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Graney: Raiders running back must prove he deserves top role

Updated May 29, 2024 - 3:24 pm

He bought two new horses this offseason. One is Zeus, his own nickname on a football field. The other is Queen.

Zamir White stuck with his training regimen, with working out and lifting and pushing hay bales and riding horses and tending to the barn at his farm in North Carolina. That part didn’t change.

This one did: He returned to the Raiders unquestionably as their starting running back.

The grind just got a lot tougher for White.

He’s the man for now. At least to start things with organized team activities continuing this week. The one who will be given every chance to replace the departed Josh Jacobs on a full-time basis.

White just won’t be setting any goals for himself, is all.

“Never,” he said. “I just try and get wins any way possible.”

Jacobs walks

White has much to prove. Nothing will be handed to him, except a football often if he lives up to expectations. But it’s a running back room with some depth and experience to it. Guys will push him for carries and time.

The Raiders let Jacobs walk (all the way to Green Bay) in free agency, at least suggesting a strong belief that White could carry the load. That they had seen enough to go in this direction.

His numbers from last season: 104 carries, 451 yards, one touchdown.

It helps (a lot) that White is still on a rookie contract. The third-year back will cost $1.2 million against the salary cap this year. He’s a big-time value if he performs as the team hopes.

“It’s a blessing for me,” White said. “A guy going from behind Josh to right now. Out here with the fellas just grinding it out.”

He got a taste of being a starting running back in the NFL last season, when an injured Jacobs missed the Raiders’ final four games. White showed more than a few flashes. He became the first running back in Raiders history to run for more than 100 yards in two of his first four career starts.

Even so, some will be skeptical until White shows consistency over a long period of time. Take, for instance, Pro Football Focus. It had White dead last in its 2024 preseason running back rankings.

The website’s reasoning was he has a small body of work and the Raiders’ unsettled offensive line could hamper his production.

Alexander Mattison knows of White’s situation well. Mattison played five seasons with the Vikings, mostly backing up Dalvin Cook before getting his chance at a leading role last year. He was released in March.

Mattison signed with the Raiders soon after.

“I see ownership (from White),” Mattison said. “Being in a position that’s similar to what I was in (with) Minnesota, it’s a chance to step up into a different mindset. It’s something I’ve seen from him and the (running backs) as a group. Just come together and have goals and love on one another and teach one another and be a helping hand for one another.”

You would think the 6-foot, 215-pound White would fit new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s system.

It’s what coach Antonio Pierce has preached about, having a team defined by its toughness and grit. That while employing a competent passing game is a must, football is a violent game and meant to be played that way.

Music to White’s ears.

A vocal leader

“Last year was last year,” he said. “We have to move on from that and build on what we have going on right now. I’m in a whole new role now. Just working and learning and making progress. My role was the quiet guy last year. If they needed me, I was there. Now, I have to get back into (being) that vocal leader every single day.”

Is he comfortable doing that?

“Hell, yeah.”

Zamir White is the man for now.

With everything to prove and the opportunity to do so.

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.

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