Probably the biggest benefactor of Josh Jacobs’ absence from the Las Vegas Raiders training camp has been second-year running back Zamir White.
A year after getting limited playing time behind the rushing champ, White has been running with the first team and getting the lion’s share of reps within the position group during the Raiders’ practices, and the latter is something he’s making sure to get the most out of.
“Just head down grinding, that’s about it,” White said of the extra opportunities. “I’ve just been focused on my part and just being here ready to work every single morning. That’s about it for me, grinding it out.”
Of course, the former Georgia Bulldog’s ability as a rusher are most-important and, according to The Athletic’s Tashan Reed, he’s shown growth in that area of his game. However, if he’s going to become the Raiders’ true lead back in the future, he needs to improve in the passing game, especially with Josh McDaniels calling the plays.
With the New England Patriots, McDaniels became known for using running backs as receivers, and that held true last season as Jacobs logged a career-high 400 receiving yards with 53 receptions on 61 targets. In addition to that, Jacobs was also asked to pass block 85 times, which was the fourth-most at his position, per Pro Football Focus.
The aerial attack is often overlooked when discussing the difference between the two backs, but that could have a significant impact on how the Raiders’ offense operates this season compared to last.
White only saw eight targets in four preseason games last year and had none in the regular season. He was rarely used in pass protection as well with just six reps in that department during the 21 combined weeks of pre- and regular-season play. Both of those figures also fall in line with how he was used in college as well.
Improving in both of those areas of his game has been something he’s emphasized during the early stages of his NFL career and that has continued during training camp.
“I’m still working on it,” White replied when asked about his skills as a receiver and pass-protector. “I’m not perfect, but nobody’s perfect so, yeah man just keep on working at it every single day. That’s what I do. When I’m done practicing, I catch balls and run routes. Every day I try to get better at it.”
The second-year pro has also leaned on the wisdom of his elder teammates; Brandon Bolden and Ameer Abdullah. Those two combine for 18 years of NFL experience and have carved out careers as third-down backs, so picking their brains is a wise move for a young back looking to make strides in the passing game.
“Just ask questions. There’s no question, no dumb questions, no little questions. I just talk to them and just ask them,” White told reporters on how he’s been leaning on Bolden and Abduallah. “Because Ameer and B [Bolden] are going to help you regardless but that’s just them. They’re here to help you. So yeah, just ask them and they’ll say, ‘Yeah bro, do this and do that. With this front and this read, you do this.’ We just break it down.”
From the sounds of it, the young back has made a strong impression on his veteran teammates with his willingness to learn.
“As players, we can always learn from one another, or learn from the bad every single day. And the good thing about Zamir is he’s so willing to listen,” Abdullah told reporters. “He’s a sponge, he’s a guy who understands that he has a good opportunity right now. For him to listen to guys like me and Brandon who have done it for a number of teams for a number of years, it’s always a good feeling because we grow better that way. ...He takes the coaching really well. I think he comes from a very humble upbringing, so I think that that’s what’s really molded him to be the adaptable player that he is.”
“It’s keeping me sharp at the same time because it might be some things he comes with a question with that I, by nature, I don’t even think about, sometimes it’s just reaction,” Bolden replied when asked about coaching up White. “And it kind of keeps me sharp on top of everything as well. So, I appreciate Z [White], Brit [Brittian Brown], Sincere [McCormick], Ameer, everybody, because the questions are not only for them, they also for me, just to make sure I stay on top of everything as well.”
White’s running mates aren’t the only ones who have noticed his improvement as McDaniels also praised the 2022 fourth-round pick for his growth in camp so far.
“You see many, many different looks and the defense tries to challenge you in a bunch of different ways, and to be able to follow your rules and do your job repeatedly the right way isn’t always easy right away when you come from college,” McDaniels explained on the development of young running backs in the passing game.
“So, I see growth for sure from [White]. Brittain, same thing. They both have improved in the passing game in both areas; catching the ball, creating some plays for themselves after they catch it, and then being able to do their job the right way and know who they have in protection and get a body on them.
“So, I’m pleased with what we’re seeing, and again, that’ll be challenged next week and the next few weeks here with some joint practices, which will be good. But both guys are working extremely hard. Zamir certainly has made progress.”
Raider Nation will get their first opportunity to see just how much progress White has made during this Sunday’s preseason game as the team hosts one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl in the San Francisco 49ers.