ALAMEDA, Calif. — The battle to become the Raiders’ No. 4 running back has taken a turn.
Or so it would seem.
Undrafted rookie Chris Warren entered training camp as a dark horse but continues to produce. He leads the league with 193 rushing yards on 31 preseason carries, 60 more yards than the next closest player. His primary competition for the job, DeAndre Washington, is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, coach Jon Gruden said Wednesday.
The Raiders like Warren. They like Washington.
A decision awaits.
There is an old saying in professional sports: “You can’t make the club in the tub.” That adage is about to be tested. While Washington recovers from his procedure, coaches will continue to evaluate Warren. One is a proven veteran who is likely out for the preseason. The other is unproven with unfinished business.
Warren has much to demonstrate.
At every turn, media and fans have hoisted Warren’s future prospects. There was video from an Aug. 7 joint practice with the Detroit Lions that captured Warren dipping his shoulder into Jarrad Davis to send the linebacker flailing, legs over head. The footage went viral. There was an Aug. 10 exhibition debut, too, when he rushed for 82 yards versus Detroit in the second half. He logged 110 rushing yards and a touchdown Saturday at the Los Angeles Rams.
These flashes capture but part of the picture.
After the Davis collision, which the Raiders enjoyed via repeated viewings in their team meetings, Warren had a play on which he was 1-on-1 with a defensive back near the sideline. He ran out of bounds rather than making him miss, running backs coach Jemal Singleton said. In the exhibition opener, Warren ran the wrong route on his third snap, per Singleton. There were things Warren acknowledged he must clean up from Saturday, too.
These examples aren’t designed to negate what Warren has showcased.
Rather, it is to contextualize his development. Plenty of work remains.
“I want to see pad level,” Singleton said last week of Warren, who is 6 feet, 2 inches tall. “I want to see him run with that force that we’ve seen flashes of all the time, not just occasionally. I want to see him in his pass protection, understand where he goes and who he’s blocking. You know this league. You’ve got to protect the quarterback. You’ve got to protect the ball.
“If he can’t protect the quarterback and know where he’s supposed to be, it’s going to be tough to play, no matter how strong and big he looks. If he can’t do the protection part, then it’s going to be tough. Those are the kinds of things I want to see him get better at.”
The Raiders know what Washington can do.
He is entering his third NFL season. In his lone exhibition appearance, he took six carries for 38 yards against the Lions. Washington recently underwent what Gruden called a “minor scope” from which he is “recovering quickly.”
“We like DeAndre,” Gruden said. “I think the running back position from top to bottom could be the best group on our football team. Marshawn (Lynch) has had a great camp. Doug (Martin’s) had a great camp. Jalen Richard is a super back. He can do a lot of things. Washington can do a lot of things. You saw him in the Detroit game. You saw him the last couple of seasons.
“Chris Warren has a lot of people’s attention around the league. And we have a fullback (Keith Smith). Hopefully, we find a way to keep all our backs.”
To keep both Washington and Warren would be very difficult.
While the former watches, Warren has two exhibitions to finalize his case.
*Who: Green Bay Packers (2-0) at Raiders (1-1)
*When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
*Where: Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum
*TV/Radio: KVVU-5, NFL Network/KDWN-AM (720), KCYE-FM (102.7)
*Line: Raiders -2½; total 45