In his rookie year, Oren O'Neal was a beast who struck fear into defenders as his 5'11'' 245 pound frame barrelled towards linebackers, often resulting in an audible smack and a defender on his back.
O'Neal was arguably one of the mostly uncredited forces responsible for leading the Raiders 2007 run offense to sixth in the NFL, featuring the likes of Justin Fargas, Dominic Rhodes, and Lamont Jordan.
Then in his second year disaster struck. In the third preseason game against Arizona last summer, Oren O'Neal went down on a special teams play suffering tears to both his ACL and LCL tearing muscle from the bone and nearly severing a nerve which would have resulted in the end of his playing days and may have even hampered his walking for life.
With his absence in 2008, the Raiders rushing attack dropped from sixth to 10th despite a more talented backfield still featuring Justin Fargas as well as Darren McFadden and Michael Bush.
The injury left him unable to walk without a brace for nine weeks with many wondering if he would ever return to the field.
The next day Lance Kiffin told reporters the injury was "career threatening," though O'Neal was never told this by doctors and he never lost hope.
Doctors told O'Neal he was "tore up bad" but everything was fixable, no ligaments needed to be replaced and nothing was unrepairable.
Former Raider FB Zack Crocket told O'Neal of a FB (William Floyd) who tore all four knee ligaments only to return to his former form. O'Neal likely used this as motivation.
But O'neal is no stranger to hard times and has faced adversity throughout his football career.
He attended Stuttgart High School in Arkansas where he was an average student and an exceptional athlete in both football and track and field. In football, he was a three-year letterman and a two-time All-Conference selection on the offensive line at his high school.
But despite great technique, hustle, effort, and love for the game, no college was interested in him because he was to small for a college offensive line.
To start his college career, he was a walk on at Arkansas State University. But his college career was put in jeopardy in 2001 due to chylothorax which resulted in half of one of his lungs being removed.
Even today he is often heard wheezing trying to catch his breathe in between plays. But his impaired breathing wasn't enough to stop him. He worked harder to become stronger in the offseason and eventually received a full scholarship before the 2003 season. Later he was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA due to his "injury."
In 2007, he was drafted in the sixth round by the Oakland Raiders. Few experts expected him to succeed and reports said he was a one-dimensional blocker and wouldn't be an offensive threat, but despite his lack of "flashy skill" his rookie performance would prove otherwise.
Now even with a knee brace and a partial lung, O'Neal seems to be back to his old self. He has no visible limp and the only evidence of his injury is scarring and a knee brace.
In non-contact practices, he was limited to one practice a day, as a safety precaution, while his teammates practiced twice. Now that they have pads, he has been practicing twice a day.
Even with a brace which is purely precautionary, he appears to be moving better than ever before, though this does not show how his knee will hold up with contact.
Currently O'Neal is confident he will be back for the beginning of the season, saying he was especially looking forward to the Monday Night game against San Diego.
But on the other hand, when Cable was asked about his return, he did not seem as optimistic, though that may be a typical Raider tactic of not revealing anything to the media.
As of now all seems good for O'Neal and he seems set to return to his old self leading the Raider running backs to great gains.
Oren O'Neal splitting time with Lorenzo Neal (and maybe even Marcel Reece or Gary Russell) means nothing but trouble for apposing defenses. With O'neal returning to his former self, it nearly cements the Raiders as a top five rushing attack.