ALAMEDA — Marcel Reece is the only returning pro-bowler on the Raiders roster. He’s only touched the ball two times during the team’s first two weeks, and fans are clamoring for more.
Head coach Dennis Allen and offensive coordinator Greg Olson want to find ways to make that happen.
Reece, according to the coaches, has been in every game plan since last year, but with the team falling behind early so often, the fullback gets pushed off to the side. Literally.
Their plan? Let Olson tell it:
“We have to be a little bit aware early in the game of getting him more involved early. We only had the 20 snaps in the first half (against the Texans), so there were things designed to him. The first interception was a play that was a design initially to go to Marcel, but the coverage didn’t dictate it. We had some things there, it’s just that it didn’t end up going there. We’ll continue to find ways to utilize Marcel.”
When the Raiders are behind, they often enter three-wide-receiver sets, with a lone tailback providing a safety net for rookie quarterback Derek Carr. So it makes sense that the team would need to use Reece early, since their run defense is one of the worst in the NFL through two weeks.
The risk, though, is being overly-predictable to the point where opponents bracket Reece, placing one defender in front of him with another lying in wait in the background, ready for an easy interception.
So, what can the Raiders do? There’s no easy answer to that until the defense can contain opposing teams. In talking with Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Reece was mentioned by name. Carr provided some context:
“Obviously, he’s a Pro Bowl player. Obviously, you want the ball in his hands. Ways to get him the ball and schematically and all those things, I’ll let the coaches talk about that kind of stuff. To me, I’m just going through my reads. Whatever the defense is showing, I’m going to do to the best of my ability to get the ball where it’s supposed to go.”
Only time will tell whether Oakland can get Reece mixed in more, but it doesn’t matter to Reece so long as the Raiders win:
“Every offensive player wants to get the ball anytime they can. … Losing hurts more than anything. I always look back and try to see what I can do to help the team and make plays and try and help us win. That’s my goal, that’s why I’m here. I’m here to make plays and help the team win. And we haven’t done that, so I don’t feel that I’ve been successful yet.”
Reece, who is a fan favorite and worked diligently to bring in free agents during the offseason, has a career average of 4.7 yards per carry as a runner, which is a big reason for the hoopla. On paper, he is the Raiders best best carrier, and has been since 2011.
But Reece says he isn’t ready to force feed that to the coaching staff:
“I’ve never put a position on myself and I’m not going to start now. I’m a play maker and that’s what I’m here for. Any way I can make plays, that’s how I’m going to do it. Whether it’s catching the ball, running the ball, blocking in the passing game, blocking in the run game, that’s why I’m here. I’m here to just make plays, not be a primary tailback. We have Darren McFadden for that.”
Reece scoffed at the mention of his career numbers as a running back, and seemed irritated at the notion that he should be the starter at that position.
But if numbers don’t lie, that’s exactly what the Raiders should do.
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis and is still nursing a surgically repaired hand. He could be seen hitting a four-way sled during individual drills and the rest of the running backs worked on cut-blocking. … Justin Tuck, who had been dealing with an illness, also returned on a limited basis. Others who were limited in practice, cornerback Carlos Rogers, cornerback Chimdi Chekwa, offensive lineman Matt McCants and linebacker Nick Roach, who has been dealing with concussion issues since the season began. … Linebacker Sio Moore and wide receiver Rod Streater did not practice. … Asked whether Moore is doubtful for Sunday’s contest against the Patriots, Allen declined a straight answer and referred to Moore’s absence from practice on Wednesday as well. It seems likely that he will miss the week three start. … Defensive lineman Shelby Harris was waived by the Raiders Thursday, and while he had character concerns before being drafted by Oakland in the seventh round of the 2014 draft, Allen said it wasn’t because he did anything wrong. … Allen added that the team likes Harris, making it plausible that he re-joins the team on the practice squad should he clear waivers. The move is presumed to have been made so the Raiders could sign an additional linebacker to the team in case Roach and Moore are unable to play Sunday.