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Raiders focus on keeping McFadden healthy

5:19 AM, Aug 6, 2012   |    comments
Oakland Raiders running back receives a handoff from quarterback Carson Palmer during Tuesday's training camp in Napa, CA. (PHOTO: US PRESSWIRE)
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So far, so good.

Which is really no different than any other training camp with the Raiders where running back Darren McFadden is concerned.

McFadden has been the most impressive and explosive player in Napa four years running. With limited contact, he's managed to remain healthy in July, August and into September other than a freak injury.

But even with a broken eye socket sustained a year ago during a blocking drill when McFadden's helmet was driven into the top of his nose, it didn't prevent him from getting off to a huge start.

The problem with McFadden has been it never lasts as long as he or the Raiders would like.

Through six games, McFadden appeared on his way to a 1,500-yard-plus season or better last year. He was a nearly impossible matchup as a receiver. He had 614 yards rushing when he took a short pass from Kyle Boller, twisted his foot awkwardly, and it was over.

The Raiders didn't know it at the time, but it was Lisfranc sprain from which he would not recover.

It added to McFadden's considerable injury history. Turf toe on both feet as a rookie. Arthroscopic knee surgery and post-season shoulder surgery in Year 2.

Hamstring and knee issues in Year 3, where he broke out with 1,157 yards rushing in 13 games and proved conclusively he was worth the No. 4 overall pick if only he remained healthy.

So after the season-ending injury last season, McFadden knows what people are thinking.

"You hear it all the time, but that's something I can't do anything about," McFadden said. "It's not like I'm going out there and just falling over and getting hurt. I'm out there playing and playing hard. I can live with that if I get hurt that way."

Raiders coach Dennis Allen understands that his team's hopes to earn a postseason berth for the first time since 2002 have a lot to do with keeping McFadden healthy.

The problem is, McFadden has not played more than 13 games in a season in his career, although most of his issues appear unrelated.

Allen said he hopes to get McFadden there, but plans to use him in preseason games, rather than shut him down, the way San Diego once did with LaDainian Tomlinson.

"We'll look at that on a game by game basis. I'm not sitting here right now thinking that there's anybody on our team that we're not planning to play," Allen said.

McFadden wants no part of talk that he might be unlucky.

"I can't say that because in my mind I'm a very blessed person to even be playing in this league," McFadden said. "I just go out there and take it one day at a time. I can't control injuries. If I get hurt, I'm going to get hurt going hard. ... I'm not going to go out there and play not to get hurt."

The Raiders are employing an exclusively zone-blocking scheme this season under offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, just as they did in McFadden's first two seasons with the Raiders.

It so happened that McFadden wasn't particularly effective in those years. In his last 20 games, when Hue Jackson arrived as offensive coordinator and then head coach, McFadden has 1,771 yards on 336 carries, averaging 5.3 yards per attempt.

Contrast that with the first two seasons, when he gained 499 and then 357 yards rushing, falling to 3.4 yards per carry in his second year.

Allen, Knapp and McFadden believe health had more to do with scheme, and believe zone-blocking will suit McFadden just fine.

McFadden, who is at his happiest on the field, is looking forward to putting last season's abrupt end in the rear-view mirror.

"The type of injury that I had is something that set me down for a long time," McFadden said. "A lot of people may think it's hard to bounce back and get back in the flow of things, but for me, once I'm out there on the field, I feel like I'm at home, so I just get out there and try to pick up where I left off."

USA Today

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