Darren McFadden back to running downhill for Raiders
Back figures to benefit from move away from zone running scheme

  • Raiders' running back Darren McFadden takes a hand off from new Oakland quarterback Matt Flynn during the final day of mini-camp on Thursday. (JEFF CHIU / Associated Press)

ALAMEDA — Lateral movement has given way to full speed ahead when it comes to the Raiders running game.

As the Raiders concluded their three-day mandatory minicamp Thursday, so did an offseason of junking the zone running scheme in favor of the type of gap and power runs favored by former offensive coordinator and head coach Hue Jackson, and most notably, running back Darren McFadden.

“We were turning our shoulder to the sideline and running a lot last year, now we're keeping them square and going downhill,” center Stefen Wisniewski said. “You've got to change your footwork and that takes time. But we have more than enough time from April to September to adapt to some new run schemes.”

Oakland dedicates its first team session each day with a heavy emphasis on inside running, and the difference is striking. Instead of the stretch play runs where backs are asked to be patient before making one decisive cut upfield, McFadden, Rashad Jackson and Marcel Reece are taking handoffs as if coming out of starting blocks.

If this seems like a familiar storyline, it's because it happened in 2010 as well.

When Lane Kiffin was hired as the Raiders coach in 2008, he brought in zone blocking devotee Tom Cable to install the system. The Raiders running game improved, with Justin Fargas gaining 1,902 yards over 28 games in 2007 and 2008.

The system wasn't at all compatible with McFadden, who struggled with injuries but also with the hesitation aspect of the scheme, looking nothing like the two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up he was at Arkansas.

Cable eventually became the head coach and play caller, but things didn't change until owner Al Davis hired Jackson to take over the offense. Jackson immediately changed up the blocking scheme to feature plays McFadden likes, and the result was a leap from 3.4 yards per carry in 2009 to 5.3 yards per carry in 20 games in 2010-11.

Left tackle Jared Veldheer said the switch is less dramatic in terms of learning because many of the linemen have done it before.

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