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SI's 2008 NFL Scouting Reports
Oakland Raiders
Projected Finish: 4th in AFC West
 
By carrying with either hand, McFadden hopes to limit his fumbles.
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SPOTLIGHT
 

With JaMarcus Russell and Darren McFadden, the offense of the future takes shape. But the future is not now.

The move didn't look like anything special, a running back cradling the ball in his left hand as he charged left, then switching the ball to his right hand as he cut right. But for Darren McFadden, the Raiders' highly touted rookie, that simple motion was the result of a summer's work. "My whole life, I've carried the ball in my left hand," McFadden says. "Since I got here, I've been practicing carrying it in my right hand, high and tight."

Rookies need training camp, all of training camp. Last year Oakland made LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell the No. 1 pick in the draft, but he missed camp because of a contract holdout; after finally coming in on Sept. 12, he needed most of the season to get acclimated. This year the Raiders took McFadden fourth overall, signed him in early June and had him in training camp on the first day. As a result, when the season starts, McFadden will be available to carry the ball, catch passes out of the backfield, even line up at receiver.

"You're so excited with what the guy can do -- all these special things outside the formation," says coach Lane Kiffin, who was the offensive coordinator for the similarly versatile running back Reggie Bush at USC. "But you've got to be careful because all of a sudden you can find him doing a bunch of things but nothing really well. We screwed that up with Reggie."

McFadden already figures to be the team's most potent playmaker. Despite Russell's obvious arm strength, he is still raw, and his receivers are too. The Raiders will have to win on the strength of their defense and their running game. Just as Bush had Deuce McAllister to help carry the load when he arrived in New Orleans two years ago, and Adrian Peterson had Chester Taylor last season in Minnesota, McFadden will share the backfield with sixth-year veteran Justin Fargas, who'll begin the season as the starter.

McFadden clearly sees himself more like Peterson, a traditional runner who can pound between the tackles, than Bush, a hybrid who prefers to get outside. "I feel like I'm an every-down back," McFadden says. "I definitely have the heart for it. Now it's just working on technique."

Tom Rathman, the running backs coach, has corrected McFadden's most glaring technical flaw. That penchant for carrying the ball almost exclusively in his left hand, often with his elbow up, was part of the reason McFadden fumbled 23 times in 38 career games at Arkansas. "It's all about keeping his elbow locked down and keeping the ball in his outside arm," Rathman says.

In addition to not being able to protect the ball, the other knock on McFadden that the Raiders heard leading up to the draft was that he would not stay out of trouble (SI, April 28). But Oakland can always tolerate a player with a few indiscretions (McFadden was involved in a couple of disturbances at Arkansas bars), as long as he can run. "Oh, he can run," says linebacker Kirk Morrison. "But what's really stuck out is his character. I heard so much about the kid, the incidents he had. I've just seen a very hardworking guy."

The Raiders have tested him. During a practice in August, three days before the first preseason game, McFadden caught a swing pass in the flat and was leveled by linebacker Thomas Howard. Standing over McFadden, Howard wondered how the rookie would react. "He just got back up and ran the play again," Howard says. "The guy is fast, but he's also tough. He's got a little dog in him."

In the off-season Oakland spent $224 million on contracts for four new players -- McFadden and free-agent veterans cornerback DeAngelo Hall, safety Gibril Wilson and receiver Javon Walker. The moves reaffirmed the franchise's supposed commitment to excellence, which some questioned during Russell's holdout last season. The Raiders are not yet a playoff team, but if they can keep the defense intact as Russell and McFadden grow together, they may not be so far away. -- Lee Jenkins

 

 
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