Training camp outlook: Running Back

One story in a series, looking at position breakdowns for the Oakland Raiders, who arrive for training camp in Napa, CA, on July 29. Today – a look at running backs:

The Oakland Raiders fell short in their pursuit of former Cincinnati Bengals running back Corey Dillon, who wound up getting traded to the New England Patriots. This position will become vitally important in first-year head coach Norv Turner's offense that features the power-running game.

As expected, the Raiders lost Charlie Garner as a free agent to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Oakland has the look of a committee-like approach at running back with Tyrone Wheatley, Troy Hambrick, Amos Zereoue and Justin Fargas. It is not out of the question, however, that one of them might be expendable at the end of training camp. All except Wheatley are under the age of 30.

Hambrick and Zereoue were acquired after getting released by Dallas and Pittsburgh respectively after both of their former teams felt neither player took advantage of their chance at having bigger roles in the offense.

Wheatley's role got bigger in the second half of the season after injuries forced Garner and Fargas to the bench. Wheatley, who is the consummate team player, finished the season 678 yards rushing on 159 carries for four touchdowns. Zereoue rushed for 433 yards in Pittsburgh last season but is used to be a change of pace in an offense that features the power-running.

Dallas was counting on Hambrick to be its featured back after releasing Emmitt Smith but he failed to crack the 1,000 yard mark and got into Bill Parcells' doghouse in the process. Fargas, who enters his second season, possesses tremendous speed but cannot seem to stay healthy, long enough. Fargas was one of 13 Raiders to finish the 2003 season on injured reserve.

Zack Crockett or Chris Hetherington could be the blocking fullback. Crockett, however, is a valuable short-yardage specialist but his role could expand this season. Hetherington had a nondescript first season in Oakland but his role could get bigger because of the power running game emphasis.

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