Is Jennings ready to fill in if McFadden can't go?

Jennings: 'If we execute the way Raiders do we'll be okay"

Is Jennings ready to fill in if McFadden can't go?
October 3, 2013, 3:15 pm
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You have to stay ready because when an opportunity presents itself, it’s too late to prepare. We never stop working, grinding and staying ready.
Rashad Jennings

Darren McFadden's annual injury woes have made the backup running back a crucial component of the Raiders' offense in years past. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

ALAMEDA – Rashad Jennings rides a bike to work. He’s got a car, a nice one at that, yet he prefers the 20-minute pedal to his in-season Alameda home. Just a few more calories burned, a few more minutes pushing his limits.

Not like he needs it. Jennings is lean, mean and strong as oak. He puts maximum effort into maintaining physical shape. He eats organic and stays gluten and casein free. He gets acupuncture and sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber. Jennings never misses a moment to get better.

That’s a job requirement for Raiders in Darren McFadden’s backup. The Raiders' star rusher gets hurt every year. He’s been slowed by lower body injuries in his first five seasons, and his status for next week’s game against San Diego is in serious doubt. He missed most of Sunday’s loss to Washington with a hamstring injury, an ailment that kept him out of practice Wednesday and Thursday.

[RELATED: Raiders injury notes -- Reece back to work quickly, McFadden sits out]

Even if he doesn’t practice, McFadden’s status could be a game-time decision. Raiders coach Dennis Allen said McFadden could play without practicing all week.

“It’s not a situation where he needs a bunch of reps,” Allen said. “I don’t need to see anything Friday. I need to see something right before the game that indicates he’s ready to go.”

[BAIR: Allen -- Pryor to start on Sunday]

Jennings must prepare to start without knowing if he will. Just like he was when McFadden went down against the Redskins, Jennings is ready for full-time duty.

“That’s why we work so hard to stay in shape,” Jennings said. “That’s why I sleep in the chamber. That’s why I get acupuncture. That’s why I ride my bike home from work. You have to stay ready because, when an opportunity presents itself, it’s too late to prepare. We never stop working, grinding and staying ready.”

Jennings stepped in Sunday and fared well, recording 116 yards of total offense. He had 45 rushing yards on 15 carries and eight catches for a career-high 71 yards. He broke tackles and ran tough, yet remains upset with his overall performance.

“I didn’t do enough to win,” Jennings said. “I stay critical of myself, especially after a loss. I need to nitpick myself and find ways to improve our standing.”

If we’re being nitpicky, Jennings performance was far from perfect. He averaged just 3.0 yards per carry over three-plus quarters, which isn’t good enough for a run-first team that grinds out first downs the old fashioned way.

Few doubt Jennings' ability to move a pile or break a tackle in space, but his consistency between the tackles is cause for concern.

It certainly was last season in Jacksonville, when he averaged just 2.8 yards per carry. He started six games for an injured Maurice Jones-Drew and never averaged more than four yards per carry. The only time he exceeded 20 rushes – against the Raiders, no less, his per-carry average was just 2.1.

That’s not good enough for Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson, who held the same position with Jennings last year in Jacksonville.

[RELATED: Allen confirms McGloin supplants Flynn as Raiders' No. 2 QB]

Olson was skeptical about the Jennings acquisition, but the fifth-year back has shown Olson vast improvement this season over last.

“I have been really impressed with Rashad. I’m happy for him,” Olson said. “I wasn’t sure him coming here was going to work after being with him in Jacksonville. For whatever reason, he’s a better player here than he was a year ago. Sometimes a player needs a change of scenery or a change in system. What the case may have been, he seems to be a more focused player, a tougher runner and a tougher player. Hopefully he’ll continue to play well. He ran hard last week. He made people miss and he ran some people over. That was really encouraging to see him play well last week.”