Running back Darren McFadden returned to practice to begin what could be the final countdown to a mostly disappointing career with the Raiders.
The fourth overall pick in 2008, McFadden has missed six games this season with hamstring and ankle injuries, continuing a frustrating pattern that has plagued him throughout his six years in the NFL.
“It feels great being able to be back out there,” McFadden said Wednesday. “It’s one of those things, two games left, I want to just go out here and finish strong, go out here and fight with my teammates.”
McFadden has never played a full 16-game schedule and has sat out 19 of Oakland’s past 39 games. In total, McFadden has missed nearly two complete seasons (29 games) due to injuries ranging from turf toe to Lisfranc.
That, along with another disappointing season this year, has set up an interesting offseason for the former Arkansas star, who is scheduled to become a free agent.
He had hoped to parlay a big season this year into an equally large payday next year but is on pace to finish with the second-fewest rushing yards of his career.
Yet the player who was drafted to be a centerpiece of Oakland’s offense insists he has given no thought to next season or his impending status as a free agent.
“I’m just going out there playing football, and at the end of the year whatever happens happens,” McFadden said. “The only thing I can control is just going out there and playing football. It’s a lot easier said than done, but at the same time if you get caught up in worrying about that you won’t be able to focus on what you have to, the task at hand.
“I would love to be a Raider next year but I can only focus on the things that I can control. I have to let everybody else handle that.”
The Raiders have declined to discuss the McFadden issue publicly but it seems almost certain that general manager Reggie McKenzie will allow the 26-year-old to hit the open market.
Oakland has had some of its best games running the ball this season while McFadden has been out. Rashad Jennings has topped 100 yards twice, and fullback Marcel Reece also went over the century mark two weeks ago against the New York Jets after Jennings was sidelined with a concussion.
Rashad Jennings will remain the starter for Sunday’s game in San Diego while McFadden — who was limited — and Marcel Reece will split time as the backups.
“That’s the direction that we’re looking at right now so we’ll see how [McFadden] practices this week,” Oakland coach Dennis Allen said. “Darren would go back into the rotation, but Rashad Jennings would be our starting tailback and both those other guys would work in there.”
McFadden has remained active in the Oakland community while hurt, and he acknowledges the reactions have been both positive and negative.
“I guess it’s kind of mixed emotions, half and half,” McFadden said. “I’m going to be the same person regardless. I’m going to go out there and do what I’m supposed to do in the community, do what I’m supposed to do on the field. I can’t worry about what’s happened in the past. I can only deal with what’s in the future.”
That’s a far cry from the tone in town when McFadden arrived in Northern California as late owner Al Davis’ prized pick in the 2008 draft.
A two-time runner-up in the Heisman Trophy voting, McFadden showed glimpses of being a top-tier running back during his first two seasons when he was slowed by turf toe injuries and knee injuries.
He had a breakout season in 2010 when he rushed for a career-high 1,157 yards and seven touchdowns. Since then, it’s been steadily downhill for McFadden, who is averaging 3.4 yards a carry over his past 20 games.
“I feel that way but at the same time there’s nothing I can do about that,” he said. “That time is gone. I can only move forward and deal with the things I have in front of me.”