by Matt Kawahara
NAPA -- After Michael Bush took his 6-1, 245-pound frame to Chicago this offseason, one question facing the Raiders was whether they needed to add another bruiser to the backfield whom they could run out in short-yardage or goal-line situations. The Raiders don't have a running back in camp listed above 218 pounds (Darren McFadden's weight) and backup candidates Taiwan Jones and Mike Goodson aren't exactly bulldozers.
Friday night in Arizona, the Raiders found themselves in just that kind of goal-line situation on their second drive and went to -- McFadden. Needing a yard for the touchdown, the Raiders handed off to McFadden on first and second down, and both times he was stopped for no gain.
The Raiders ended up settling for a field goal after an incomplete pass on third down. One of the first questions directed at offensive coordinator Greg Knapp on Wednesday was why the Raiders didn't bring in a bigger back, such as a fullback or Lonyae Miller, who is listed as smaller than McFadden but a downhill-type runner, to try to get the yard.
"I've always had a belief that the number one back can still be the goal-line back, doesn't have to necessarily be a bigger, stronger guy," Knapp said. "My experience tells me so. Last couple years (with the Texans), Arian Foster had a lot of success. Warrick Dunn was one of the best inside tackle runners I've ever been around as a coach. It's not just the back that requires the execution of the play. So it didn't bother me to have him in there. We just didn't get it executed across the board."
A similar situation came up on the Raiders' next drive. Needing a yard for a first down from their own 48, the Raiders went to McFadden on second down and he was again stopped for no gain. On third down, he finally broke through the left side for a four-yard gain.
"He's the guy we're counting on to be our bell cow," head coach Dennis Allen said earlier this week. "We wanted to hand him the ball and see if we can get a yard."
Knowing that keeping the injury-prone McFadden healthy this season is paramount, the Raiders have limited his contact in practice and took him out after three touches in the preseason opener. He had nine carries and a catch for a total of 51 yards against Arizona. It's been enough for Knapp, who was the Raiders' coordinator in 2008, McFadden's rookie season, to form an opinion of the running back's progress since then.
"His ability to see the hole is exciting," Knapp said. "I've seen the growth in his vision in the run game, where he identifies 'OK, here's my chance to do the one-cut downhill or one-cut bounce move.'"
Knapp also said McFadden has gotten better reading safety movement in order to pick up blitzes, which has "made him a move well-rounded running back, so we can play him on all downs."