“No, Josh is a great coach. I’m sure he feels like it’s a great opportunity; that’s why he took it. Other than against us, I hope he does well. I’m sure he will do well. He’s an outstanding coach. Some of the people that are with him are very good, too. It all worked out well. It’s an opportunity we couldn’t provide.” — New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, when asked if he had any issues with new Las Vegas Raiders coach Josh McDaniels pilfering any of his coaches and players.
HENDERSON, Nev. — On the surface, it looks like Josh McDaniels simply pillaged the Patriots’ front office and coaching staff, bringing with him to Las Vegas a general manager (Dave Ziegler), offensive coordinator (Mick Lombardi), offensive line coach (Carmen Bricillo) and quarterbacks coach (Bo Hardegree).
But, as expected, McDaniels also brought in a gaggle of players he knew from New England.
And the effect — in real life and the fantasy sports realm — will be felt mostly in the Raiders’ running back room.
Because while Las Vegas returns Josh Jacobs, who rushed for a career-low 872 yards in 2021 after authoring a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons in his first two years, and Kenyan Drake, who is returning from a broken right ankle, the Raiders brought in a pair of ex-Patriots in Brandon Bolden and fullback Jakob Johnson in addition to former Carolina Panthers running back Ameer Abdullah.
“That’s a position that’s hard to stay healthy, it just is,” McDaniels said at the recent NFL owners meetings. “They touch the ball more than everybody but the quarterback, and they get hit more than anybody.”
McDaniels referenced two backs who were “rehabbing” at the moment.
“To have depth in that room is important because if you don’t have quality depth in the running back room today in the NFL, a lot of times you’re going to run into some issues and some injuries, you know, and then you get caught in trying to make a quick transaction during the middle of the season,” McDaniels said. “So we’ve always tried to have as much depth in that room as we can.
“It’s a position that it’s really critical to have good players, but it’s also really good to have good depth that you can plug in there and they can serve a lot of roles.”
Here, in Week 1 of Phase 1 of the Raiders’ offseason training program, it’s safe to pencil in Jacobs as the starting running back, even if he is new to McDaniels’ system.
Even quarterback Derek Carr, in his news conference announcing his contract extension, said the benefit from the offense would be felt most by the lead back.
“Right now, we’ve only had two days of [classroom] work,” Carr said, “but the happiest person in the building should be Josh Jacobs. I know that.”
The versatile Drake, meanwhile, was rounding into form when he went down with 63 carries and 30 catches for a combined 545 yards and three touchdowns. He remains a wild card as he rehabs and learns the offense.
Trey Ragas returns after spending most of last season on the practice squad (he did have one regular-season carry, for 9 yards, and two catches for 6 yards).
Abdullah, a seven-year veteran, caught a combined 38 passes for 289 yards and a TD and rushed 51 times for 166 yards for the Panthers and Minnesota Vikings last season.
It was Bolden, though, who made his name as a pass-catching back in New England, catching 41 passes for 405 yards and two touchdowns last season, while rushing for 226 yards and a score on 44 carries.
Johnson? He’s a seldom-used fullback in McDaniels’ system, who, nonetheless, knows the system well.
“Look, the opportunities that we had to add a few players that you have some familiarity with, that never hurts,” McDaniels said.
Same thing with the coaching staff. Because as McDaniels said, the last time he was hired as a head coach, by the Denver Broncos in 2009, he did not know nearly enough people to bring with him.
“I had only been in the league for eight years, so I didn’t have as much experience and as many connections as I do at this point,” he said. “It’s a blessing that we have an opportunity to work together, some of us that have had those relationships. You just hit the ground running a little quicker when you have the opportunity to do that, and those guys have done a great job. I’m really pleased with our staff, the way they’re working, their mindset, their attitude, their work ethic has been tremendous so far this spring.
“I give them a lot of credit for the time they’re spending at the facility. It’s tireless. Most of our families aren’t out there yet. We go from the end of one season and it’s work all day and all night now. Really enjoy being around this group of guys.”