Nothing ever simple in Oakland

Back when the Raiders convened for training camp in August at Redwood Middle School behind the Napa (Calif.,) Marriott, it all seemed so simple.

Coach Lane Kiffin, borrowing from his days as co-offensive coordinator at USC with Reggie Bush and LenDale White, and convinced that two backs were better than one, would rejuvenate the Raiders running game with LaMont Jordan and Dominic Rhodes.

Jordan would carry most of the load for the first four games of the season, spelled by camp sensation Adimchinobe Echemandu and perhaps Justin Fargas.

Echemandu and Fargas were thought to be merely stand-ins until Rhodes, signed as a free agent in the offseason after leading the NFL in postseason rushing for the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, came off a four-game suspension for being in violation of the NFL policy on substance abuse.

Then it would be Jordan and Rhodes, or Rhodes and Jordan.

Which is what eventually transpired, but not in the way everyone expected.

The past few weeks, Rhodes and Jordan were competing for scraps behind Fargas, who came out of nowhere to be the Raiders' top individual success story for 2007.

Fargas, who started the last seven games, broke 1,000 yards rushing Sunday in a 21-14 loss to the Colts but likely will go no further than 1,009 on 222 carries. A sprained right medial collateral ligament will sideline him for certain against the Jacksonville Jaguars this week and very probably for the season finale against the San Diego Chargers.

Both Jordan and Rhodes have been unhappy about their role as backups. The Raiders considered cutting one of them before the trade deadline but opted against it, in large part because Al Davis didn't want either man playing for Kansas City or Denver, division rivals in need of a running back.

Jordan gained 424 yards on 84 carries before suffering a back injury just before halftime in the fourth game of the season against Miami. Since then, he has 125 yards on 60 carries. He had one game against Chicago where he suited up but didn't play at all, and he was inactive against Minnesota.

Jordan's 15-touch, 38-yard game (rushing and receiving) against Green Bay on Dec. 9 led to him being inactive Sunday.

Rhodes returned and responded by gaining a season-high 41 yards on nine carries.

"I thought he made a couple of guys miss and really battled and ran hard," Kiffin said. "He had practiced well the last couple of weeks and done well. We felt this was an opportunity against (Indianapolis). ... I know it was good for him to get out there and get a feel for it, and he will get more opportunities this week, I imagine."

Jordan, who still treats his back with an ice bag almost every day after practice, conceded it has been difficult waiting and watching.

"When go from being a starter to being weeded out of the process, I've been in the business long enough that I've seen it happen before, and I think that's probably the hardest thing to deal with," Jordan said. "It adds to some of the negativity of the season. That's why you can't wait for the season to be over, just to get a fresh start, whether it's here or someone else."

Rhodes promised to be ready to make the most of his opportunity.

The last two games could amount to an audition of sorts. Fargas is an unrestricted free agent whom the Raiders could make an attempt to re-sign, considering his strong season. His injury will require rehab but no surgery.

Michael Bush, the fourth-round pick from Louisville, spent the entire season on the physically unable to perform list, but he will get a long look next training camp.

Both Rhodes and Jordan are under contract, although both could be subject to release if they don't fit into Kiffin's vision of the 2008 Raiders.

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