Who doesn't like seeing a running back hit the hole and move the pile for those tough yards when you need them? This style of play has been a hallmark of professional football since the earliest days of the sport.
The battering ram concept has never been lost on Al Davis, and throughout his tenure as Emperor of the Raiders, he has made sure at least one guy on the roster is capable of moving the pile.
Usually you can depend on your fullback for such chores, but this isn’t always the case. You want a guy who can accelerate in traffic.
It takes a certain kind of back to be able to do this on a regular basis. You need a body that can hold up over the long haul, and you need a thick skull to be able to absorb that kind of punishment for a living.
The Oakland Raiders have enjoyed their fair share of thick-skulled backs. Pete Banaszak, drafted in 1966, spent his entire career filling short yardage needs. His successor, Mark Van Eeghen, was almost a mirror image of Banaszak, though more athletic.
If you think the Raiders are all about the deep ball, think again. Mark Van Eeghen carried the ball so much he amassed over 5,000 career yards as a Raider. He also chugged out 73 hard earned yards in the Super Bowl XI victory over the Vikings. Banaszak had two short yardage TDs in that game as well.
Two and three-yard pickups are the name of the game when it comes to big backs who can wear down a defense.
There was also fullback Marv Hubbard. Ironically, Hubbard and Van Eeghen both were drafted out of Colgate University.
In the modern era, Tyrone Wheatley was supposed to be that sort of guy but never really developed into it. Zack Crockett filled that role for a while. There have been others, but you get the idea.
Nowadays we have Justin Fargas, who has redefined that role a bit by adding a lot more speed and catching out of the backfield to the mix. As the game has changed and player athleticism has evolved over the years, Fargas has not only grown into the role, he has also risen to the occasion and won the position outright over highly regarded Darren McFadden.
Interestingly, while playing at Michigan, coaches moved Fargas to safety. After getting hurt, he transferred to USC, where he did pretty well for himself as a running back. He was a third-round draft pick by the Raiders, where he has finally worked himself into the role of "the man."
Fargas is not built like a truck, but he can move the pile when he has enough momentum. He can be considered the Raiders' short yardage specialist—though we can blame bad play calling for anyone thinking Fargas is going to give you first downs on third and long.
"Young Hugg" has carried the rock more than any other Raider back over the past two seasons. This, along with his community-minded approach to being a Raider, has earned him numerous accolades by booster clubs.
In many ways Young Hugg symbolizes what being a Raider is all about.
So why doesn't he have the respect of all Raider fans?
People want to see more of Darren McFadden and get a long look at what Michael Bush can do.
With both of those guys we have seen glimpses of potential greatness, but not enough to displace Fargas. At least not yet.
McFadden is not really a between the tackles type of runner. He showed he can do that, but it wears you down, especially a guy like McFadden, who you ideally want to get into open space. We can only hope he gets more than a handful of carries per game and plays designed to take advantage of his abilities.
Bush just needs a chance to prove himself every day. It doesn't seem likely he will be an every game performer (at least as a Raider) thanks to being third on the depth chart.
We also can't forget about Louis Rankin, who shows good burst out of the backfield and whom Undead Al surely wants to see more of (as indicated by his promotion from the practice squad in the offseason).
It's a crowded backfield, and Justin Fargas leads the pack. Don't expect that to change in '09.
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