Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Raiders' McFadden dazzles in many ways

Published: Monday, Sep. 16, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Monday, Sep. 16, 2013 - 12:44 am

OAKLAND – Terrelle Pryor is the show. That's a given. The Raiders have seen more action these past two weeks – newspapers, talk shows, ESPN and highlights – than most salary cap-gutting, rebuilding franchises generate in an entire season.

He keeps everyone guessing. Heck, he keeps himself guessing. He runs, he throws. He runs and then he throws. The uncertainty only enhances the excitement. His. Ours. Now, whether he emerges as another of his generation's multidimensional star quarterbacks and develops the passing accuracy needed to succeed in the NFL remains to be seen. Three pro starts only hint at a promising career.

But there is no such uncertainty about Darren McFadden. The running back did to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday what he has done often during his career: He reminded everyone why the Raiders drafted him fourth overall in 2008.

"You're going to get a lot of 2-, 3-, 4-yard runs," coach Dennis Allen said after his team's 19-9 win in the home opener, "and then you're going to be able to pop one."

McFadden exploited the Jaguars' defense for 129 rushing yards on 19 carries, including four carries of 20-plus yards. He also caught four passes for 28 yards and, despite a late fumble, was the most dominant player on the field, which at least suggests last week's performance was an aberration and had nothing to do with an aversion to the new offense.

When healthy – and that's the operative phrase here – McFadden is one of the most diverse, productive backs in the league. At 6-foot-1 and 218 pounds, with a combination of strength and graceful, almost elegant strides, he punishes defenses with straight-ahead drives and surprises with sharp, abrupt cutbacks for huge gains.

His versatility apparently isn't limited to running or catching, either. On the Raiders' first possession, a direct snap to McFadden gained 7 yards and led to Oakland's only touchdown.

"I was a quarterback in high school," McFadden said. "Read-option. Wildcat. Conventional. I did pretty much anything. My sophomore year, me and my coach were going back and forth about a play. I told him to just move me to running back. And I stuck there."

A backfield featuring Pryor and McFadden is as tempting as a candy bar. In the court of public opinion, or in other words, if the folks at sold-out Coliseum were asked to cast their votes, poor Matt Flynn never stood a chance. Pryor alone is intriguing. The combination of Pryor, McFadden and Marcel Reece, whose blocks consistently sprung his teammates loose, is probably as exciting as the offense is going to get this season.

That assumes, however, that Pryor develops quickly and McFadden stays healthy, which given his history might not be such a smart assumption. His seasons have chronically been abbreviated by injuries. Turf toe. Sore knee. Bum shoulder. The former Arkansas standout missed nine games in 2011 with a foot injury and was unavailable for four games last year with a high ankle sprain that contributed to his career-worst average of 3.3 yards per carry.

Yet there is this: The Raiders have won seven consecutive games in which McFadden has rushed for 100 or more yards.

"I'm healthy," he said Sunday, adding he is also encouraged by the inclusion of the read-option offense. "The coaches have a lot of faith in me. I know they want to put the ball in my hands and let me run with it. Knowing you have to defend (Pryor) going around the edge, a couple times they left the middle wide open. It's gonna help open things up a lot."

Eventually, he probably means. Young quarterback guarantees mistakes. New system assures sloppy play. Front office intent on shedding bloated contracts means more losses than victories.

It should be pointed out that, apart from Reece, the Raiders' only other scoring came from Sebastian Janikowski's aging left foot. All of which suggests a season of blips, drops (see Denarius Moore), turnovers and sloppy performances.

But Pryor is entertaining, and if McFadden stays healthy, that dual-threat backfield will have its moments. On Sunday, there were a few.

Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208. Follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.

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