The Raiders will be the last team to open training camp, but when they do on July 29, expect the backup running back and fullback camp battles to get heated.
Darren McFadden is the undisputed starter and lynch pin of the entire Oakland offense. McFadden's job is as secure as they come; if he's healthy, he should see 75 percent of the carries in 2012.
The Raiders didn't attempt to re-sign Michael Bush, and he signed in Chicago as the backup to Matt Forte. With only Taiwan Jones to back up McFadden, the Raiders executed a trade to send offensive tackle Bruce Campbell to Carolina for running back Mike Goodson.
Jones and Goodson figure to fight for carries when McFadden needs to take oxygen, but which player will be the primary backup?
Jones has played in four games where he was the primary backup to Michael Bush and averaged four attempts per game with an average yard per carry of 4.4. Goodson has played in seven games as the primary backup, averaging 10 attempts per game with an average yards per carry of 2.5.
Goodson was much more effective in his three starts in 2010. In those games, Goodson averaged 20 carries and 4.7 yards per attempt. That's superior to Michael Bush's 4.0 yards per carry as a starter, but in 10 less games.
Don't be surprised if Jones gets the carries as the change-of-pace to McFadden, but Goodson starts if McFadden misses time. Michael Bush averaged seven attempts per game as the backup to McFadden, meaning Jones and Goodson should combine for 10 carries per game when McFadden is healthy as Greg Knapp is a run-oriented offensive coordinator.
If the Raiders aren't happy with what they have early in training camp or confident Goodson or Jones can carry the load if McFadden goes down, they could sign a veteran like Cedric Benson. Benson has been consistently average over the past few seasons, but he's been durable and would immediately provide a backup with a much longer track record than Goodson and Jones.
Lonyae Miller and Rashawn Jackson are the other running backs on the roster, but neither are expected to figure into a camp battle. Miller and Jackson both both could be used as power backs should the need arise, but the zone-blocking scheme or a fullback like Owen Schmitt and Marcel Reece are likely to gain those duties.
Marcel Reece is a weapon in the passing game, and good things tended to happen when the Raiders got him involved in 2011. Reece still needs to work on his blocking, and that leaves the door open for other fullbacks like Monase Tonga and Owen Schmitt.
Tonga had knee surgery and missed part of the offseason program, and that promoted the Raiders to sign Schmitt. Schmitt is now listed as a running back on Raiders.com. It's unclear if this is a typographical error of the Raiders intend on using him as a power back.
What is clear is that the blocking fullback job is up for grabs. If Reece can improve his blocking, he'd be even more dangerous as the Raiders wouldn't have to pull him out of the field in certain running situations. Tonga has a tall hill to climb and will have to produce coming off surgery. Schmitt has the most experience in the zone-blocking system and is the front-runner for the blocking fullback job.
Reece is a unique fullback and it will be interesting to see how the Raiders plan to integrate him into the offense. He could potentially run routes typically designed for the second tight end to get him mismatches against linebackers.
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