Raiders training camp outlook: Running backs

 Even though the Oakland Raiders have the weapons for an overwhelming passing game, as they showed last year, the team needs more consistent production from its ground game.

            Oakland averaged 110.1 yards rushing but at times did not bother to run the ball. The Raiders do not need the running game to reach their 2000 form, when the led the NFL in that category, but they need a more steady contribution this year.

            Charlie Garner finished 38 rushing yards short of 1,000 and 59 receiving yards shy of that mark, which would have made him the second player in NFL history to join the 1,000-1,000 club. San Francisco's Roger Craig (1985) and St. Louis' Marshall Faulk (1999) were the others. Very few backs can rival Garner's versatility.

            Even though his production has slipped since rushing for over 1,000 yards in 2000, the Raiders resigned Tyrone Wheatley. He is capable of being a featured back if Garner gets hurt but the Raiders will use him as the changeup back.

            Third-round draft-pick Justin Fargas (Southern California), free agent Ronney Jenkins (San Diego) and Madre Hill are the other tailbacks. Fargas and Jenkins will push for time as kickoff returners. Fargas could be an eventual heir apparent to Garner while Jenkins figures to be the lead man for kickoff returns. Hill could be the odd man out.

            Fullback is the only position that the Raiders made any significant changes. Jon Ritchie left as a free agent, signing with Philadelphia. Oakland, meanwhile, signed Cecil Martin from Philadelphia to replace him. Raiders head coach Bill Callahan, however, said that short-yardage specialist Zack Crockett was penciled in as the starter.

            Free agent Chris Hetherington will also push for playing time but it's doubtful that Oakland will keep Martin, Crockett and Hetherington. That scenario could make Hetherington the odd man out.

 

            Vince D'Adamo can be reached via e-mail at vdad7@yahoo.com

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