ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) - The Oakland Raiders running game, which struggled so much the first half of the season when Darren McFadden was healthy, showed signs of life in recent weeks after the star back sprained his right ankle.
With McFadden poised to come back this week, the Raiders are excited to see what he will be able to do now that the offensive line is adjusting to the new zone blocking scheme.
McFadden missed the last four games with the injured ankle, including last week when he practiced but was unable to play in a loss to Cleveland. But running backs coach Kelly Skipper said he is seeing much more burst from McFadden in practice this week and is optimistic he'll be able to play Thursday night for the Raiders (3-9) against the Denver Broncos (9-3).
"We're very excited," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "I can't wait to watch him. We were kind of working through a lot of things when he was healthy in the new scheme and a lot of guys doing a lot of different things that they haven't done in their careers. But now with as many games as we have underneath our belt up front, getting him back will be a big bonus for us."
McFadden averaged just 3.3 yards per carry before spraining his right ankle early in the eighth game against Tampa Bay. McFadden had averaged more than 5 yards per carry over the previous two seasons, but struggled to adjust to the team's new zone blocking system.
He had two 100-yard games before the injury and averaged 4 yards a carry in just one game this season. He also had only three runs that went for at least 20 yards in 139 carries after being one of the league's top big-play backs the past two years.
With converted fullback Marcel Reece and undrafted free agent Jeremy Stewart sharing the load the last four weeks, the Raiders (3-9) averaged 4.2 yards per carry as the blocking up front started to click.
"We've improved so much, and now he gets to step in and be able to see the holes and see the improvement we've done," Skipper said. "He's been watching film, he's been studying a lot, so he's been seeing it, `There it is, OK. Good.' So I think it will help him a lot. He'll be right on point."
While the running game has improved, the Raiders have struggled as a whole without McFadden, losing the past five games to get knocked out of playoff contention with a quarter of the season left.
McFadden has missed 23 games in five NFL seasons with a variety of injuries. He said sitting out is difficult and that he just tried to keep a positive mindset during the team's skid.
He did like seeing the improved run game with bigger holes to run through than he had when he was healthy.
"It's one thing I'm looking forward to, is to get out there and try to get into some of them," he said.
The Raiders also hope to get backup running back Mike Goodson back this week as well. Goodson sprained his right ankle later in the same game that McFadden got hurt in and has been out ever since.
He also practiced last week but did not play against the Browns. He is also expected to be back Thursday.
"Getting Goody back is great, too, because that's another change-up for us," Palmer said. "It's not like Darren is going to go in and get 50 carries. He has to work his way back into this thing, too. Having another guy on third down to come in like Goody and kind of spell everybody gives us some more rest."
NOTES: S Matt Giordano and S Mike Mitchell have passed all their tests after leaving the last game with concussions and practiced on a limited basis. ... CB/PR Phillip Adams, who also got a concussion in the game, has not been cleared. ... DT Richard Seymour (hamstring) also missed practice and could miss his fifth straight game. ... The Raiders signed RB Jamize Olawale from the Dallas Cowboys practice squad to their 53-man roster.
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