s activities. He was back last week for a practice open to the press, but was out with an ankle injury.
Miles Burris worked with projected starters at weakside linebacker, a position he’s played extensively in the past. Marshall McFadden seems to be the primary backup to Nick Roach at middle linebacker.