As the Oakland Raiders look to revamp the NFL’s worst running game from a year ago, a few players are competing for carries. The team released one of their running backs on Tuesday when they trimmed their roster down to 75 players, and Oakland’s backfield is taking shape just three days before the team must announce a final 53-man roster.
On Monday, the Raiders released Trent Richardson, who was expected to make the team when he signed in March. The former No.3 overall draft pick failed to impress during training camp, and his NFL career is now in jeopardy. The loss of Richardson means new head coach Jack Del Rio will devote extra attention to the run game in Thursday's final preseason game.
Del Rio may turn to Michael Dyer, who appears poised to stick around beyond the exhibition games. After signing as an undrafted free agent, Dyer has shown flashes of the potential he exhibited at Auburn, when he rushed for the most yards as a freshman since Bo Jackson. He particularly stood out in Oakland's second preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings, leading the Raiders with 45 yards on 12 carries.
The starting job belongs to Latavius Murray, and Roy Helu is all but penciled in as his primary backup. Neither running back rushed for 500 yards in 2014, which means the Raiders may have to rely on multiple running backs to carry the load. Taiwan Jones is likely to make Oakland’s roster as a fourth running back. George Atkinson III survived Tuesday’s round of cuts, but he’ll have a difficult time doing so on Saturday, as well.
Against the Cardinals, the trio of Murray-Helu-Dyer combined for 13 carries and just six yards. In a total of three preseason games, the quintent of Murray, Helu, Dyer, Jones and Atkinson have 53 carries for 164 yards, or 3.1 yards per carry.
Dyer’s game last week wasn’t encouraging, since he had previously done most of his preseason damage against players that won’t start in 2015. Helu was injured for the first two preseason games, and he’s more of a threat in the passing game than he is as a rusher. The former Washington Redskins’ rusher hasn’t totaled 300 yards on the ground in any of the last three seasons, though he caught 42 passes for 477 yards in 2014.
Murray separated himself from the rest of Oakland’s running backs during training camp, even though he played poorly last week. But he has yet to prove he can keep that production up as the No.1 starter. Murray averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2014, though he only rushed the ball 82 times in 15 games.
What adjustments Del Rio, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and running backs coach Bernie Parmalee make to the ground game in the coming weeks could play a significant role in the Raiders' 2015 hopes. Oakland has a second-year quarterback and a rookie wide receiver leading the offense in a deep conference and a competitive division.