The Raiders officially announced they had signed free agent running back Rashad Jennings Thursday morning. The signing was a necessary one as the Raiders were in much need of depth at running back behind starter Darren McFadden.
Being a reserve running back is nothing new to Jennings. He played behind All Pro Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville the past few years.
In his first two season, Jennings was considered one of the top reserve backs in the league. He was averaging over five yards a carry in relief of MJD in 2009-10. When asked how he would describe himself as a running back, he was not lacking in confidence.
"I like to describe myself as a complete back. A back that can protect the quarterback, pick up an offense, a running back that can catch out of the backfield, running that can get you first downs, a running back that can get you the long plays - an every down back. As long as I've been playing the game, I've been practicing to become a complete back and that's what I hold myself to."
This level of self-confidence might seem odd in the ‘what have you done for me lately?' department. After his first two seasons in which he showed immense potential, his career took a turn for the worse He went down with a knee injury prior to the 2011 season that placed him on injured reserve for the entire season. He would re-aggravate that same knee injury late in the 2012 season as well.
"Yeah, we had a little setback but it was nothing significant to miss a heavy dose of game time or anything. I'm 100% healthy since I came out of the season completely healthy and I've been healthy the whole off-season, so again all injuries are in the past, that's a done deal. That's washed away... I'm really looking forward. (Not) What happened, what should've happened, what could've happened. We're looking at what we can control."
Even before the injury late in 2012 he was not himself. He stepped in for Maurice Jones-Drew who went down with an injury early in the Jaguars' week six game against the Raiders. Jennings then averaged just 2.1 yards per carry against the Raiders and a mere 2.8 yards per carry over six starts.
Jennings blames himself firsts and foremost. However, a we all know, the Jaguars had one of the worst overall offenses in the league last season.
"I always take ownership. If things go well, it's the offensive linemen, if things go bad, it's because I didn't do a good job. That's my mentality, that's how I've always been since peewee football and it's not gonna change now. But we as an offense were not clicking on synch as we wish we could've, we should've, but that's all in the past. We can't go backwards at all. I'm excited to be a Raider and I'm excited where we're gonna do."
There is little doubt he is eager to put the past couple seasons behind him. He was so excited to join the Raiders, he tweeted when he had his visit, then tweeted that it looked like he was gonna have a new home in Oakland, and later announced it was official the moment he put pen to paper.
The Raiders weren't the only team to show interest in Jennings' services.
"I had a few preliminary conversations with Green Bay and Denver and conversations with the Raiders and they called me out for the visit for the workout and in coming over to the West Coast, we got friends and family over there but I looked overall the organization, where they're headed, where they wanna go and everything that they have lined up and I think that it would be a good fit for me to be a part of the organization and help build this team."
As much as he is looking forward to the future of his new team, he also was asked what ‘popped in his head' when he thought about the Raiders as an organization.
"Tradition pops into my head. Excellent, great fan base pops into my head. Eager and hungry team pops into my head. I think about blue-collar, dirt, fighting, dirty yards. I think about backyard football when I think about the Raiders."
The under-the-radar, hard-working, blue collar guys, with something to prove has been the theme of the off-season for the Raiders. Jennings says he embodies that as well.
"Yeah, I'm always hard working. I don't pay attention where I've ever been on anybody's radar from High School to college to the pros because it's irrelevant to the work that you gotta put in. I'm a firm believer in when an opportunity presents itself, it's too late to prepare for it so I'm the type of person that takes this game very serious, I stay in shape year round and I am a blue-collar, hard-nosed, downhill type of guy so I'm looking forward to being in that environment where it's already expected."
There is one more common characteristic in Reggie McKenzie's type of players - their strong faith. Jennings offered one last unprompted comment before we ended the call.
"It's because of my faith in Jesus Christ that I'm able to do this so I always let anybody know that's writing, that's where my faith is and I'm thankful for it."
He certainly sounds like the kind of "complete back" this team was looking for.