Is Michael Bush the Raiders' Starting Running Back?

Ramone BrownSenior Writer IAugust 24, 2009

For the Oakland Raiders, it's not quite clear who the starting running back is. Many would even say "starter" is nothing more than a "title" for the Raiders' running backs—a title that is almost meaningless.

Tom Cable just announced JaMarcus Russell as the starting QB. Thanks, Captain Obvious...I mean Coach Cable. Why not announce something we didn't all already know, like who will be the starting HB or what really happened with that chump Randy Hanson?

The first week in preseason against Dallas, Justin Fargas got the go-ahead to start. He only had one carry for two yards—not very impressive. Granted, it was only one carry. He did block well, however.

After that game, Cable said he would make a decision between Darren McFadden and Michael Bush for the 49ers game, and the "odd man out" would start the following week. He chose McFadden, who only got four carries for five yards and one reception for five yards. That's not what many were expecting out of him. Also, Russell was sacked after tripping over McFadden in the backfield.

This upcoming game against the Saints, Bush will get his chance to work with the first team. Let's hope he can outperform Fargas and McFadden.

After the Cowboys game, Cable also said we wouldn't get a real look at what the Raiders' running game would look like until week three of preseason. Is it just a coincidence that it's the same week where Bush gets his chance to shine?

Well, maybe it is just a coincidence, but what if it isn't? What if "odd man out" means starter in Cable's language?

Speaking of coincidences, did you know the Raiders are undefeated when Bush exceeds 15 carries?

If Cable were to pick a back to receive a more prominent role in the offense, why not pick the big bruiser with patience, vision, speed, and strength? With his 6'1", 245-pound frame, he can easily be mistaken for a FB. He's also a load for defenders to take down. He has the strength to break tackles and fight for extra yardage.

For his size, he is also deceptively fast with 4.4 speed. Any time he breaks free, he is a threat to take it to the house, if not gain huge chunks of yardage.

Will this be the year Fargas takes a diminished role for a younger back?

If so, why not give Bush the bulk of the carries? He is arguably the most talented, best suited to start, and most versatile, and when given a chance, he's outperformed the other two.

Last year in Week Two, he ran for 90 yards on 16 carries and a TD. In Week 17, when the other two backs were down with an injury, he rushed for 177 yards on 27 carries and two TDs. The Raiders won both of those games.

Bush can also be a dangerous threat catching the ball out of the backfield. Over his short career, he has averaged over eight yards per reception, including seven catches for 80 yards against San Diego in Week Four and five receptions for 43 yards in Week 10 against the Carolina Panthers. Both teams have notably stout defenses.

With his mix of size, speed, vision, and patience, Bush is much in the mold of Steven Jackson, who has been a Pro Bowler and is often towards the top of the league in rushing.

Bush's vision and patience can likely be attributed to his superior knowledge of the game. He was a high school QB and was originally brought to Louisville with intentions of playing QB. He was not only the running back at Louisville but the backup QB also. In high school, he was All-State in five positions.

Don't get me wrong: I am all about the running back by committee thing. It worked pretty well for the Giants last year. If one player were to carry the title of "starter," I'm all for Justin Fargas. He deserves it. That guy bleeds silver and black and plays with more intensity than anyone. And like I said, "starter" is just a title, so why not give it to the vet?

What I want to see is better balance between the three backs, unlike last year, when Fargas got the majority of carries. Bush and Fargas can be that one-two punch of jabs and hooks, while McFadden can be that uppercut or wild haymaker, the knockout punch.

Here's how I want to see it.

Give Fargas his novelty starting "title" and give him maybe 15 carries a game. Make sure they're all between the 20s, though, because Fargas is garbage in the red zone.

Use Bush throughout the game and as a short-yardage and red-zone back. He can rack up all the TDs and first downs. Also, Bush as a closer is a must—just imagine tired defenders trying to tackle him while he falls forward for two extra yards. He should get at least 15 carries.

McFadden should be used sparingly as the game-breaker. He should be brought in as a receiver and as a change-of-pace back. He should be kept fresh so he is a threat throughout the game, receiving about 15 touches total on the ground and through the air. 

Even with McFadden getting the fewest carries, he can still get his touches in other ways. Whether it be receiving the ball out of the backfield, slot, or in the Wildcat formation, he can be used all over the field. McFadden will still be a big part of the offense. He can even be used as an effective decoy or put in motion to create mismatches.

So what if McFadden was the fourth overall pick and we stole Bush in the fourth round? Who cares if everyone playing fantasy football is picking McFadden to have a breakout year?

Prior to Bush's college injury, he was the preseason leader to receive the Heisman. Had he not broken his leg in the first game—after scoring three TDs, might I add—he likely would have been the first back taken in the draft, ahead of Adrian Peterson.

That's about 40 carries between the three backs. This should leave Russell with about 15 to 20 pass attempts, which should be all he needs.

So, to recap: Fargas = starter, Bush = workhorse, McFadden = game-breaker

Whatever happens, this year, the Raiders are looking to be dominant on the ground. Let's just hope Cable finds a way to get them all the ball.


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