NAPA -- Maurice Jones-Drew might be just what Darren McFadden needs to jump-start his career.

With the exhibition opener coming up Friday in Minnesota, Jones-Drew looks more like the running back who rushed for 4,321 yards and 28 touchdowns from 2009-2011 than the guy who missed 11 games with a Lisfranc (midfoot) injury in 2012 and then simply looked used up and beat up a year ago.

He is listed as the first-team running back, but McFadden got plenty of work with the first team Tuesday as well. Raiders coach Dennis Allen notes that there are "very few bell cow runners" in the NFL and that there are touches for both.

Jones-Drew's performance has been a revelation to offensive coordinator Greg Olson, who was the first-year quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach in Jacksonville in 2012.

Olson had never even met Jones-Drew, whose arrival was delayed by a contract holdout. He played in five games before the foot injury ended his season, and bore no resemblance to the Jones-Drew Olson has seen on the field during Raiders training camp.

"He was running the ball well, but he was heavy and a little lethargic looking," Olson said. "He looks like a different player."

Although he played 15 games last season, Jones-Drew had a laundry list of injuries, averaged 3.4 yards per carry, and went to Mike Blasquez, his former strength coach at De La Salle High, for help.

Jones-Drew said he lost 15 pounds in the first two weeks and worked on repairing damage to his shoulders, knees and hamstrings.


Advertisement

"It got to where I could get out of bed and feel like I could go out and run and not warm up for a long time," Jones-Drew said. "That's how I gauge myself."

At 5-foot-7, Jones is a short back but not a small one at 210 pounds, creating a mismatch where he actually has the advantage.

"He's got such a low center of gravity," Olson said. "He's extremely difficult to tackle because of his height and his power. He's got ridiculous power in those legs."

McFadden, who averaged 3.3 yards per carry over the past two seasons, said he was fine with Jones-Drew coming aboard 13 days after he had agreed to a one-year contract.

"We had met a couple of times, and I never really knew him personally, but I admired his game," McFadden said. "I remember watching film probably three, four years ago and seeing him just push Shawne Merriman on his back and I was like, 'damn, this guy is a hell of a player.' "

In a best-case scenario, Jones-Drew can soften the middle with McFadden available on the perimeter and in the passing game.

McFadden sees the opportunity to contribute with skills which may have been underutilized while he was being worked as a scrimmage runner.

"I feel like I have great hands, whether it's out of the backfield or split wide," McFadden said. "I think the coaches are going to exploit that this year, put us in position to make plays. Put me in space with the ball in my hands and the sky's the limit."

  • Tight end David Ausberry will have knee surgery and, according to Allen, "he may be out for a while." Ausberry missed all of last season with a shoulder injury that required surgery and was at the top of the depth chart before missing his first practice Sunday because of the knee injury.

  • The defense got the better of the offense Tuesday. On the first, second and third teams, the Raiders defense got after the quarterback and broke up passes. Jonathan Dowling intercepted a Derek Carr pass intended for James Jones and brought it the length of the field for a touchdown.

    "Sometimes you get that in training camp," Allen said. "Sometimes one side of the ball gets the better of the other side. But offensively we've got to execute better than we did."

  • Linebacker Sio Moore returned to practice after missing two sessions with a rib injury. He rejoined the first team ahead of Miles Burris, but Allen wasn't sure if Moore would play Friday against the Vikings.

    For more on the Raiders, visit the Inside the Oakland Raiders blog at ibabuzz.com/oaklandraiders.

    Friday's exhibition opener
    Raiders at Minnesota, 5 p.m. KTVU