Darren McFadden was back in his element, accelerating around left end one moment and exploding into the secondary with a swing pass the next.
The football field is where McFadden is at his happiest, and his enthusiasm and positive energy were in evidence Tuesday as the Raiders opened their second day of organized team activities to the media.
"It felt good, being able to be out there on the field, with my teammates, running plays and feeling like myself," McFadden said.
Yes, but for how long?
The only thing more undeniable than McFadden's considerable talent is his proneness for injury. He has yet to play more than 13 games in an NFL season, and McFadden's exit in the seventh game last season with a severe mid-foot sprain robbed the Raiders of a back who appeared to be headed to the biggest rushing season in franchise history.
"I was hoping to get to 1,800 rushing yards, but it didn't work out that way," McFadden said. "I will keep pushing for it this year and hopefully get to those goals."
The end came early in the game last season when McFadden caught a check-down pass from Kyle Boller, was tackled from behind and fell awkwardly after a 3-yard gain.
Just as McFadden was being put on a pedestal with the best backs in the NFL, his season was over with 614 yards rushing and a gaudy average of 5.4 yards per carry.
"When I first did it, it was like dull pain," McFadden said. "The next day, I pretty much couldn't
It wasn't until April that McFadden was totally free of pain from the "Lisfranc" sprain. He regards it as a fluke and declines to connect the dots to other injuries (turf toes, knee surgery, hamstring, shoulder) that have robbed him of game time and reduced his effectiveness when well enough to take the field.
"Everybody has their own opinion," McFadden said. "I'm just out there playing, going hard. If I get hurt, so be it. I could see it if I was just going down the street, falling over, getting hurt. It's all behind me. If I get hurt going hard, I can't do anything about it."
Raiders coach Dennis Allen, who calls McFadden his "home run hitter," will be careful not to overwork his lead back. McFadden split work fairly evenly Tuesday with second-year back Taiwan Jones and trade acquisition Mike Goodson.
"We want him to be able to stay healthy, and we want to do everything we can to keep him that way," Allen said.
McFadden finds himself back in an offense that he struggled with during his first two seasons. In 2007 and 2008, McFadden gained 856 yards in 217 carries, averaged 3.9 yards per attempt and scored five touchdowns.
When Hue Jackson arrived as offensive coordinator in 2009, he immediately went to McFadden and asked him about his favorite running plays. The zone scheme asks a runner for initial patience before making one cut upfield. McFadden's preference was to hit the hole immediately.
With some gap and power runs put into the offense, McFadden gained 1,771 yards in 336 carries, averaged 5.3 yards per carry and scored 11 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and running backs coach Kelly Skipper are of the opinion a healthy McFadden can flourish in the zone scheme. In the second game of his career, McFadden gained 164 yards in 21 carries against Kansas City, the game in which he sustained his first turf toe.
"Darren can run any scheme you want," Skipper said. "He does a good job of pressing the hole, reading his keys and accelerating through the hole. This scheme has been very successful."
More so than the scheme, McFadden thinks the maturation process of being a professional coupled with his injuries robbed him of some confidence for the first two seasons.
"I feel like I got my feet wet in the NFL, now I have my confidence, so it's just going out there and playing with confidence," McFadden said. "I'm going to go out there and run the ball."