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  • Hector Amezcua /

    Darren McFadden has missed the Raiders' last four games because of a sprained ankle.

  • Hector Amezcua /

    Darren McFadden makes a move against the Chargers' Donald Butler.

Raiders hope McFadden can return Thursday

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 - 7:51 am

ALAMEDA – Denver Broncos coach John Fox said his team is keeping an open mind this week as they prepare to face the Raiders' running game.

It isn't clear yet whom they'll be trying to stop.

The Raiders hope Darren McFadden, who has missed the last four games with a high ankle sprain, will rejoin a backfield that seems to have found more holes in his absence.

"He looked good today. You could see him cutting. You could see him bursting off the foot," running backs coach Kelly Skipper said Tuesday. "You wouldn't have noticed today that he had been injured."

McFadden agreed that he's feeling close to normal. And backup Mike Goodson, who also has missed the last four games with an ankle sprain, said he also hopes to be available for Thursday's game.

Over the last three games, the Raiders have averaged 4.6 yards per rush, with most of the load being carried by erstwhile fullback Marcel Reece and former practice squad member Jeremy Stewart.

Even though that hasn't equated to wins – the Raiders have lost five games in a row – it's an improvement. The Raiders averaged 3.5 yards per carry in their first nine games – and McFadden just 3.3 yards – using the zone-blocking scheme introduced this season.

"I think guys are just getting more used to it," said Goodson, who averaged 6.5 yards on 17 carries before his injury. "Once you get in, get to run the ball a lot and just get used to the offense, I think as you gel a little bit more things will start to open up."

The Raiders still rank 29th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (82.8) and they are last in rushes (264) – whether because of injuries, breaking in the new scheme or because falling behind in most of their games has forced them to throw a lot.

Skipper said "you're starting to see creases open up" for the backs to make their cuts upfield. The Raiders hope they'll stay open for McFadden when he returns.

In the Raiders' first game against the Broncos this season Sept. 30, McFadden was held to 34 yards on 13 carries, and his longest gain was just eight yards. In three previous games against the Broncos, McFadden had rushed for at least 119 yards in each of them.

"We've got to keep doing what we've been doing – being assignment-perfect, getting the right calls, getting everybody spotted in the right direction," Skipper said. "We've been getting on blocks; we've been moving people off the ball. I think definitely he'll reap the benefits of that."

McFadden said he would let team trainers make the decision on his availability for Thursday, but he said he's eager to play. The injury-prone back has missed 23 games in his five NFL seasons, including 13 of the Raiders' last 21.

"If I'm out there, I'm a running back. I'm going to take my load," McFadden said. "Whatever they decide to give me."

If McFadden and Goodson can play, the question becomes how many running backs the Raiders will have active for Thursday's game.

Stewart had his best game Sunday against Cleveland with nine carries for 46 yards. Taiwan Jones has fallen out of favor in the backfield but has key roles on special teams. And Tuesday, the Raiders signed running back Jamize Olawale off Dallas' practice squad.

"They can go with some multiple-back things, as many as three backs. They're all very capable," Fox said on a conference call Tuesday. "It's sometimes hard to have all of them up. But we'll be prepared for whoever they decided on."

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Read more articles by Matt Kawahara

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