The glut at the running back position doesn’t bother Brandon Bolden none. The veteran digs the numbers the Las Vegas Raiders have at the position at this point of the offseason as the team boasts a 90-man roster.
Bolden, not surprisingly, shares the same mentality general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels --- two other former New England Patriots-turned-Raiders – have regarding competition up and down the roster is for the betterment of the entire team. He’s been the eager beaver getting the running backs group to push each other and improve.
“As far as for me, and I’m telling them, I’m here to make you better and you’re here to make me better, and we’re going to push each other to get better,” Bolden said during his post mandatory camp session press conference last week. “And that’s just kind of how we’ve been going about things. We cheer each other on when we’re in there. We coach each other up when we come off the field. It’s beginning to look like something nice.”
Quality depth is certainly something nice for any football team. The previous Raiders regime had it at running back last season with bell cow Josh Jacobs, change-of-pace back Kenyan Drake, and receiving/third-down back Jalen Richard. This year, Jacobs and Drake return and are joined by newcomers in Bolden, Ameer Abdullah, and rookies Zamir White and Brittain Brown. Six halfbacks in total vying for maybe four spots on the 53-man roster.
While Bolden and McDaniels are adamant the Silver & Black won’t replicate the Patriot Way, there are going to be similar things due to the history both head coach and play caller, as well as veteran receiving back, have with New England.
“This is something totally different. Josh (McDaniels) is going to put his own spin on things,” Bolden noted. “Is it a few things that we learned along the way because I was there with him a lot of the time. I mean, sure. But we’re not trying to be New England. We’re not trying to be like New England. We’re the Las Vegas Raiders and that’s what we’re going to play as.”
One of those things could be the running back by committee approach the Patriots have taken at the position. A timeshare of sorts where multiple running backs contribute to the backfield instead of one primary RB1 dominating and hording snaps. New England also approaches the spot with the more the merrier and the cheaper the better approaches, too. Hence why there’s a current packed house at the position. If multiple players are going to contribute, you need the bodies and the snaps. Fortunately for the Raiders group, Bolden says it’s a crew that’s accustomed to sharing.
“It’s very competitive, but as a group of men and group of backs who have been in systems where there is a bunch of backs, I mean, with Josh (Jacobs), Kenyan (Drake), me, Ameer (Abdullah), Z (Zamir White) and Brit (Brittain Brown), there’s been a group of backs with everybody,” Bolden said.
The relevance of that notion isn’t lost as Jacobs did split carries at Alabama, ditto for Drake. Abdullah, White and Brown all had similar collegiate experiences.
Familiarity: An Advantage
Bolden came into the league as an undrafted free agent in 2012 out of Mississippi with New England. He’s spent eight of his nine years in the NFL with the Patriots with a one-year stint with the Miami Dolphins in 2018.
Bolden’s been assimilated and steeped in the McDaniels offense all that time and thus, he’s got a leg-up on other tailbacks when it comes to familiarity. But always the consummate teammate, he’s imparting that know-how to the rest of the Raiders.
“That’s a big advantage. You kind of know what to expect,” Bolden began. “You know how to go about things for practice and you can give guys the heads up, ‘Hey, this is what they’re looking for on this, that and the third.’ So, it helps, and it helps me as a player. It helps my teammates being able to tell them what to expect on a daily basis and things like that. So, I feel as if we continue to do that and continue to work together, we’ll be fine.”
Somewhat of a late bloomer, but always dependable, Bolden set a career-high mark with 41 receptions for 405 yards last season in New England. Two of those catches went for touchdowns and he also carried the rock 44 times for 226 yards and a score. To say Bolden made the most of his 342 snaps (31 percent of New England’s offensive snaps) is an understatement. Not only that, he’s also a mainstay on special teams.
The experience on both offense and contribution on special teams have supremely impressed new running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu.
“Just unbelievable. I told him the other day, I’ve never coached…I’ve coached vets, you know, with this many years…but a guy that participates in every special teams,” Polamalu said of Bolden. I mean, just the unselfishness of him. That’s impressive. Usually when you’re coaching a 9, 10-year vet, he’s pretty much the main guy. And this young man, he comes to work, smart, tough, and he’s unselfish.”
Even at the age of 32, the 5-foot-11, 220-pound veteran still provides a productive target out of the backfield while providing good size, power, and explosion as a traditional ball carrier. He can fill the mantle of receiving/third-down back easily with his experience and dedication to the craft. His reliable hands and willingness in pass protection should serve him well in a potential Raiders timeshare.
He’ll also carve a familiar niche on special teams – the best way to ensure you lock in a roster spot.
As the Raiders progress through offseason camp, the hierarchy at running back will work itself out. Especially when the pads come on and the Raiders get specific on tasks and roles.
“At this point in the year, we just want to make sure we get everything down. We want to get techniques down,” Bolden said. “We want to get fundamentals now. We want to get the playbook down. For a lot of guys, this is the first time hearing the terminology and concepts. And so, as far as for me, I’m getting into the book myself and helping guys along the way.”
“I don’t know,” Polamalu noted when asked how much the Raiders would be throwing to running backs this coming year. “We’re just installing right now. And, you know, this is OTAs, there’s no real contact. So, I can’t tell you. We’re just working and hopefully that we are available for them to make some plays for our quarterback.”
Bolden is likely to have his fair share of targets from Derek Carr if and when the veteran makes the final 53-man roster.