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Raiders running back competition promises to be interesting battle to watch

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Running back for the Oakland Raiders is one of the most interesting position groups on the team. So much uncertainty, so much potential. Usually when the dreaded "potential" word and the Raiders are together bad things happen, but fixing that pattern is part of the culture shift the new Jack Del Rio era is trying to implement.

A great place for the shift to take place is with Latavius Murray building on the breakout way that he ended last season. The fan favorite running back was an afterthought to the coaching staff for much of the year but was able to impress with 548 yards from scrimmage in his last 6 games of the season with 3 TD's. It wasn't how many stats he had that impressed so much, it was the electrifying way that he combined his strength and speed to accumulate them that got Raider Nation excited.

The problem was the limited amount of time the Raiders got to see Latavius Murray on the field. They only played him extensively at the end of last season and in those 7 games he missed one from injury. He suffered a concussion against Kansas City in the middle of a career performance where he had 110 yards rushing and 2 TD's in just 4 carries and had to miss the next game.

There are not necessarily injury concerns with Latavius Murray and he might be a true starting back, but unfortunately he wasn't able to play enough yet to prove himself and claim the starting job outright. He could still claim the job, and most Raiders fans (myself included) believe he will, but he'll have to earn it.

Serious competition was added this off-season for the starting job after Oakland brought Roy Helu Jr. and Trent Richardson in as free agents. Both players have reasons to believe they have a chance to unseat Latavius for the top spot on the depth chart. The competition is on folks, it should be a fun one to watch.

Trent Richardson is a former high draft pick of the Cleveland Browns but he never lived up to expectations there. He had a solid rookie year but fizzled after that and was traded to the Indianapolis Colts. There he also failed to meet the high expectations again after the Colts gave up their 1st round draft pick this year to get him.

It hasn't been sunshine and lollipops for Trent Richardson in the NFL, but that hasn't dampened his confidence. He is eager to prove he is still the back that put up 1,317 yards from scrimmage and 12 TD's as a rookie in 2012. He also is not playing coy about his expectations with already stating he expects to start this season. If he regains his rookie form he could be right.

Then the wildcard comes in with Roy Helu Jr. This back can flat out run, and he is even better at running out in the flats. He made a name for himself as a utility back for Washington. He is a sneaky, quick running back that has performed well whenever his number has been called and is coming off a season where he averaged 5.4 yards per rush and 11.4 yards per reception. Helu absolutely is a dark horse candidate that could earn the starting job as well.

What that means is the Raiders have a stable of running backs that all want to prove their worth and are all full of potential. They are being put in a competition that gives them their chance to claim what they all believe is rightfully theirs, a starting job in the NFL. It makes for an extremely interesting group of players to keep our eyes on this off-season.

Jack Del Rio is an experienced coach who is coming in trying to change the environment in Oakland. He is pushing optimism, opportunity and the chance to be part of a special turnaround of a historic franchise. If he can work some magic with this group of running backs it will go a long way to bringing glory back to the Oakland Raiders.

If he is going to win he will need at least one of these backs to meet their potential, and that requires breaking the recent pattern of Raiders players failing to meet their ceilings. Raiders 2nd year QB Derek Carr is also loaded with potential that Del Rio is going to have to figure out how to tap into, but he needs the running back group to lead the way and take pressure off the young QB. Let's hope Jack Del Rio is up to the challenge, and that someone in this group of running backs is able to meet their potential instead of just teasing it.