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Keith Smith finds his purpose with Raiders in Jon Gruden’s scheme

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The fullback is getting close to extinction in the NFL but Jon Gruden’s use for one is good for Keith Smith’s employment.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Oakland Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With Jon Gruden coaching the Oakland Raiders again, everyone expects quarterback Derek Carr to light up the skies. He will, but some slept on the fact that Gruden has always loved a physical running game. He reminded people right away with his comments about ‘throwing the game back to ‘98’.

The first question he asked was, “Do we have a fullback?”

At the time, the Raiders had Jamize Olawale, a pass-catching fullback, a good fit for his favorite play. Yes, I’m talking about the famous Spider 2 Y Banana, where the fullback is the primary receiver. But catching passes isn’t all he’s looking for in his fullbacks. He wants guys that can pass-protect and take it to opposing linebackers as the lead blocker in the running game.

Linebacker convert Keith Smith, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys, is such a guy. So Gruden signed him in free agency and traded the less physical Olawale.

The battering-ram fullback is a dying breed these days. So Smith is extremely excited to play for a team that will fully utilize his skill-set.

“I almost say I spoke this into existence because hearing all the hype of him coming back and how they talked about fullbacks and me being on my contract year, I didn’t know how it would play out because I was restricted and whatnot.” Smith said at OTAs Tuesday. “It was kind of a dream come true because now he’s really a guy who values that position. For me to be in the position to be that guy for him, it gives me that much more motivation to be my best.

“The whole hype and aura behind Gruden’s plans of going back to this smashmouth run-game is exciting because that means I’m going to be hitting more people and getting more play time. I think that’s going to be big for us: establishing the run and making some noise with the pads.”

Gruden is known as a disciple of West Coast Offense but that is in terminology and verbiage only. Running the ball and throwing it deep off playaction are the main staples of his attack. He loves smash-mouth football and having the biggest offensive line in football and Smith to go with Marshawn Lynch running the ball gives him exactly what he wants.

So look for the Raiders to get back to being a top 10 in rushing team, which will do a lot for the offense as a whole. Back in 2016 the Raiders were No. 6 in rushing and No. 6 overall before falling to No. 25 in rushing and No. 17 overall in 2017. Much of that was because the Raiders seldom had a fullback on the field and opposing linebackers attacked downhill.

Having Smith in the mix will solve that.