After Hunter Renfrow broke his rib and punctured his lung taking a vicious hit from Blessaun Austin during a 34-3 blowout loss against the Jets, many assumed his season was over.
He was just starting to find his form, creating a chemistry with Derek Carr that seemed to grow each week, so his injury seemed to come at the worst time. But Renfrow will be back this Sunday against the Chargers, and he’s elated about it.
“It’s been good just to run routes and throw. And it makes you appreciate the times that you’re able to,” he said.
As a rookie fifth round pick, Renfrow has assimilated into Jon Gruden’s offense much quicker than expected and has taken over the slot receiver role. He’s notched 36 catches for 396 yards and a pair of touchdowns while becoming Carr’s go-to target on third down.
He’s the only Raider receiver on the roster suited to man the slot position at the moment, which made his absence all the worse.
Keelan Doss filled in for Renfrow at the flanker position, but Doss doesn’t possess the route savvy or short-area quickness necessary to break open on short and intermediate routes. Plus, he doesn’t have the established connection with Carr that Renfrow has.
“I think (Carr and I) were just starting to his a stride a little bit,” he said. “The things we did during those games don’t just go away... I think, hopefully, we’re building something for a while.”
It is frustrating to be sidelined by injury as soon as you’re hitting stride, but it’s even tougher watching your team lose week after week from the bench. It seems that Renfrow watched from the sideline with a keen eye, taking mental notes to continue to grow despite not being at practice.
“I think, kind of sitting back and watching, there’s things you can work on and improve on,” he said. “But just that, like you said, ‘that itch,’ to be back. It makes you appreciate.
“So out there at practice today, it wasn’t, ‘Oh, tough practice Thursday.’ It was, ‘I can’t wait to run that route.’”
Renfrow is back just in time to challenge Desmond King, one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the league. Renfrow had 4 catches for 42 yards in the Raiders 26-24 win over the Chargers earlier this season, and if he can even bring some modest production to the table, it will boost a fledgling offense that has relied almost solely on tight end Darren Waller lately.
While Renfrow is still likely battling his rib injury, he’s so spritely that you would never be able to tell. Rib injuries make laughing difficult, coughing difficult, and even breathing becomes a chore at times. But Renfrow is just happy to be able to play.
He doesn’t care about the pain he’s playing through. And his unwavering love of football and appreciation for the game shows through on the field.