ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Owner Al Davis has spent his career collecting as much speed as possible for the Oakland Raiders.
The infatuation has gotten to the point that as soon as a player clocks in at under 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, jokes immediately start that the Raiders will draft him no matter what he’s done on the football field.
Rarely has Davis had a collection of burners like this year’s group. The Raiders feature the fastest players at the last three combines and five other players clocked at 4.36 seconds or better in the 40 at the combine or their pro days.
“I do feel a little slow,” said receiver Chaz Schilens, who was clocked at 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his pro day three years ago but says he’s “embarrassed” after watching some of his teammates run. “I’m definitely not in the top, but it’s good. It’s good to have those guys out there though.”
From Darren McFadden (4.33) and Taiwan Jones (4.33) at running back to Jacoby Ford (4.28) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (4.30) at receiver to defensive backs Stanford Routt (4.27), DeMarcus Van Dyke (4.28) and Tyvon Branch (4.31) and even suspended quarterback Terrelle Pryor (4.36), the Raiders have enough speed to make some of the top track teams jealous.
“We talk about it all the time. We talk about 4 by 100 teams and who would be on it,” Heyward-Bey said. “We’ve got two teams.”
But being able to win a track meet is different than winning a football game and the question remains whether Oakland can translate that speed into enough big plays to send them back to the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
The first test for the Raiders comes Monday night in the season opener in Denver against the AFC West rival Broncos.
“We’re pretty fast. But like I said, we’ve got to execute it,” defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said. “It doesn’t mean nothing. It’s like a nice piece of chicken that’s sitting on the plate. If you don’t even touch it, you won’t be able to enjoy it. We’ve got to execute the game plan and whatever coach calls, the line’s got to line up there and block, and the quarterback has got to put it there on time and the receiver’s got to catch it.”
The Raiders did a good job turning that speed into production a year ago as they scored 410 points — sixth most in the NFL.
They led the league with 27 runs that went for at least 20 yards, were tied for second with eight pass plays for at least 50 yards and were tied for the most combined punt and kick returns for scores with three.
“That just shows how versatile this offense can be,” Ford said. “We can take anybody and just be a home run hit and just a chip away team. We’re very capable of hitting the big play, the long run, long catch, anything. We’re just a big play offense just waiting to explode.”
After drafting the fastest player at the combine in Van Dyke, as well as Jones, who ran an impressive 40 time at his pro day a few months after breaking his foot, the talk at Raiders camp all summer has been about who is the fastest player on the team.
McFadden, Heyward-Bey and Jones all say they are with Ford being more diplomatic and saying it’s a tie. Ford said he would race if ESPN would broadcast it, but the players know that won’t happen because of a risk of injury.
That leaves the verdict to independent observers on the team and it’s the newcomer Jones who gets the vote from safety Michael Huff.
“He’s probably the fastest man I’ve ever seen,” Huff said. “The special things he’s done in practice, catching sweeps and catching screens, and I don’t know, he hits a gear. Doesn’t look like he’s running that fast, though, and you try and run him down and he just glides. I think right now, I think he’d get it.”
While there may be debate about the fastest of the group there is little question who is most important to the Raiders. After two lackluster years to start his career, McFadden burst through last season with 1,664 yards from scrimmage and a team-high 10 touchdowns.
He was at his best against the Broncos, running for 284 yards, adding 70 yards in receptions and scoring four touchdowns in two victories.
“He’s a very explosive player,” said Denver first-year coach John Fox. “Whether you hand it to him or throw it to him, he’s got as good a burst of acceleration as any top-notch back.”
Led by McFadden, the Raiders dominated the Broncos last year, outscoring then 98-37 and topping 500 yards in total offense in two victories over their rivals.
While Denver won’t be able to outrun Oakland, the key will be sticking to assignments on defense in order to neutralize that advantage.
“Everybody knows that the Raiders are built on speed, size and speed,” linebacker Joe Mays said. “That’s just the Raiders. So, they’re going to have the fastest guys on the field. But when it comes to (the Broncos) being on the field, it’s all about discipline. I think that’s one thing that we have. Now it’s just time for us to go out there and show it.”
By Josh Dubow, AP Sports Writer
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)