Raiders could be solid at running back after all

Oakland Raiders running back Lonyae Miller at 2012 training camp (photo by Levi Damien)

The most prominent free agent talk for the Raiders this offseason has been their interest in Cedric Benson. I too have been swept up in it and have at times thought it to be a near foregone conclusion that they would bring the 1000 yard back into the fold. After Wednesday's practice, I am beginning to see why they haven't signed him or anyone else.

The main reason the speculation of the team signing another back has been the departure of Michael Bush. For the past three seasons, Bush has been the most dependable running back on this team. Darren McFadden is the unquestioned starter as well as the star of this offense. But has never played an entire 16 game season and when he limped off the field, Bush came in to keep the Raiders relevant in the run game.

Well, Bush left as a free agent, heading to Chicago to cash a check that was bigger than the Raiders could write. And with his departure, the Raiders had a hole to fill. They traded rarely seen offensive lineman Bruce Campbell to the Panthers for their rarely utilized running back Mike Goodson.

Aside from being from head coach Dennis Allen's alma mater, Texas A&M, there was nothing notable about the three-year reserve running back. He did have one good season when the two-headed monster in Carolina of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart was injured into hibernation.

During their down time, Goodson had some pretty good numbers. He amassed 425 yards in three starts while appearing in all 16 games that season. During that time he had a respectable 4.4 yards per carry.

Goodson came to the Raiders to join up with Taiwan Jones and compete for the backup running back spot. Both are fast and are in a heated battle for carries in Raiders camp in what is sure to last through all of the preseason before a decision is made.

Over the first two days of camp, it was hard to tell who was ahead in the race to be the Darren McFadden runner-up. But come the third day, when pads were added to the equation, Goodson raced into the lead.

"I think it's hard to determine [without pads]," said Goodson. "You see a guy make a guy miss and you think like ‘well, if he was in pads would he have made that tackle or would he have made that guy miss?' I'm a big fan of pads. Everybody needs to do it... You get to get into the physical side of football a little bit more. We're about the start the preseason so everybody needs that."

Goodson showed great instinct in the Raiders' new zone blocking scheme versus live hitting on Wednesday. He found his blocks and made his one cut and shot through the gap for nice gains all day.

Jones is even faster than Goodson. Actually, he may be the fastest player on the team which is saying a lot for a team chock full of world class speed. But the second year back has yet to show that his speed can translate on an NFL field or in practice.

While Goodson and Jones continue their healthy battle to be McFadden's relief valve, neither of them provide the change up back necessary in any offense. That was what Michael Bush did best. When he and McFadden were both healthy, they made a formidable duo that would wear down defenses and then run them over.

Thus we come full circle to the Raiders apparent interest in Cedric Benson. He was a workhorse for the Bengals the way Bush was for the Raiders and hence what seems like a natural fit. But the Raiders entered camp with a roster spot open and still didn't fill it with Benson... or any other running back for that matter. Actually they had three spots heading into the first day and filled two of those spots with undrafted free agents at other positions-wide receiver and linebacker.

When asked if there were any plans to fill the vacant roster spot with Benson or any other of the free agents on the market, Dennis Allen said they are content with what they have. So, what could they be content with?

Outside of McFadden, Goodson, and Jones, there is just one other running back on the roster-Lonyae Miller. Could they see something in this big back that tells them he could be the one to fill the role Bush played during his time in Oakland?

At 6-0, 230 pounds, he has the size to be that bruising short yardage guy. But in two years of trying, he has never set foot on a football field in the regular season. And up until Wednesday's padded practice, there was no reason to think he had much more than size. But if his play on that day was any indication, he could be the back giving the coach the confidence he has in his current running backs.

The former Fresno State Bulldog runs like a one. He has an aggressive style and surprising acceleration. His style reminds me a lot of former Denver Bronco Mike Anderson. He also happens to be the exact same size as Anderson.

Anderson was a sixth round pick and Miller went undrafted so neither were highly thought of by NFL teams. But also like the Broncos during Anderson's time in Denver, the Raiders run the zone blocking scheme. Anderson was able to run for over 1000 yards twice in that scheme.

Miller spent the last few weeks of last season on the Raiders' practice squad and it appears the new coaching staff came aboard and thought they just might have something in him.

The unfortunate thing is the team may not be able to keep all of them. There will be a tough decision to make come the final roster cutdown. If they all can show themselves as invaluable, that tough decision just might be to keep them all and cut a player at another position.

Follow me on Twitter @LeviDamien to keep up with my live tweets all through Raider training camp.

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