The Las Vegas Raiders sat their key offensive pass catchers in Thursday’s 27-11 Hall of Fame Game win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, but their top running backs all saw action in the first preseason game.
Most top backs don’t participate much in preseason action to avoid injury, but Josh Jacobs started and played multiple series, rushing five times for 30 yards (6.0 YPC) and adding two catches for 14 yards.
While Jacobs played multiple series in the game surprised many, Raiders coach Josh McDaniels said he wanted his running backs to get their feet wet.
“I always think it’s good for backs to carry the ball in the preseason,” McDaniels said after Thursday’s game. “There’s a lot of things that happen when you’re getting tackled and hit that you can’t simulate in practice. I think all our guys had the ball tonight. I think all our guys either caught it or were handed the ball and had to get tackled. We can’t really simulate that or rep that in practice.”
It’s not unheard of for key backs to see action off the bat — the Steelers’ Najee Harris played 18 snaps in last year’s HOF Game — but Jacobs’ situation raised eyebrows. The Raiders declined the back’s fifth-year option, and he’s battling backfield losses for snaps in McDaniels’ offense.
Veterans Kenyan Drake and Ameer Abdullah also saw action Thursday. With the Raiders’ offensive line providing some big holes against a Jags defense sitting most of its top frontline players, Vegas looked good on the ground, totaling 159 yards and three TDs on 33 attempts.
Fourth-round rookie Zamir White shined in the preseason opener, showing that he has the power to break tackles and could be in line for a sizeable role out of the gate. White dashed for 52 yards on 11 carries, including a long of 14 yards.
“He did that in Georgia. He ran hard with the ball in his hands and is tough to tackle,” McDaniels said of White, via the team’s official website. “He finishes runs the right way, brings a physical element to the game and the team. It was a good opportunity for him to get in there and do that at our level and play in the kicking game some. Like I said, there’s going to be some things that we have to tweak and clean up, but I thought for him to get out there and establish — that’s the style of runner he was at Georgia, and then to see him do it here was good.”
White entered training camp with a chance to siphon snaps. He’s a powerful back who fits the McDaniels mold, but the biggest question with the rookie is how he’d handle the passing game. White caught three of four targets for 23 yards Thursday night.
In New England, McDaniels used a running back committee, and it looks like he’ll deploy a similar rotation his first year in the desert. How the RB reps will shake out is something we’ll continue to track as the preseason progresses and we press towards the meaningful games.