Allen: 'If Darren is fully healthy, both of 'em will play'
Darren McFadden has 98 carries this year for 352 yards and four scores; Rashad Jennings has 109 carries for 553 yards and two scores. (AP)
ALAMEDA -- Nobody's better than Rashad Jennings these days. The Raiders running back leads the NFL in total offense these past four weeks, flashing a mix of power and elusiveness rare among even elite rushers.
Jennings has been a true feature back, deserving of each carry he’s given. The man has 553 yards total offense since Darren McFadden hurt himself Nov. 3 against Philadelphia. He’s averaging 5.66 yards per carry and 3.5 yards after initial contact.
Taking touches away seems foolish. That’s exactly what Raiders head coach Dennis Allen is going to do.
McFadden is healthy after missing three-plus games with a hamstring strain. Exactly how he fits into this offense remains in question. He does, however, have a place.
Head coach Dennis Allen has been saying Jennings earned carries for weeks. Until now, it’s all been academic. Now Allen has to make the tough, yet rational choice.
His rationale: Jennings has fared extremely well, but McFadden is too good to sit on the shelf.
“If Darren’s fully healthy, both of them will play and both of them will get their opportunities,” Allen said. “You can’t deny that Rashad Jennings over the last month of the season has led the entire NFL in yards from scrimmage. I think he’s earned the right and deserves the right to continue to get his carries, continue to get his touches. We’ll still do that.”
Jennings has thrived, averaging roughly 21 touches per game. He grinds out tough yards and been a productive outlet in the passing game. McFadden is less consistent in every category, but his big-play ability could make his valuable later in games.
“We’ll see on that,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “We’re obviously excited about Darren being back and we’re really excited about what Rashad Jennings has done here over the last month. It’ll be nice to have a little bit of a two-headed horse back there with those guys running the football. We’ll kind of see how the game plays out, but we’ll be able to spell Rashad and we’ll let the hot hand go, but it’ll be nice to be able to have both of those guys healthy and have a chance to contribute.”
McFadden practiced this week, for the first time since injuring his hamstring a second time this season. McFadden said his hamstring still catches and he remains uncertain for Thursday’s game, but Allen said he’s in line to play.
McFadden’s hamstring isn’t perfect, but he insists he’s getting close.
“To me, I could have been back last week but I just have to take my time with it,” McFadden said. “I don’t want to but I know that if I rush it back again, this time it will probably be over for the season So I want to just be able to make sure it’s all the way back before I get out there again.”
McFadden needs to get back out there for personal reasons at least. The sixth-year veteran is entering a contract year, without much earning power on the open market.
The Arkansas alum might be playing his final season as a Raider, and a successful audition with Cowboys owner/GM and former Arkansas grad Jerry Jones couldn’t hurt his chances for an overblown payday.
The main knock against McFadden is his injury history. The ailment list is long and distinguished, which has sapped his potential and his market value.
“It’s been very hard,” McFadden said. “There’s always something. To me it’s just like maybe something small, like an ankle or hamstring, turf toe or just something. But you just try to stay positive and just keep working hard and keep moving forward.”
McFadden’s next step is getting back into the regular rotation. His days as Raiders feature back are likely numbered, but he still can prove better than he’s shown this season or last.
McFadden has tried to get healthy while outsiders sing his backup’s virtue. That’s been a grind he swears doesn’t affect him.
“I’ve dealt with so much criticism for so long and you just have to turn your face to it,” McFadden said. “You can’t pay attention to it. You have to stay positive and focus on the task at hand.”