In this year's preseason games, Darren McFadden hasn't seen a lot of series. In both contests he has left the game before the rest of the first team. But when he has been in the game, he has seen the ball a lot. Some of those instances were ones in which you wouldn't normally see the star running back get the ball.
One such play was the goal line play in which Palmer handed the ball off to McFadden on first and second down to try and punch it in from the one yard line. The plan didn't work because McFadden was stuffed both times and the team settled for a field goal.
I asked Greg Knapp why he went with McFadden instead of a goal line type back in that situation.
"I've always had a belief that the number one back can still be the goal line back, doesn't have to necessarily be a bigger, stronger guy." Said Knapp. "My experience tells me so, last couple years it was Arian Foster had a lot of success, Warrick Dunn was one the best inside tackle runners I've ever been around as a coach. It's not just the back that requires the execution of the play. So it didn't bother me to have him in there, we just didn't get it executed across the board.
"He wants to score touchdowns and there's a chance to score touchdowns there. So to me it was just the ebb and flow of the game, I never second guessed who would play in that position, I'm fine with that in training camp as we assess the preseason and evaluate our personnel and our scheme, then we'll make a decision on the regular season to change it up. But right now I have no regrets about doing that."
Knapp is pretty familiar with Darren McFadden. Knapp was the offensive coordinator in 2008 during McFadden's rookie season. Outside of 164 yards in the second game of the season, it wasn't a good rookie campaign for McFadden in Knapp's zone scheme. But Knapp sees a lot of improvement in McFadden's game since then and therefore has much higher expectations of him.
"His ability to see the hole is exciting." Said Knapp. "I've seen the growth in his vision in the run game. Where he identifies ‘ok, here's my chance to do the one cut down hill or one cut bounce move.' That part's been exciting as well as his blitz pickups; He's got a better understanding of seeing the safety rotation and identifying blitzes and that's made him a more well-rounded running back so we can play him on all downs."
McFadden was already seen as the star of this offense. The success of the offense was going to depend a lot on his health already. It is a scary proposition to depend this much on a player who has had the injury history of McFadden.
But while he's healthy, it is clear they will be leaning on McFadden heavily both in the run and pass game. Two seasons ago, McFadden ran for 1157 yards and caught 47 passes for 507 yards and 10 total touchdowns in 13 games. We can expect much bigger numbers this season from him providing he can stay off the injury list.